Robin Williams Was One of Us
Today I was going to write about Gamescom reveals and do my best to leave the hulking shadow in the room untouched. The universe, it seems, had other plans for me. An odd confluence of events left me without power, giving me several hours to type this up on the battery life afforded to me by my laptop. So, the issue I’ve been doing my best to avoid for the last 24 hours begins to come front and center.
Since I started writing for Extra Life over a year ago, I’ve been committed to making it a positive space free of the cynicism and spiraling negativity I see elsewhere on the internet. I’ve probably slipped up on more than a few occasions, but that has always been my goal. With that in mind, it is time to tackle the topic that has been heavy on my heart and mind since yesterday evening: Suicide.
That might not seem like the most positive of subjects, but I think it is one that does more harm than good when left unaddressed and ignored. By now you have probably heard that the beloved comedian, Robin Williams, has reportedly taken his own life. When I heard the news, I thought it was a joke, because it made no sense. He seemed like such a happy, funny, hopeful individual that exuded charm and affection like some sort of genetically enhanced super soldier of happiness. To me, just seeing him in a movie was enough to feel the comedy equivalent of being wrapped in a warm blanket. That someone like that could take their own life seems ludicrous, right? Immediately after being momentarily incredulous, I realized that it made all the sense in the world. Some of the most miserable people in the world appear to be doing fine. They laugh, cry, smile, etc. Sometimes it is genuine; often it is just an act. I kicked myself for even disbelieving for a few seconds, for falling into the trap of “but he seemed so happy and funny, and he had everything going for him.” I should have known better; I have firsthand experience with how miserable someone can be without showing outward signs. In school, I was the kid that others decided to hate for little to no reason. When one of your peers tells you that he’s going to have his brother come and kill you the next day or another tells you he hates you because you smile too much… well, those are things that stick with you. I got really low during those years, but I wanted so much to be liked that I never showed that side of myself to anyone, because how could anyone like the miserable person that hid behind those smiles?
If nothing else, I can understand that what a person projects into the world isn’t necessarily what they have inside of themselves. For some reason, this seems to be particularly true of great comedians. Like the saying goes, there is a grain of truth in every joke and a lot of jokes deal with some sort of pain, be it physical, emotional, psychological, etc. It seems like most, if not all, comedians suffer from some form of depression or thoughts of suicide. We should all take this as a reminder that sometimes it doesn’t matter if a person has a loving family, how well off they might be financially, or how much they can make us laugh; that person could still feel worthless or be in pain we know nothing about.
You might be wondering, “Yeah, this is great and all, but why are you writing about this here?” I’m writing about this on Extra Life for one plain, simple reason:
Robin Williams was one of us.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but for me, that hits close to home. This was the guy who loved to play Call of Duty, who named his daughter Zelda in part because his favorite game was Ocarina of Time. He loved Portal and had a number of Warhammer 40k armies. He loved anime like Neon Genesis Evangelion, Ghost in the Shell, and Cowboy Bebop. Robin Williams was like you or me. The demons he faced could be like the ones you battle every day. That’s why I think it is important to have this conversation.
One of the key things to remember about depression is that it is often different from how it is portrayed by most media. Some people experience depression as a constant, simmering rage. Others feel apathy so intense that they can’t get out of bed in the morning. Another thing to keep in mind about depression is that it is often not something that can be overcome with sheer willpower. Depression has many root causes, like chemical imbalances that make it difficult for people with depression to feel joy or psychological traumas that have ingrained a harmful way of thinking about themselves and the world. Sometimes it is both of those things together to varying degrees. This is all compounded by the general stigma associated with depression. Many people view depression and thoughts of suicide as weakness, when often it is something over which those afflicted have little to no control.
Here’s the thing, seeking professional help when you feel like you are struggling to make it through the day, at risk of harming yourself, or are contemplating taking your own life is not weakness. It is one of the hardest and bravest actions you can take.
If you need help and don’t know where to turn or what to do, this is the national suicide hotline: 1-800-273- 8255
The people who work the phones on the hotline will not think you are silly or overreacting. They will take you seriously and work hard with you to get you the appropriate help. Many of them have been through similar experiences themselves and can truly relate to your current state.
While Williams has passed away, it is of overwhelming importance that we remember him for what he represented in many of his most beloved movies. I always walked away from his films with a feeling of laughter, warmth, and kindness. Beyond those, there was always the feeling that there would be a better tomorrow. Robin Williams gave me hope. Now that he is gone, perhaps that hope is one of his greatest legacies. Right now, it is something to which I cling.
You will be missed.
Feature originally appeared on www.extra-life.org 08/12/14