Robin Williams died today in what is being called an ‘apparent suicide’ after battling severe depression recently. It is shocking, sad and in some ways, disturbing. After all, Robin Williams committed suicide.
I usually don’t pay much attention to celebrity deaths, as far as I am concerned they are just people, nothing more or less special than you or I – unless it’s George Clooney, of course. When Paul Walker died, I was going to give up the internet if I saw his face in my feed one more time. People die in car crashes every day, I didn’t think it warranted constant coverage. But here I go, caring about Robin Williams.
Hollywood has had its share of suicides, so it’s nothing new, but it’s different and more profound. Despite his battles with substance abuse and depression, Robin William was not surrounded by the drama of downward spirals that we have seen from other celebrities. On the surface, he appeared to be a simple, endearing man.
Many people will never understand his death, they will never grasp what would cause a man who appeared to have everything – including countless fans and an abundance of love – to take his life. Some will berate him and call him selfish, others will have more sympathy for his family than for him. But there will be an overwhelming number of people who will understand what he did; who will feel a tremendous sadness and kinship for a man they never met because they know his pain.
As I have been processing this over the last few hours, I’ve thought about the genius of his gift. I wonder if his humor was a defense mechanism, masking his pain for so many years. I don’t claim to know how long he was depressed or what sort of treatment he sought. But I do know this, whatever he felt was incredibly overwhelming and it would have been very hard for even those closest to him to save him.
Imagine a garden you’ve planted from seed, cultivated with love. When the seeds break the ground, they seek sunshine, warmth and nutrients. The seeds have no control over the weather, they are as dependent on it as we are on our minds. You may have control over the location of your garden, the frequency with which you tend to it and the amount of care you give it. You can’t control the weather.
It may be sunny one day, rainy the next. You prop the vines in the hopes they will flourish once the rain passes. And they may, until the next rain comes. The weather changes, sometimes without warning. Sometimes you can see it come, much like the triggers a depressed person avoids, you try to protect the plants before the storm. The intensity of the labor can get frustrating, especially if there is no relief in sight.
One day, a tornado or hurricane passes through. Even though you see it coming, you can’t stop it and you may not be able to seek shelter soon enough. The plants are torn from their roots, the garden completely destroyed. You may have thought you could protect it yourself, that the storm wouldn’t be that bad or you simply didn’t know how, or were afraid, to ask for help. Your neighbors and family couldn’t help or didn’t know you needed help.
The garden is now gone, as is Robin Williams and many like him. Our minds are like the garden, there is a storm somewhere looming and many people make it through life without feeling a tornado or hurricane pass through. Some people manage to pull themselves through but live in constant fear of the next storm. Others, like Robin Williams, can’t weather it and are destroyed. Still others will tell you to build a greenhouse or buy your vegetables at the store because you simply don’t know what you are doing and there is no need to tend the garden. If only it were that easy.
While thousands of people mourn the death of Mr. Williams, the mourning of those of us who have weathered the storm will be much different than those who have never seen it and can never understand it. Believe it or not, many people will also feel relieved. Relieved that depression isn’t just relegated to ‘regular people’, and more importantly, relieved that it will get much needed attention