My first reaction upon learning that Robin Williams had died was initial shock. He was 63, so he was in that age where something like a heart attack could have killed him. In fact, he’d undergone bypass surgery some time ago.
When I learned he’d committed suicide, my own heart skipped a beat. I felt it stop. I read it over and over: Robin Williams committed suicide. He was only 63.
Seriously, I don’t want to write this blog post. Knowing that depression claimed another life makes me angry beyond reproach. Beyond FUCKING REPROACH.
To be honest, I hadn’t thought much of Robin Williams over the years. His creative output – with the exception of the criminally overlooked World’s Greatest Dad, one of the DARKEST comedies you will ever see (no, go ahead, watch it…I’ll wait…you tell me) – left me wondering if we’d seen the last of Williams’ legendary, risk-taking talent. His ability to mine every possible depth of humor imaginable was one thing, but to then see Williams willingly straight-jacket himself and perform so brilliantly in some of the most challenging dramatic roles – after all, he was a Julliard-trained actor, you know – was a testament to his skill to both put everything out there, but to also be incredibly open and willing to take himself out of his comfort zone.
The news of his suicide frankly makes me want to cry repeatedly, because, God fucking dammit, none of this is fair.
Robin Williams didn’t just make me laugh. He made me clutch my sides because I couldn’t catch my breath from laughing so hard, the tears running so hard and fast. I must have watched Robin Williams Live at the Met repeatedly, obsessively. “Cocaine, a drug that makes you paranoid AND impotent? GIVE ME SOME!”
That manic intensity, of being able to go from 100MPH to light speed in a nanosecond, and take risks, was exhilarating, for him as a performer and for us as the audience. But it must has been exhausting for him as well. Because to have that kind of manic intensity means you’re capable of extreme highs and extreme lows. (He must have been bipolar. MUST HAVE) I can’t presume to know about the severe depression that Robin Williams was for him, but I do know what depression can make you do. Or not do.
Some will say he made his choice to end his life, but those are the people who’ve never understood – or have never been under the throes of – depression. Depression doesn’t discriminate, and neither does suicide. Depression made that choice – the choice to end his life. Depression consumed him, in the way that depression consumes so many people, in the way that it’s consumed me in the past. In the way that it probably will consume me in the future.
The more I dwell on Williams’ suicide, the more it hits home: what if this is me 20 years from now? Hell, ten years from now? What if I’m at a point where I’m so low that I’m thinking of this ultimate long-term solution for my short-term problems? News reports say Williams had been “battling depression,” as if this were cancer. Sorry, but I’ve never “battled” depression. I’ve endured it, put up with it, shook my fist at it and cursed a thousand tiny deaths to it. No amount of medication or therapy can “combat” depression, and that’s something we need to understand. Williams was coping with depression, and inevitably he could no longer cope. “Battling” implies Robin Williams was waging a war against depression, and he lost the war. He committed suicide. He was “weak.” No he fucking wasn’t. Ernest Hemingway wasn’t “weak.” Hunter S. Thompson wasn’t weak. Virginia Woolf wasn’t “weak.” They couldn’t endure anymore. This wasn’t a battle for them. Depression is an ugly beast that haunts us and makes us do things we don’t want to do, and tell ourselves lies and half-truths we don’t deserve to hear, and ignore the love and hope that exists all around us. Robin Williams could not bear another day of depression telling him otherwise. So he opted out. And that’s what depression does in its finality. I fucking hate depression with every fiber of my body, because living with this motherfucker reminds me that someday I may be in the same shoes Robin Williams was the moments before he killed himself, and I ask to somehow find some tiny sliver of strength and courage to say, “Not today. And not tomorrow, either. I’m not dealing with your bullshit, depression.”
There is so much we don’t know about depression, and so many myths about depression. Of course we were surprised that Robin Williams would have committed suicide; he seemed so full of life, so joyous, yet he was at the right age when suicide is prevalent among men. How frightening.
This morning, I listened to Marc Maron repost his 2010 interview with Robin Williams. Fighting back tears, Maron expresses the same disbelief everyone feels: how could someone who just seemed so alive fall victim to the lowest depths of sadness and despair? The answer might be in the interview itself. With about ten minutes left in the interview, Williams talks frankly about his depression, and about having once ideated about suicide. He’s funny about this, of course, in his manic, off-the-cuff improvisational fashion, but it takes on a chilling poignancy. If somehow he’d listened to the very same advice he’d given himself during the interview. Give the interview a listen, I promise you, you will not have a dry eye when it’s over and done with.
Maybe, just maybe, there’s a chance Robin Williams is seeing the immense outpouring of grief and love his death has elicited. But most tellingly, the Internet has collectively gathered to warmly remember him and his funniest jokes and his greatest scenes, and acknowledge both the actor, the comedian, the humanitarian, and the person.
Rest in peace, Robin Williams. Thank you for making us all laugh until we couldn’t breathe from laughing so hard. Thank you for remind us “It wasn’t your fault.” Thank you for being so alive.
And fuck you, depression. Fuck you for taking another life from us.