I have asked that question many times over these past couple of weeks. It seems most of us, over a certain age, have more than one. I remember the Robin Williams/Mork doll complete with rainbow suspenders and a hint of chest hair (from the late 70’s, I think). I’m pretty sure my brother or I had one. I remember Mork’s appearance on Happy Days, Garp, Dead Poets’ Society, Patch Adams, Awakenings, Aladdin, just to name a few. He was called ” the funniest man in the world” by more than one media outlet. And, oh yes, he was. So funny. His eyes, though, his beautiful blue eyes, always looked sad to me. Rarely did I see his smile reach his eyes.
I am sad with this loss. I grieve his death as if I have lost a friend. I felt, as I am sure many did, a connection with him- though not with the zany, rapid-fire, ad-libbing star. Instead I felt a connection with his quieter characters such as John Keating (the teacher in Dead Poets’ Society), Oliver Sacks (Awakenings), or the therapist in Good Will Hunting. Those characters felt authentic, like they were developed out of the substance of Robin Williams’ truest self. Those characters, and I believe the actor himself, were self aware, empathetic, compassionate, and always just a bit sad.
Robin Williams was a precious man with a gift and a curse. The source of his comedic genius was also the source of his demons. I think Robin Williams knew the edge of the abyss we call depression, or hopelessness, and in the end its pull became too strong to resist. There are many people today who also know that edge intimately. In the medical realm we call it clinical depression, and depression crosses every boundary we might try to impose. Children suffer from it as well as adolescents and grown ups. It does not matter where one falls socioeconomically, depression crosses all those lines too.
There is a basic list of symptoms and a plethora of screening tools out there in cyber space world, at least for grown ups. If you have certain number (five) of symptoms out of the nine on most lists, have had them for at least two weeks, and the symptoms have affected your ability to function normally, then you meet criteria for a depressive disorder. The list of symptoms includes:
- Anhedonia- lack of enjoyment in things that typically bring pleasure in daily life
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Depressed mood or feeling primarily sad
- Appetite disturbance with a change in weight (up or down)
- Sleep disturbance
- Low energy level
- Poor concentration
- Psychomotor retardation or agitation
- Recurrent thoughts or fantasies about death or suicide
There are different degrees of depression, and some are more responsive to treatment than others. I have long believed, and please, let me say here this is purely my personal opinion, that depression can be recalcitrant to treatment and sometimes just as fatal as any other terminal disease. The pain of living, of just breathing, standing looking over the edge of the abyss can become too weighty and exhausting to bear. The vastness of hopelessness too all permeating for there to be even a whisper of relief. Death truly seems the only way out of the abject poverty and misery of soul, mind,and body. I believe this. I’ve been closer to this than I like to think about, so deep is my understanding.
I grieve for Robin Williams, and I do pray that he is free. I have no judgement to pronounce about those who take their own lives. It is not mine to judge. The Judge is my Abba, my Father in Heaven, who is majesty and power and wrath and also love and compassion and tenderness. I have been meditating lately on two promises from Scripture. God is close to the broken hearted (from Psalm 34). And there is NOTHING that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (from Romans 8).
Yes, I believe depression is at times a fatal illness, but not always. I believe there are more depressed people longing to be pulled back from the edge and shown a different view or a fresh perspective, and strength to carry on for another day.
Please, if you or someone you know is suffering, please reach out. We never know when our kindness might actually save a life. If your teenager is “bored,” ask him/her why? Get him out of his room, off the iPad or phone and gently insist on communication. Eat dinner together as a family as often as possible, and sit around the table, not the t.v. Seek out your younger children. They still just want to be held (don’t we all?!). Courageously reach out to that distant friend. Offer connection and reconciliation. LOVE your spouse or partner fiercely.
It is in love we find our connections, our hope, our reason for carrying on one more day. Medication is also an important, at times essential part of treatment. But Love freely given, then freely accepted- oh, how difficult it can be to learn the accepting part! – is ultimately our answer and our source.