I grow tired of all the media adulation upon the death of movie stars, while other vital news of greater importance is ignored. However, this week’s loss of Robin Williams is somehow different. Not because his movies were mostly good, clean fun, or that he made me laugh as early as Mork and Mindy, or even that he made me think deep thoughts in most of his movies.
No, the sad event is even darker because he could no longer withstand the darkness of his depression, bipolar disorder, or any of the other mental health issues he had, exacerbated by the drugs and alcohol. The darkness and instability of mental illness, no matter the label, is difficult to bear. Robin Williams was expert in hiding his darkness, giving joy to others with jokes, impressions, and improvisations. He gave to others, providing help to younger actors and giving support to others with mental health problems. For those of us not close to him, he had a good life. All was well.
But the laughter and jokes were a front, covering the darkness of mental health problems and dark depression. Everything was not rosy in his life. He, like many others who suffer with this challenge, tried to find relief in a bottle of alcohol or in one or more of the illicit drugs available. He tried to self-medicate the darkness away. It did not work any better for him than it does for the thousands of others who try the same path. His ability to make people laugh, to feel, helped him financially survive the darkness. Not everyone can do that.
Like many others in the United States, our family has members who struggle with the darkness like Williams did. Countless hours, and hundreds of dollars have been spent talking a beloved child into the hospital or away from that last step. Fortunately for our family, appropriate medication has been prescribed, and the addictions are under control, for now. Lives are improving and hope is on our horizon.
But hope is rarely on the horizon for those most troubled by depression. It is never fully in their court, never certain to drive away the fears and darkness that cause thoughts of ending life by their own hand. Spirituality helps, when there is enough light to allow the truth through, but spirituality, or medication, only lifts the edge of the curtain of hope, then forces it down, as though iron balls were sewn in to ensure the curtain hangs smooth, and tight.
For those who struggle with serious depression, the darkness of the destroyer rules. It requires hope beyond measure, and love from family and friends, lots of it, deeply and for a very long time, to draw the curtain of pain back enough to allow true light and knowledge to fill their souls. It is never certain that the light has won, and the darkness banished.
For many years, the mentally ill were considered lost souls, locked up in back rooms or sanatoriums to prevent their contamination of the general population. They have been perceived as “children of the devil” or worse. It is no wonder children taunt others by calling them “crazy”, and adults flinch when that appellation is directed towards them. Health insurances limit coverage for doctors and medications, further aggravating the chances for most to push aside the dark curtain and walk into the light. In recent years, help for the mentally ill has been drastically reduced, leaving many homeless on the streets of every major city.
No, the tragedy of Robin Williams losing to the darkness, giving in to loss of hope is more than the loss of a talented performer. This tragedy besets our nation. Lives are lost to the darkness. Most fight it; some give in to suicide, leaving behind parents, spouse, and children to pick up the pieces. Not everyone left behind is forced to open their lives to the media like Mr. Williams’ family. But they are called on to answer the questions of friends and neighbors, and the most difficult, unanswerable questions of their own. Darkness attempts to reign. Children believe themselves to be the cause, many falling into the trap of depression themselves.
What can we do? Certainly not damn the family left behind through insidious, grasping messages. Better, love your family; make them the center of your life, as Jack did in “Peter Pan”. If you have someone in your life who faces the darkness of depression, help them know there is light and hope in the world, and you are there to help them through the blackness of despair.
Finally, if you face the hopelessness and blackness of depression, don’t give up. Reach out to someone, anyone. Seek help and know light is behind the curtain. It can be drawn back to view light and knowledge. If you struggle, find one small thing each day that will bring you joy. It may be the laugh of your child, the rain or the sunshine on your face, or beautiful music. Find your joy, and cling to it if you must until the depths of darkness pass, and you are able to find light in your life again.