There aren't many universals in life -- truth, beauty, etc. -- but Robin Williams comes close to it. If you loathed his manic comedy, you probably loved him as an actor. Or vice versa. To say he was a life force is an understatement of embarassing banality.
But that fact that he endured chronic depression and (apparently) committed suicide --- transforms him from comic genius to Everyman. He's like many of us. He's like me.
Twice in my life, I've pondered suicide. And by "pondered" I mean that I considered it a viable, logical solution to ending the misery that is depression.
I like to think I inherited my depressive nature. A grandfather on one side of my family committed suicide, and a bunch of others on that side drank themselves to death (although it's not clear that that was connected to depression). On the other side of the family, the tendency toward depression is all but tattooed on our foreheads. ("Befriend her at your own risk!)
But even if it's just me, well, it's me. I've been depressed for as long as I can remember. Literally. It was so ubiquitous, that until I was thirty I assumed that everyone was chronically down-in-the-dumps. I assumed that feeling sad and bad was normal human behavior.
Until the moment I contemplated ending my life. I looked up from the bottom of the deep, dark hole in which I lived --- and decided not to do so. Don't ask me why. The roulette of circumstance and genes that separates those of us who decide to live from those of us who decide to die is, well, roulette.
The decision spurred me to action. I read up on depression (again, the fact that it WAS depression came as a shock. "You mean not everyone is suicidal?"), trying to learn ways to manage if not control it. Over the years, I remained on guard, putting myself on alert as soon as I felt the shroud descending upon me. I learned to to recognize its approach so I could modify my daily routines accordingly.
(A psychiatrist would probably say I was learning to be kind to myself. Whatever. Mostly I regarded myself as a soldier dealing with an exceptionally crafty, exceptionally evil, exceptionally insidious enemy.)
In my late forties, I experienced the worst depression of my life to date. And again contemplated ridding myself of my misery permanently. And again, the roulette wheel rolled in my favor.
That's when I finally began taking a pill every day. I take a small dose. It's just enough to break the wave as it crashes toward me. Enough so that I no longer need to retreat from the daily in order to save my own life and spare those I love of the nightmare that is me when the enemy has battered down the gate.
It's enough, I hope, to prevent me from taking another trip into that dark well.
I am truly sad to know that Robin Williams looked up from his own dark well and said "Fuck it. I don't have the strength to pull myself out this time." I'm guessing his family will understand his choice. Understanding doesn't alleviate grief, but when it's born of living with and loving someone depressed, then it's understanding that rests on a foundation of compassion. And sorrow.
For me: I am thankful that I was around to enjoy Williams's genius (my personal favorites are "Birdcage" and "Good Will Hunting.")
And I hope that the sheltering arms of the spirit give him rest and peace.
If you know someone whose life is ravaged by depression, every day is a good day to reach out and say "I love you. And I'm here."