A Farewell: Robin Williams

Robin Williams

Robin Williams
(21/7/1951 – 11/8/2014)

It’s been a hard few days for everyone.

I awoke on the morning of the 12th of August, AEST, bright and enthusiastic for the new day – which is, let’s be clear, uncommon for me.  You see, I suffer depression and have since my earliest memories.  I have good days and bad days but I can never remember a time when I was truly free of the lingering blackness which colours my life.  That may sound self-piteous and attention-seeking but it becomes very relevant when one considers the news I was about to receive.

My partner got out of her chair and came to me as soon as she heard me get up.

“Just to warn you,” she said, her tone heavy, “Robin Williams has been found dead.”

It’s difficult to explain exactly what kind of an impact this had on me.  I didn’t know Robin Williams.  I never had the pleasure of meeting him and yet it felt like I’d lost an old friend.  I had to confirm the news with my partner a few times, get the details, before it finally sank into my sleep-addled brain.

The news of suicide hadn’t been confirmed at that point; it was still the 11th in the States.  Most people seemed to believe it was indeed suicide, however, myself amongst them.

No secret was made of Mr Williams’s depression.  He was a man of incredible depth and, as with all depths, if you go down far enough things get pretty black.  While his comic work was beyond brilliant it was his dramatic performances that, for me at least, truly shined.  He could bring an intensity to his work that spoke of a deep understanding of the darker aspects of life.  One doesn’t get that understanding, I feel, unless one has lived it.

Unlike many other performers, whose work can and often is embraced fully or universally scorned, there is something for everyone in the stylings of Robin Williams.  From Aladdin through Mrs Doubtfire, Good Morning Vietnam and One Hour Photo to What Dreams May Come, which is a lifetime favourite of mine, his work was varied and powerful.  You might not have liked Genie (being firmly within his comic work) but you might appreciate his portrayal of the damaged, striking Seymour Parrish (just as solidly within his dramatic performances) or perhaps Chris Nielsen (which combines the two aspects beautifully).

He was deeply loved, most significantly by his family, but also by the world.  It’s a hard thing to comprehend when someone you love makes the terrible choice to leave.  It leaves us deeply shocked, reeling with pain, unable to properly parse such a decision.  With my brother Colin’s death there was no doubt – he didn’t want to leave but illness took him.  My brother Brian’s, however, was a different animal altogether and so it is with the death of Robin Williams.

It seems incredible to me now that even with all the evidence, all the media coverage, that people still treat depression as a silliness.  A weakness.  I have not seen a single post, comment or article that claims Mr Williams ‘took the easy way out’ but I haven’t gone looking for them – and I have seen responses to such comments so I know they’re out there.

Such arrogance doesn’t reveal only a lack of heart, it prominently displays a lack of basic psychology (not to mention biology).  Depression is an illness, a deeply insidious sickness that clings to the sufferer more persistently than any case of the flu.  That it (and any number of other mental illnesses) still isn’t taken seriously completely baffles me.  ‘Attention-seeking,’ ‘putting it on,’ ‘exaggerating.’

What the hell is wrong with you?  Are you people just wilfully stupid?  Just because you can walk easily doesn’t mean another person’s leg isn’t broken.

Robin Williams was taken from this world by an illness.  Never doubt that.

I loved this man.  Not in the way of a friend, a family member or anything closer, I wouldn’t insult his friends and family by implying that, but I nonetheless loved him.  Just like millions across this cloudy blue marble of ours I loved him as an entertainer, a light in the dark, a genuinely kind-hearted soul.  He was a shining beacon of humour, drama and compassion.  He was a good person, and the world should never underestimate the importance of a good person, particularly in the face of so much overwhelming, crushing personal pain.

Rest well, Robin Williams.  Our skies are darker now but may we all burn the brighter for your example.

On a personal note: I know from painful experience that it’s hard to seek help – or even admit that you sometimes need it. Accepting that you have depression is a staggeringly difficult realisation.

Please, if you have depression, please talk to someone about it.  See your doctor.  Call up a friend.  Touch the world around you and ask those you love for support.  Don’t assume it will go away on its own.  Depression is not the common cold.  It is a serious, debilitating illness which and and does kill.

Even if you haven’t suffered depression long-term, please find someone to chat to; situational depression can be just as devastating as chronic depression.  In Australia we have a number of brilliant and readily available services for people who need to talk, including Lifeline, a telephone line for immediate short-term support.  The sublime beyondblue offers the same (and more) help.  Even if you don’t need advice, even if all you need is to talk and know someone’s listening, don’t hesitate.

Both beyondblue and Lifeline Australia also offer crisis support chat services over the internet.  Lifeline offers these services between 8:00pm and 4:00am AEST, while beyondblue’s chat services are open from 3:00m to 12:00am.

All of these services are available seven days a week.

Lifeline: 13 11 14 (free from mobiles, local call from a landline) || Lifeline Australia website
eyondblue: 1300 22 4636 (local call from landlines, may be more from mobiles) || beyondblue website