“Robin Williams is dead” was the text my daughter sent me. At first, I didn’t feel much sadness. I was saddened because a human life was lost, but that was about it.
Like many my age, I grew up with Robin Williams. I watched Happy Days, Mork and Mindy, and watched and loved many of his movies. In fact, I show Dead Poet’s Society the first few days of class to make the point that students’ words and ideas CAN change the world, even if it’s their own world. And, being one who teaches English, I can’t help but fantasize that perhaps, one day, a student would refer to me as “O Captain My Captain.” But, I digress.
Then the day after he died, I learned what the world knew: he committed suicide and he battled severe depression. Oh boy, THAT hit home. I felt a connection with a man I only knew through a movie or tv screen. He, a man whose job it was to make people laugh, struggled with the same demons I do.
Depression. A very vocal, insistent, invisible demon that with therapy and sometimes medicine, her voice can become mere background white noise and manageable, but she never goes away. Depression doesn’t like to be ignored either. When ignored too long, she will demand my attention by overtaking my mind and body with a vengeance, usually a surprise visit at the most inopportune time, like in the middle of a movie, or in the middle of the night, or right before I am about to teach a class. She really is a bitch. I have no choice but to let her do her worst, and then I have to start training her all over again.
Usually depression doesn’t come alone. Many who deal with depression, also have to deal with her two sisters: Anxiety and Addiction. Like the three fates, or Shakespeare’s Weird Sisters, the main job of these three is to stop their victim from enjoying life and prolonged happiness in some way. One sister even holds a pair of scissors, letting the victim know that SHE is in control of fate. What these three bitches do is cast an ominous cloud over the victim’s entire life. Luckily, for me, the third fate has kept her distance, possibly waiting to pounce at a later date, like a cat toying with a mouse.
Because this illness is invisible, even the most well-meaning person usually cannot fathom that depression is, in fact, an illness. Many of my friends and family have told me “Get over it,” or “Stop being lazy; get your ass up!” or even, “You can’t be depressed. Every time I see you, you’re always smiling!” How do I even begin to explain that just opening my eyes sometimes is a herculean task? That, at times, having the will to live was almost out of reach for me? How do I explain to a person who doesn’t believe in psychiatric (gasp!!!) help that it is occasionally a necessity for me? “Oh, stop being weak! I never needed any ‘help,’ why would you?!?”
I hope that Robin Williams’ tragic end to his life will have a silver lining. I hope that people will realize that depression, and mental illness in general, is very REAL, and has the potential to be very deadly. Thank you, O Captain My Captain, for your many years of making me FEEL and laugh through your brilliant performances. May the light you brought to so many others continue to shine on in your memory. And to you, you three sisters, I work everyday to keep your noise down, and your scissors sheathed. And to your ominous forebodings , I say “Nanu nanu!” I see the fates for who they are, and I deal with them in the best way I can. Laughter and love shall always conquer evil.