At cons or in emails or in general conversation, I'm often asked who inspires me. Who are my influences? Who do I look up to in terms of writing, creating...? This list is diverse and often changes depending on what facet of myself is most magnified at the time... ...but one that is almost ever-present is Robin Williams.
My email signature is a quote from him ("You only get one spark of madness. Don't lose it.")... his films were so integral to my life. From something as heavy and beautiful as Dead Poets Society or What Dreams May Come (both of which helped me through my own bouts with depression -- still here, bitch) to the more family friendly Mrs. Doubtfire and Hook. I watched Mork & Mindy as a kid. I have been watching his stand-up for...well...forever. I cannot remember a time when Robin Williams wasn't making me laugh or think or some combination thereof. His style, his insane improv, his truly fey delivery... it's in here, in my head and in my soul. That beautiful twinkle in his eye that tells you he knows some sacred secret and if you ask, it's yours... That vulnerability to be in a moment and follow it fearlessly... It's in the soil that helped me grow into who I am.
Maybe that's why even though I never met the man, I'm sitting here crying at the news of his death. I feel grateful to have seen his stand-up live in 2008. That's the closest I ever came to meeting him...and yet, I know the names of his children and my heart is breaking for Zak and Zelda tonight. I feel like I've lost a friend.
Robin Williams is gone. And the world is less funny. Another of the pillars of my own sense of humor is gone. (Carlin...dammit. Eddie Izzard better live forever.) Celebrity deaths are always awkward because you didn't "really know" the person. You can't possibly be feeling a tenth of what his friends and family are at the moment... and yet, this one... this one is different. This one is hitting people in their souls. I think part of that is because Robin Williams's roles and stand-up all gave us something that we continue to carry with us. Some of us had never had a friend like Genie before the Aladdin film. Mrs. Doubtfire? That came out not long after my parents divorced. Dead Poets Society. Hook. (Bangarang, motherfucker!) What Dreams May Come. The Birdcage made it easier for some of my friends to come out as gay or queer.
His work with Comic Relief, St. Jude's Children's Hospital... His frank and open discussions about addiction and his struggles with depression.
Ah, there's the rub. The other reason why this one cuts so deeply.
This man--best known for being wacky, the personification of comedy--died of depression. All signs at the time of this posting point to suicide.
And you just sit here and think... how? How can someone with so much life and vitality and hilarity and FUNNY and and and...? How can someone who was so deeply caring and deeply moving and vulnerable on screen....? How can the man who gave us such stirring performances...?
How could he?
How could we? It really feels like we've failed some how when ANYONE takes their own life.... but this one...? Oh my god....
Depression is an ugly, horrid disease. I remember this video back in elementary school explaining HIV/AIDS by showing these creatures infiltrating a house full of other creatures, and then assimilating them....so they looked like the residents. That's how I think of depression. It gets in your head and crawls around and acts like it belongs there.
Depression is a mimic. It knows your voice. It knows the terrain of your mental landscape. It slides around unnoticed and talks to you.
Depression is a fucking liar.
As someone who has dealt with depression for a very long time and battled suicidal thoughts on more than one occasion, yeah... this is even harder. Because there are days when you think, "Fuck yeah, I know the difference. I know Depression lies and I finally figured it out. I see it for the ugly little shit it is, and I know the difference. I can hear the lies. I own this shit!"
And then... there are other days. Days where Depression knocks your ass down and you can barely make it out of bed. There are days where Depression wins.
And on days like today you wonder... if he couldn't do it, how the hell can I?
Robin Williams wasn't weak. He wasn't a loser. He wasn't selfish and he didn't fail. Depression beat him on one. particular. day.
Cancer killed Walt Disney. Pneumonia killed Jim Henson. Depression killed Robin Williams.
Someone with such a shining, brilliant light in this world killed by inner darkness. This is tragic. Suicide is tragic because it is preventable, but also because we--as a society--do not take Depression seriously. We don't treat it the way we do other terminal illnesses. Mental illnesses are still seen as shameful in some ways. We can share hotlines all we want, but sometimes picking up the phone isn't easy. Our society doesn't ease that burden at all.
If you are concerned about someone in your life: say something. Physically go to them (if you are able) and tell them in a non-judgmental way that you care and are worried about them. Ask them if they are okay, if they need help or if they just need to talk. And LISTEN to them. Be available.
If you are fighting your own battles, please remember that Depression lies. If it wins today, you're not a terrible person. That was just one day. But don't let it kill you. If Depression tells you that the only way through is out... please please please say something. Call someone. I know it's hard. I remember too well what it was like to want to scream and rage at the world, but being able to only cry.
I hurt today. My soul aches with the loss of Robin Williams. I'm crying for a man I never met, but who influenced my life in so many ways.... and I'm crying for all of us. We lost a truly amazing human being today to a disgusting disease.
We need to do better. We need to remember. His like will not come again.
Thank you, Mr. Williams. For so much. Please find peace and solace in the next life and some exponential measure of the joy you brought this world.
O Captain! My Captain! *stands on desk*