Robin Williams has shocked the world by committing suicide. His comedic genius masked a searing battle of the soul that he tragically lost.
We are stunned and disbelieving. Here is a man who seemingly “had it all”; An Oscar, fame, fortune, a staggering comedic talent. And yet deep inside himself he lived with an insidious pain that can be masked with a smile.
Struggling with depression and mental illness is like having third degree burns and everyone thinks a hug will ‘cure’ you. Medicine can minimize the symptoms, self-help books and therapy can help you understand why you struggle with this firestorm in your head; family and friends can provide a safety net of sorts. But in the end the person suffering with depression and mental illness fights a lonely battle with themselves.
Depression can break past medication and overwhelm you. Things you love to do, people you love, cease to matter. You can look at the beauty in the world and not see it through the film over your soul.
Loving friends and family want to be there for you when you are depressed. They think that all you need is a little cheering up. What they don’t understand is the very nature of depression is an inward journey. This isn’t a case of the blahs, or situational depression. When you are depressed, the last thing you want is someone near you. The thing that might help is the one thing you can’t stand to be near.
Depression is a cancer of the soul. Many times people suffering from depression die in their late 20’s and 30’s. Think Kurt Cobain, Lee Thomson Young and Mindy McCready. In some ways, for Robin Williams to have made it to age 63 with this disease, is in itself an enormous success.
You are fighting the voice in your head that insidiously whispers “You’re not good enough”, “You’re a fraud”, “If they really knew who you are they would reject you”. These painful thoughts occur despite any material success, and cause wounds that never heal and create mental scars. The scars may be invisible but look closely into the sufferer’s eyes and you will see despair behind the smiles.
We need to start looking at depression differently. Many times people abuse drugs and alcohol in an attempt to outrun their negative thoughts. Some end up in rehab to remove the drugs from their system; as if a 60-90 day stint will ‘cure’ them. This is not a disease that you recover from.
We need to become more aware of depression and mental illness, and stop treating it like a shameful thing that a person can ‘get over’. Maybe a person can quit smoking, lose weight and stop taking drugs, but there is no cure for the voice inside your head. You do battle every day. Let’s look past the headlines to the disease and give respect to those suffering from it.