Robin Williams was found dead at home Monday night in what the AP was reporting as an “apparent suicide,” egged on by his long struggles with substance abuse and, especially, depression.
A good number of people are struggling to make sense of out of this. They want to know: What could make someone like Robin Williams kill himself?
The man was tremendously successful. The Internet Movie Database has 102 credits for him just as an actor. He was in a lot of bombs, but was also in such commercial or critical hits as Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society and Good Morning Vietnam.
He was a great voice actor, a television success with Mork and Mindy, and the kind of stand-up comic who could command his own HBO specials. He was bankable enough that, so long as he wasn’t wildly extravagant, this can’t have been over money.
Williams’s is not the sort of death that goes unmarked. The president felt it necessary to send public condolences, and so did just about every sentient life form on Twitter, and not a few spam bots.
Everybody at the bar last night was talking about him: his movies, his comedy, and how a funnyman can be driven to do something so serious.
My favorite little Williams remembrance comes from Mark Tapson who “used to work in an upscale bookstore in San Francisco that Robin Williams came into occasionally.”
Tapson wrote that whenever Williams entered the bookstore, he “would just nod hello and leave [Williams] alone, and he seemed to appreciate having some quiet time to himself, and then other times, if there were enough customers around (8-10), he would put on an impromptu show in front of the register and have everyone busting a gut. Nice guy but a sad clown, you could tell.”
The sadness provoked by Williams’s death has led some to watch his movies again, others to urge kindness on us, still others to give out the numbers to various suicide hotlines. The national number is 1-800-273-8255.
The hotline idea is not a bad one, so long as a good number of the call operators have struggled with depression themselves. (Which I assume is the case.) If you haven’t experienced crushing depression, it’s hard to understand someone like Williams who is going through it.
When you’re depressed – not just down or grumpy but really depressed — you’re trapped in a smaller cell than the cruelest jailer could ever devise.
You’re stuck in your own head and you can’t see any reasonable way to escape. So the unreasonable options start to look appealing.
Your own thoughts are a toxic mix of self-pity and regret and despair. Achievements don’t help because those are outside of you and fleeting and usually in the past. The temptation to do something drastic to shut up your own head can be overwhelming.
In such moments, it can take an exterior voice to draw us out of our own prisons. That voice can belong to a friend, a pastor, family or even an anonymous someone on the other end of the phone.
Whatever the counselors’ stations in life, what they need to know about suicidally depressed folks is this: They’re not all that different from a wild animal caught in a trap, willing to gnaw its own leg off to get away. Except, in this case the trap is its own brain.
Proceed with caution.