“You’re only given a spark of madness. You musn’t lose it.”
by Andrew Root
I was on a break at work today when I heard the news. My co-workers and I sat around the plastic folding table quietly, punctuating the silence every so often with a list of titles.
“Good Will Hunting.”
“Good Morning Vietnam.”
“Dead Poets Society.”
Robin Williams has died and it’s terribly, unspeakably sad.
I remember Robin had a way of making himself significant in every single phase of my life. When I was growing up, he was the Genie; he was the British nanny; he was the inventor of Flubber; he was Peter Pan. As a part-time-disconsolate teenager, I found Death to Smoochy in a dark movie theatre that I felt I had to sneak out of afterwards, and my vision of him blew wide open. In first year university, his Live on Broadway special was playing constantly up and down the halls of my dorm. Seen it already? Didn’t matter. Let’s watch it again. Over the next few years, his dramatic fare was a constant go-to. I had a VHS of Good Will Hunting that was warped from constant play, and Dead Poets Society can fill my heart any day of the week.
And now he has a new significance.
A number of people are posting on Facebook and Twitter that if only he knew how loved he was, he never would have taken his life. A video from his film World’s Greatest Dad in which he describes suicide as a permanent solution to a temporary problem has been making the rounds, captioned with the likes of “he should have taken his own advice.” If only… If only…
But depression doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t work in any way that’s comforting or reassuring or filled with lessons. David Foster Wallace, another tragic victim of suicide, wrote about the terrible circumstances that a person with depression finds themselves in:
“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames.”
Compounded by a longstanding battle with addiction, Williams likely faced an impossible choice this morning. He was an ill man and although he was seeking treatment, the terror of the flames must have been far too great to cope. What an awful, awful position to be in.
One co-worker commented that it makes you wonder how many people have depression, and I felt a sudden anger flare up in my chest. Tons of people. Millions of people. Why isn’t this common knowledge? Why don’t we know what to do with depression? If you feel even an ounce of confusion over the death of Robin Williams, delve into the myriad of resources available and try to understand what happened. You’re reading this on an electronic device; change over to Google and type in “what is depression?”
Now is exactly the right time.
When you’re sad, or overwhelmed, or in the hazy greyness that makes you want to just sit on the couch and cry your eyes out, that is exactly the right time to learn more, because the information is out there and knowledge is a wonderful comfort.
I texted my friend (and fellow BWDR writer) Brianna shortly after I found out, and we quickly agreed that today was the worst. Even though I live in Ontario, and she lives in Connecticut, I suggested that we hang out and be bummed together. Misery loves company, as they say. But Brianna had a better idea. She said we should laugh. “Let’s laugh our asses off,” she said.
So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to laugh at the scene in Good Will Hunting where he describes his wife farting in her sleep. I’m going to try to count the number of impressions the Genie does. I’m going to cry with laughter as he tries to teach Nathan Lane to act butch. I’m going to be there for my friends when they can’t be happy, and I’m going to share Robin’s spark. We mustn’t lose it. I’d love it if you’d join me.
Andrew Root is a Senior Editor at Bright Wall/Dark Room.