No, I did not know Robin Williams personally; however it’s fair to say I understood his brain very well.
We may have been in the same, virtual lifeboat, sinking at the same time at some point in the past few decades; the chances are likely.
I too have attempted suicide, several times, and have battled addiction. While I did not have the privelage of being able to call him friend, I do have the unfortunate understanting and heavy heart of his struggles.
Oddly enough, one of the four movies that was at the top of my “to see next pile” was: “Man of the Year.”
My friend had given us a huge box of movies and I threw out all but a handful. “Man of the Year” made the cut and has been occupying the top of the pile for months. I knew that it would be worth the ninety or one hundred and twenty minutes of my time and that surely, Robin Williams would deliver laughs regardless of the movie’s plot, direction or script. He could make a worm funny. He made me laugh, as he did for millions upon millions for decades around the globe.
That particular DVD was in my bedroom, on the top of my pile, as I mentioned.
Today, when I opened my drawers to get dressed, looking up at me was his face.
It kind of freaked me out actually.
There he was, greeting me, sporting a George Washington wig and petticoat. His face pointed upwards, expression pensive and hopeful, forehead wrinkles in full view; a somber, hopeful image of the man the world loved and the mentally ill community understands.
He was one of us. I am just like him.
On the bottom right of the cover is the quote: “Hilarious! Robin Williams gives a brilliant performance!”
All actors know, as do people with mental illness,and anyone that follows theater, that along side comedy is tragedy; this is no more apparent that when we lose someone we love suddenly and tragically. The world is mourning.
For those of us in the mental health community – especially the “dual diagnosis” battling both addiction and mental illness – know too well how close death is to us. We bury our friends. We think about it when depressed and in the hospitals. We worry for our friends in crisis.
“I remember growing up to Mork & Mindy. I’ll never forget those rainbow suspenders, hair not far off my own and the absolute let-your-mind-think-anything-is-possible flavor of the show.”
-wendy k. williamson
Let’s face it, Mindy could be played by other actresses besides Pam Dawber (sorry Pam!) Without contest, everyone would agree Robin was Mork from Ork. I may have been eight or nine, but it was that deviation from flashlight tag one needed; to fill your mind with the zaniness and unreachable. Mork from Ork and Star Wars were on the same horizon in the late seventies and it was a good time to be a kid. It was a great time to be a kid watching tv and going to the movies. (Wait, except Jaws. I don’t think any of us are over that one. Come to think of it, why am I watching SharkWeek?) Robin Williams filled our imaginations that needed filling.
“He brilliantly acted with sponaneity and wit,
trickling down to spark our imaginations,
whether we were conscious of it or not.”
And there wasn’t any role he could play from Mork to Patch Adams to a therapist who could crack the toughest of kids in Goodwill Hunting. When I saw that movie, several times, it occurred to me he could have – if he wanted to – retired as he had reached the pinnacle of his career. Before he won his Adademy Award (ironic that it was for a dramatic role), I think we all knew he was at the top of his game in Goodwill Hunting. Remember Mrs. Doubtfire? I ask, who else could portray Mrs. Doubtfire? I’ll still stop and watch it whenever I see it’s on. Can you imagine how many times Sally Field and the entire case and crew had to hold in bouts of laughter to save the take?
Yet, his light never darkened after those movies professionally. Inside was likely another story, one anyone with a mental illness knows well. Yet, he like any of us with one, kept pushing forwards. He kept waking up and working and fighting his battles. Williams kept getting better, honing his craft film after film like a fine wine, a deep soul, a talented yet tortured artist. Everyone knows he was brilliant, yet not everyone knows the dark mind he had to live with. As the decades progressed, we clung to his movies for a port in the storm of our crazy world.
“He fed our need for laughter in a world of absurdity and calamity. Simultaneously, he inspired many of us to see that silly was okay and comedy is just as genius as the dramatic. And, he could do it all.”
– wendy k. williamson
The best part of one’s life is not their career, but their family and friends. I’ll bet he was the first person people around him turned to with their problems; the best kind of friend to have, compassionate and loving. That’s how I imagine he would be.
This is the legacy I’d like to have and hope others would. Wouldn’t the world be a better place? I would like to have been thought a kind person; to have spread joy to those around me and those who love me – whom I knew and perhaps didn’t; above all: To love with all I had. That would be the ultimate meaning to my life. It may be my books, someday, that people will think of next to my name, (if I should be so lucky that anyone would remember me); however, what would matter most is that I was loving and kind to all. I suspect Robin Williams did that in spades in both his personal and his professional life. That is what makes a person a true success in my book. That is what I aspire to be always. I choose my friends that way, most of whom are mentally ill.
Some of the people I have lost in my life to suicide and/or addiction have embodied these exact qualities. I reflect on these similarities today. I must tell you a quick story that is far from tv.
My friend Sean was at a restaurant in San Francisco near Robin Williams and his family. Sean could hear Robin doing a skit to his family and Sean was cracking up. (Sean was the funniest guy I knew in college, by the way.) Even sitting there with his family for dinner. My friend said it was all he could do to keep the milk from flying out of his nose. (And that was Robin Williams with no stage.)
Brilliant in “Patch Adams”
We all know he was hilarious. We didn’t all know how much he suffered. However anyone who has depression, bipolar disorder or is plagued with addiction understands at least part of his pain. This is how his death touched me. I understood that he died trying, as did I. I understood that he was in the fight of his life, for a long time, as was I. And the only difference between the two of us is that I am still here. I cannot explain why. I don’t know why I got off the train tracks. There are certain things I cannot explain to you in my life. I can offer guesses but I don’t know why things happen. There are no answers to why so I stopped asking a long time ago.
Whether he was or wasn’t bipolar isn’t the issue. He was on “the list” that circulates around that he had this horrible disease. He was also quoted as saying he was never officially diagnosed with it, only depression. There are questions I would ask him if here alive and sitting next to me, none of it really matters at this moment. I know what it is like to be stuck in the muck and mire of day in day out feeling hopeless and lifeless and wanting out.
I also know what it’s like to not feel any better, despite trying every medication and quitting alcohol and drugs. I know what it’s like, while sober, waiting for years when no solution that any of the best doctors are presenting fail. I know desparation and suicide is a desparate act. I also know that it can be (as in my case) a thought out decision. I didn’t wake up one day and spontaneously do it. I make no, absolutely no parallel to Robin Williams. I did not have his life, or know his mind or situation. I can only speak for myself here. The only common denominator is depression. And it is a horrible, horrible, debilibating, life-taking illness.
Despite co-authoring my latest book: Two Bipolar Chicks Guide to Survival: Tips for Living with Bipolar Disorder, I live at the mercy of manic depression. I have help following tips, but no one is bulletproof; the seasons and events in our lives write the script.
I don’t doubt he struggled like many of us. I try to remember the lives my friends lived. Mr. Williams has quite a legacy for which his children, wife, family and friends can be proud.
I’ve recently read written articles that eloquently shed light on suicide. He didn’t commit suicide; depression killed him. Yes, we may want out, we may even do the action that takes us off this earth; however, I choose to believe today, personally, in my humble opinion, that the illness kills us. I am not dodging responsibility, it’s just how I choose to look at it today. And it kills one in five of us.
Yesterday it was Robin.
Five years & two months ago it was my friend Lisa.
Six years & three ” ” ” ” ” Heidi.
Seven & 1/2 years ” ” ” ” Annie.
Ten years & 11 months ago it was almost me.
That is part of the reason why I felt it was important to write my memoir: People were dying.My friends were dying. We die, it’s a fact for many who have bipolar disorder.
Mr. Williams, if you could hear me I would say this:
“Maybe you will meet my bipolar and depressed friends and say hello. I miss them terribly. No need to worry about ‘my one spark of madness’ as I’ll keep trying to harness that one spark. I’ve got you covered on that.”
-R.I.P. comrade.www.twobipolarchicks.com www.imnotcrazyjustbipolar.com