Millions are mourning the loss of a great genius – Robin Williams.
I realize I am about to write about what is always a controversial topic but after reading an article today, which blames mental illness for his death, I am compelled to write this blog.
What an insult of a great talent to blame his suicide on mental illness. What an insult to automatically look for a reason beyond a simple choice on his part. Why are we so incapable of accepting that perhaps some who choose suicide do so because they simply no longer wish to live in this world with all of its pressures and challenges? Why is it that suicide has such a stigma attached to it that we insult the deceased by not respecting a choice the person might have made?
In Robin Williams’s case it’s complicated. I did not know him. But I do know a lot of performers. And I do know what they deal with…I know about the extreme highs and the extreme lows a performer experiences.
We can partly blame dopamine, the drug released in the brain when we receive rewarding stimuli. One only has to imagine the state of a comedian’s physiological system following an extremely successful performance where the audience laughed so hard they almost cried. Think of the stimuli Robin Williams would have experienced constantly – the laughter, the applause, the atmosphere of hilarity – all caused by him. And then, at the end of the night…nothing. I am reminded of another great comedian – Peter Sellers, who experienced depression most of his life.
I am in no way in the league of someone like Robin Williams or Peter Sellers, yet; coming off a five day class where the audience is on a high because of what I have done with them creates a similar physiological response. I know what it feels like to have the audience with you and then…nothing. Add to that the fact that I might be in a hotel room somewhere, alone, with no family to interact with at the time I hit the low of coming off a performance. I know a little of what he must have had to deal with…and he dealt with it over and over again.
One article quotes him as saying, “The idea of the sad clown thing, I think it’s the idea of you’re funny and then there’s that moment of tenderness,” he said. “But sometimes you have to be very careful that it doesn’t go (too far). Then there’s the happy clown.”
The article goes on to say, “It’s no secret that happy and sad was a tough issue for Williams, who struggled all his life with manic depression brought on by bipolar disorder.”
“Brought on by bipolar disorder?” No, don’t they mean he continually had to deal with the adulation followed by nothing? That contrast, in itself, creates a dichotomy of emotions – happy/sad. And don’t we all experience these emotions? Dealing with day-to-day life surely creates experiences that we react to with this spectrum of feelings. Therefore why aren’t we all diagnosed with ‘bipolar disorder’?
And what about the pressure on him, once he became Robin Williams, internationally known comedian? What about the expectation by other people that he would always be the hilarious comedian? Surely the challenge of being any comedian is answering the question – when do you get to be yourself? Quiet, reflective? My daughter thinks there’s something wrong with me when I’m quiet because she’s used to living with the performer. Yet, all performers need their quiet times. I can only imagine the times Robin Williams would have liked to have gone out amongst people and just simply be himself.
Asked once if public expectation put pressure on him, he responded, “I think the pressure to be funny all the time, it’s like dance, you know, dance funny, man. I think sometimes there’s that pressure.”
Yet, he has been labeled depressive, even bi-polar. We seem to need a reason as to why he would take his own life. Doctors want to blame his heart surgery. We are not content to give him the respect he so deserves – that he made a decision for himself.
Of course I am very, very sad that he is no longer with us – I loved every movie he was in, every funny performance I witnessed. But let’s give him the respect he deserves. Let’s remember him as the brilliant performer he was, the warm and sincere man he was, the generous man who devoted time and money to 50 charities.
Let’s not look for reasons why he made his choice – rather let’s respect it.
He lifted our spirits when he was alive. Let’s surround his spirit with our love now he’s gone.