There’s something about death, especially tragic, unexpected death. People always want to find, if not a reason, then some sort of lesson. We don’t want to let someone go without feeling that they contributed one last thing to this world.
In the wake of Robin Williams’ death, you can see this played out over and over in social media. Depression. Anxiety. Addiction. And now, I suppose, we will add Parkinson’s. The cries are out there: Don’t let his death be in vain. And perhaps an awareness of some of these diseases will come, and that will be a good thing. Will it prevent his death from being in vain? I don’t know. If lives are saved because conversations have begun this week that will slowly illuminate the dark secrets of depression, will that somehow make his death meaningful? I don’t know how you determine that it was acceptable for one person to die so that others may live.
What I do know is that depression scares me. I’ve seen those stories—some are saying that as many as 25% of people in the world could suffer from depression in some form or another. That’s a lot of people. Personally, I’ve had a couple of bouts of situational depression, and I can remember how absolutely terrifying those days were. I can’t imagine living with that sort of anguish day in and day out for my entire life.
But the real reason depression scares me is not some concern that I might be dragged back into an abyss at some point, but because one of the most important people in the world to me suffers from it, and refuses to get help. I think maybe that’s why Williams’ death has hit me so hard, because it’s all too easy to extrapolate the horrific possibilities. I mean, if this wildly talented, hugely successful man—someone who arguably “had it all”—could not overcome his demons and saw no solution but death, then what does that say about the chances of the average guy fighting this battle? It seems bleak.
And I’ve seen the arguments back and forth about whether depression should really be blamed as the “cause” of suicide, with one side saying that it’s a dangerous argument to make, because it sends the message to the deeply depressed that they have no say in the matter, that one day they are just doomed to lose the ultimate battle to their disease. And I can see the logic of that argument, and it just sends another twinge of fear down my spine. But the truth is, I land in the opposite camp. I do think depression is to blame. That while Williams technically had a choice, the state of his mind on that final day was such that he believed the little voice that whispered about hopelessness. In that moment, I don’t know if he believed there was no other choice, but he obviously believed there was no better choice, and it’s one of those situations where the very action proves that something was wrong in the deepest parts of his mind. And if your mind is betraying you, are you really making a choice at all?
I don’t know the answers. Like so many, I’m still reeling from losing this amazing talent in this most tragic of circumstances. And it might be that it hits harder because we all knew about his long-time fight with his various demons, and as much as we admired him for his talent, we admired him even more for his honesty and resiliency.
And of all the terrifying parts of depression, maybe that’s the most terrifying part of all: that regardless of your strength, sometimes the demons still win.