On the Death of Robin Williams and Why Sadness and Depression Are Not the Same

Categories: Breeality Bites

Robin_Williams.jpg
© 1990 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Robin Williams in Cadillac Man.
How can someone who lived to make us laugh kill themselves? In the less than 24 hours since we were told about the death of Robin Williams, conversation has swirled not just around his many, many contributions to the canon of popular culture, but also around this question. How could someone like him die this way? How could someone who made us so happy not want to be here anymore?

In casual conversation, depression seems inextricably linked to sadness, but these things are very different. Williams, a recovering addict who talked openly about his struggles, also talked about his depression. Ultimately, it was this big, dark and deeply misunderstood part of him that took his life. And although we, as watchers and fans, aren't part of his family, we are still left to feel heartbroken ourselves, grasping at anything to try to understand how this could have happened.

See also: Philip Seymour Hoffman, heroin and the secret club of addiction

As a recovering addict who also struggles with depression, I can only base what I know on my own experiences. Addiction itself is a lonely disease; though there are millions of us who fight it and countless programs that serve to bring us together and really face our own shit, it is what we do when we are alone that makes us addicts.

Even when we do drugs or drink with others, to me it feels like being alone together: No one else is inside your mind with you, thinking with you about how much you need to drink to not remember. Or how much you need to consume to feel the least amount of feelings.

Though depression was very much a part of my own drinking problem, it wasn't until I was sober that I battled with it the most. A few years into my sobriety, there were days when I just couldn't comprehend being on this planet anymore. I recently looked back at old journals from that time, and I kept reading the same sentiment: Why am I taking up space on this planet and creating waste as a human and not contributing in a better way? I didn't want people to have deal with me anymore, and I didn't want to be a waste of resources. I didn't want to talk about why I felt bad, because I didn't have an answer. I just didn't want to be a burden anymore. I just wanted to be gone.

It was ending my relationship with alcohol that made these thoughts even harder to navigate: When you can't self-medicate, you feel everything. And when all you want to do is not feel, nothing could be worse. I tried to talk on a surface level with my friends about it, but it felt impossible. "How could someone like you be depressed?" was the general response.

It felt exhausting to reach out to others, because "explaining" your depression can feel futile, especially if on the outside you "seem fine." If you're not a sad person -- or you created a life around making other people laugh, like Williams did -- it can be especially difficult to articulate your experience. But it is almost as if when we are our most happy and productive selves as addicts that we fear life the most.

There is no doubt that those closest to Robin Williams knew he was struggling; he had recently checked into a support center to focus on his sobriety and well-being. There was no question he was loved. But when dealing with something as crippling as depression, it can be hard for those outside of you to really be there. Could this have been prevented? I don't think that's a question that can really be asked or answered.

When we lose someone like Williams in such a public way and it becomes newsworthy, it's like everyone just starts shouting, "Do you need help? Get help!" into the abyss. But it's not like people with depression are somehow going to crawl out from under a rock all of a sudden and say, "Yes! That's me! I need help. Thanks for asking."

So what can you do as a person who wants to support those around you that you may not know are struggling with depression? Create a supportive environment all the time. Don't assume there will be some big moment when you realize someone you love is depressed. I think often, we can't grasp how strong our own off-the-cuff conversations about someone being "crazy" or depressed are, and how much our casual words can keep someone who needs support at bay. When we talk this way, we deeply stigmatize the people right in front of us.

Listening to those closest to you, even when it seems like they aren't telling you some big secret, is also key. That's the thing: Depression doesn't come out like a cancer diagnosis. Unfortunately, we often turn away from those who need support because they may be making choices that we don't agree with. I know that I lost some friends when I was in the depths of my alcoholism because it wasn't pleasant to be around me. But guess what? That's when we need you the most. A non-judgmental support system is how we can (sometimes) survive.

One of my closest friends who is also a recovering addict once told me, "Sometimes, people just die from this." Even if that is true, it doesn't mean we can't love each other along the way.

Be my voyeur (or better yet, let me stalk you) on Twitter: @cocodavies





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46 comments
Max Padilla
Max Padilla

Disney's MK ultra program works! And they can just say it was suicide.

Marcia Hunsaker
Marcia Hunsaker

Sobriety is very difficult for those that haven't faced life on life's terms. Depression is typically one of those experiences that one goes thru during post acute withdrawal. Clinical depression can be best served by reaching out for professional assistance.

SpottedDick
SpottedDick

Yet the Repuglycans are fighting to overturn Universal Health Care's mandatory inclusion and coverage of Mental Health treatment.


How mentally ill do those teabaggers have to be to fight and vote against their own self-interest?



christopher168
christopher168

When we as a society deem an individual's act of suicide as selfish (as some have suggested of Robin Williams) what are we really saying about that person’s particular experiences and perceptions and are we in some way forcing our own views, experiences, judgements, understanding and perceptions of life that can only logically belong to ourselves? Never mind the fact that those of us who are depressed or suffering some form of mental illness or anguish are by definition existing in a paradigm that is bereft of what the outsider considers logical. And that in part is the cause of such torment and despair.


How futile and narcissistic to condemn an individual for the simple fact that metaphorically they are caught in a quagmire with the expectation that they ought to see the world our way- which technically speaking makes one mad in the first place....

http://scallywagandvagabond.com/2014/08/robin-williams-depression-was-he-wrong-to-commit-suicide/

Brandon Moana
Brandon Moana

Dark depression with addiction is very hard.

cosmosis
cosmosis

The mind is the forerunner of all actions.  All deeds are led by the mind, created by the mind.  If one speaks or acts with a serene mind happiness follows, as surely as one's shadow. Do only what you do not regret and fill yourself with joy.  Live mindfully with your senses under control and you cannot be overthrown by emotions just as the wind cannot shake the rocky mountains.

Carolyn McDonald
Carolyn McDonald

Sadness is a normal human emotion. Expected, really. Depression is not sadness and I appreciate this authors distinction, experience, and willingness to share.

Nancy Leffel
Nancy Leffel

Very well written and accurate description of depression. Thank you for sharing your story and pain. Hugs!!!!

Christine Moser
Christine Moser

What a wonderful article. Depression is the worse demon. I've been battling it all my life and have attempted suicide many times. I was always embarrassed to talk to anyone about it because of the fear of being judged, and the fact that I didn't quite understand what was wrong with me. It wasn't until I realized I needed to seek help thay I began to realize just how much depression affected my entire being. With that said, I hope this awful tragedy brings light to this and allows people to be comfortable with seeking help.

sballardo672
sballardo672

Many have said that in order to be funny, one must suffer.  As someone that attempted standup comedy I can attest to that.  The comedian finds humor in sadness, humor in struggle, humor in pain for this is, more than likely, their greatest escape.  Unfortunately, humor does not lead to resolution.  The struggles and pain are still present.


For years I was told I should go into comedy as I can find humor in almost any situation.  My favorite; however, was my own self-deprecation.  This meant I had to rehash old traumas and find humor in it.  Without resolution, this can be emotionally painful.


As well, once I started standup I noticed that the things around me were no longer funny; but rather, I would analyze every situation to see if I could make it funny.  In other words, the day to day humor I found suddenly become 'work.' 


The constant rejection,  rehashing old wounds, combined with the insecurity most artists possess, made my life miserable. I couldn't imagine adding depression to the mix.  Poor guy. 

Paul Brown
Paul Brown

I appreciate the way Bree Davies articulates the issue and draws a distinction between sadness and depression. (Y)

Chinky Sanchez
Chinky Sanchez

I love this article. Because it's true. People are facing battles no one knows about. People aren't just going to come out and tell you how they feel or seek help. Because nowadays 99.9% of the time no one cares what one is going through, they think people are seeking attention or throwing a pity party so it's better to keep stuff like this to themselves. No one understands what another person is going through, they could be smiling and laughing on the outside but completely dark on the inside. You should care about people close to you every day, not just the days they're actually putting out a little sad/depression vibe.

SpottedDick
SpottedDick

Well said Bree.


Good luck with your own struggles.



fishingblues
fishingblues topcommenter

@SpottedDick


Maybe this will help rotted dick.


Conservatives vote for what is good for the country.


Liberals vote for what they can get from the system.  


And do you know why the country is going to shit?  Too many liberals with their greasy little hands out.

sballardo672
sballardo672

wish this worked for those with depression.

SpottedDick
SpottedDick

@fishingblues Golly gee, fishfucker, how is not providing mental health care to millions of Americans who need it "good for the country"?


cosmosis
cosmosis

One who keeps a rein on the wandering mind, which strays far and wide, alone, bodiless, will be freed from sorrow.

chekje84
chekje84

@fishingblues @sballardo672 fish, he was just sharing his thoughts... which just so happens to be the point of a comment board. And besides, Bree's article relates her own experiences with that of Mr. Williams', so Ballardo's comments aren't just relevant, but should be appreciated as well. 


"So what can you do as a person who wants to support those around you that you may not know are struggling with depression? Create a supportive environment all the time."

Read the article, stop hating. 

cosmosis
cosmosis

If one speaks or acts with a negative mind, suffering follows.  Only you can choose the path to happiness.

chekje84
chekje84

@fishingblues @chekje84 @sballardo672 

I'm not assuming anything nor do I think everyone else hates everything else, but your initial reply certainly fits into the informal definition of a hater. This is the sense in which I ask you to please stop hating.


hat·erˈhātər/noun: hater; plural noun: haters

  1. a person who greatly dislikes a specified person or thing."a man hater"
    • informal: negative or critical person."she found it difficult to cope with the haters"
       

sballardo672
sballardo672

@cosmosis  never mind the chemical imbalance in the brain, or the lack of dopamine, or a genetic predisposition.  I get what youre saying, but science is science and the world weve created is creating other issues.  Still disagree, but it sounds nice.

fishingblues
fishingblues topcommenter

@chekje84


Well gosh, I'm just sharing my thoughts.

My thought is that 'hate' generally comes from self-loathing, loopy liberal loons. 


And then, the loons who loathe their own self-loathing point their stinky little fingers outward through projection. 


By the way, you might want to try a  legitimate dictionary if you are going to quote from one.  

SpottedDick
SpottedDick

@cosmosis


Who knew it could be so simple -- self-treatment and self-healing -- society's problems with mental illness, depression and suicide will be cured by ... never.



fishingblues
fishingblues topcommenter

@sballardo672 @fishingblues @chekje84


Gosh lardo,did I hurt your tender little feelings?  Just pretend like I just laughed you off the stage.


I don't speak 'liberal speak'.  I will continue to use words per their traditional meaning.  



cosmosis
cosmosis

There are may paths to happiness and this is one of them.  Only you can choose which path to take, happiness or sorrow.  Choose wisely.

You, more than anybody else in the entire universe, deserve your own love and affection.

sballardo672
sballardo672

@fishingblues @sballardo672 @chekje84  ok fishing, im a gun-owning, former marine, republican , so your assumption is way off and your ignorance and trolling makes the right look stupid.  do me and every other repub a favor and stop making everyone look stupid. 


as for my feelings, please, my feelings are intact and im certain you couldn't hurt much based on your penchant to hide behind a screen. 


as for the original intent of this whole thing, it started with you making an ignorant statement and your quest to be right by utilizing verbatim, when in all actuality you knew exactly what chek meant.  this whole thing is about depression butyoure holding on to the exact meaning of hate in order to not be wrong.  that said, regardless of what you say, you are wrong.  now carry on.  moms coming home soon and you still have chores to do.

fishingblues
fishingblues topcommenter

@muhutdafuga 


Here is a thought you are obviously too stupid to consider ---

It takes intelligence to recognize intelligence.  

fishingblues
fishingblues topcommenter

@sballardo672 


Lardo,


Here are some axioms for you to ponder:


Feeling sorry for one's self is NOT therapy for depression.


The definition of hate is NOT a label placed on someone with a different opinion. 


You can only make yourself look stupid.


All liberals are loons.  


(I don't give a shit about the republicans.)

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