Two days ago, Big Daddy and I were sacked out on the couch. The Princess was on the couch opposite. I was reading, Big Daddy was working and the Princess was scanning Facebook.
“Did the guy who did the voice of Genie die?”, she asked. I felt a cold something in my stomach.
“It’s probably a rumor”, Big Daddy offered. I put down my book and googled and the cold something in my stomach kind of sunk a little. It was true. The news agencies were all reporting that Robin Williams had died at age 63. Suicide.
The tears came right away. I took over the TV and launched “Hook”. Williams starred as Peter Pan 1991. I wasn’t really a child anymore, the first time I watched Peter Banning flying off to Neverland with Tinkerbell, but I’ve never really been far from being a child in a lot of ways and that movie sung with magic for me.
But, that wasn’t all. I watched Mork, from Ork and his rainbow suspenders. The cockeyed face in Popeye. The bittersweet of Good Morning, Vietnam. The strangeness of Toys and the magic of the Genie. The brisk adventure of Jumanji and the sorrow of Jack. The bravado of Teddy Roosevelt and the look on his face in RV when he realized the pipe spreader was about to do him wrong.
Robin burst into the spotlight as the 70s kids were making their way into the world and he walked along with us, defeating Captain Hook and rolling the dice to drive the animals and the jungle back into the game board. We quoted the Genie. We knew about carpe diem when he stood on a desk.
I admit, when I heard I cried. For a while. I watched “Hook” and as the little lost boy began manipulating Peter Banning’s face as he searched for Pan, I kind of lost it. I’d never felt this way. Michale Jackson, he was okay, but there was not much in him that I connected to except for owning Thriller on vinyl like every other kid my age. There have been celebrity passing that have made me sad or confused or angry, but as Peter arrives back in the nursery and grabs up his children and throws the windows wide, I was overcome. Robin Williams had been a magic man and he was gone.
Depression is a hard thing.
It haunts me, I admit. My inner voice is mean. “Look at all you have”, it snarls. It calls me stupid and ungrateful. On good days, I know that love and light and happiness isn’t really depressions antidote. That there’s a part of my brain that functions incorrectly, but there are times when the depression dulls the world into muddied colors and I wonder why I can’t be joyful with all the happinesses I know I can name. I’m thankful that my darkness is so comparatively mild. I’ve never thought about hurting myself to end any of it. It bothers me and frustrates me and angers me, but I’m lucky enough to weather the storm.
Some of us can weather those storms, our darks not as dark and our dulls not as dull but some of us just cannot go on anymore because the darks are blackness are too much to stand. It’s so sad. When people take their own life, there is always a cry that it’s selfish or cowardly, but that’s an unfair assessment. I am a lucky one. My depression stays mild. I can function. Life doesn’t seem hopeless all the time (and it never seems hopeless, just dull and muted and foggy). I can take a low dose of a small pill and feel okay most of the time. But, not all people who struggle with depression are that lucky. Pills don’t help them or the side effects are so bad, they’re not a solution. Therapy can’t fix their miswired brains. Exercise offers no respite nor does their partner, their jobs, their hobbies, the location or the weather. It’s sad to me that someone who gave so many people the gift of laughter felt depression so darkly. If the joy we derived from his work could have lifted him, it would have.
People who commit suicide aren’t selfish or cowards. In fact, I rather think that following through with a plan for suicide takes more bravery than we can even begin to consider. People who commit suicide are plagued by a depression so deep that, like any terminal illness, they see no hope at the end. They feel that they cannot be fixed or saved.
In Jumanji, Alan was trapped in the jungle for 30 years. When he was brought home he found his parents dead, his home destroyed and the terrors of the jungle had followed him. He, Sarah, Judy and Peter were able to play the game to completion as they were chased by animals, stalked by a mad hunter, flooded and shot by poisonous plants. I wonder if a deep depression can feel that way. If Robin Williams hadn’t been trapped inside Jumanji for decades with no hope of a winning role to end the game and turn things back to the way they should be.
If you or someone you love needs help, please reach out. 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-273-TALK. Both numbers reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and are staffed by professionals. The calls are confidential.
No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.