Tuesday, 12 August 2014
"Man goes to doctor. Says he's depressed. Says life is harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world. Doctor says, "Treatment is simple. The great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go see him. That should pick you up." Man bursts into tears. Says, "But doctor... I am Pagliacci."
What is it about the funny guy? He's the one who's always laughing, the one who carries the life and soul of the party, the guy who is the fallback for every conversation, every joke, every twist of the story. He makes your night out better, he plays child-like with the children, his natural default is energy, twinkly eyes and huge grinning.
Until we received the awful, shocking news that depression had claimed one of the world's truly greatest funny men, a man whose very life was dedicated to building up the happiness of others through his portrayals of various timeless and defining characters, we hadn't heard a lot about Robin Williams in the media recently.
As it stands, he left behind four major films which are yet to be released, from the animated voice over of the dog in Absolutely Anything to a Christmas film which is to be released on November 7th called, Merry Friggin' Christmas, which although I suppose will be absolutely hilarious and great, will be an extremely hard one for us all to watch - Robin was still very much the sought-after working actor, and for good reason.
We all know his legacy of films - for many of us, they shaped our very childhoods. Aladdin, Mrs Doubtfire, Flubber, Jumanji, Patch Adams; heck this guy was so good, he was the only guy who made a grown-up Peter Pan in Hook a feasible and completely believable idea.
He'd had turmoil in his life, like many of us do, and he battled bi-polar and addiction. He'd had two divorces, and was living with his third wife, and is the father of three children (and we all know that no matter what we face in life, our children are our biggest joy and our biggest challenge.) He'd also recently had a major heart operation and faced a few stints in rehab.
His career never really courted any controversy. Here was Hollywood's funny man. As the tributes, which have been pouring in from all over the world, from people who knew him and worked alongside him, to others who perhaps served him in shops or knew someone who knew him say, he was the sweetest, the kindest, the funniest.
We always got the impression that he knew his worth. He was well respected by those around him - a huge credit to his character.
It's a terrifying and truly shocking idea that someone who was as loved, as admired, as sought-after, as wealthy, as funny, as kind-hearted could feel so much of the despair, as much of the complete pain, can be enveloped by the darkness in depression so much, that he no longer finds life bearable.
It is genuinely heartbreaking to think that this man, who brought so much pure, innocent joy and emotion into the lives of millions of people across the generations was so alone in his last moments; felt so alone in his last moments.
We'll probably never know what prompted such a wonderful man to take his own life. We can never know what pushed him so far into the void that day that he genuinely saw no other way out. All we can hope is that he has found his release now. Perhaps his laughter had been covering it for too long - perhaps he was finally tired of being the funny guy.
Depression is an awful thing. If you have never experienced it in your own life, it can be supremely difficult to understand it. Like the doctor's advice to Pagliacci, people often believe that it's possible to 'cheer up', to 'get over it', but if you are depressed this is not the case at all. There's no real quick fix.
The last time I wrote about PND, I spoke about how I believed myself that there was genuinely nothing wrong with me. That my own friends and family also didn't believe that there was anything wrong with me. It is so very easy to put on a face, pull up a front and get on with it all in front of an audience - well, it's not easy actually, but it's so much easier than actually letting anyone think that anything is wrong (and I'm not a huge Hollywood funny person whose life is focused on being the good time gal - the pressure Robin felt must have been massive).
My own grandfather suffered from a truly debilitating form of clinical depression through the latter years of his life, and I saw first hand the devastation that it caused, not only to his own life and experiences, but to the family and friends that surrounded him.
If we take one thing from Robin William's sudden and very heartbreaking death, it should be awareness. A general awareness of this awful, life-altering disease and the power it holds over even the greatest. It is completely undiscerning and very cruel. It cares not if you have a fabulous life or if you are quietly getting along.
We should also use this as a springboard to talk - talk about depression and how it is a real illness with very real symptoms and pain.
Some things which I have see lately as useful tools for aiding discussion on depression are the Black Dog books by Matthew Johnstone
There's two specifically - I had a Black Dog and Living With A Black Dog, which are particularly good, offering insight into the life of a person who is depressed or giving illustration to feelings for those who feel the presence of the Black Dog for themselves.
Please - there's no shame in feeling alone or lonely. There's no shame in needing a lift from those you love. And people - please be aware of those around you. Of how they might be feeling. Sometimes we are just not close enough.
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