What I Learned From Robin Williams’ Passing

Robin-WilliamsThere have been a few occasions in my life where I’ve resisted the urge to chuck a lime at someone’s head, like Mrs. Doubtfire did, and then blame it on an unknown assailant who committed a “run-by fruiting.” I paid close attention to “Dead Poets Society” – shedding plenty of tears in the process – because it was the first movie that prominently featured teenage suicide that I saw after I tried to kill myself during my teenage years. And I can’t count the times that I’ve turned to “The Birdcage” for laughs – it’s one of my all-time favorite comedies, and one of the movies I quote most often.

Like many people, my jaw dropped when I learned that Robin Williams had died, and my heart ached when I read that it was a suicide. I had never met the man, but he was a guest on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” six times during the seven years I worked there, and I worked on most, if not all, of those appearances. My favorite memory was from April 2006, when I pitched the idea that we keep a running total of all the impressions and voices he did during his interview, and at the end, ask him to pick a charity and make a donation for each voice. His comedy and generosity ultimately raised $7,500 for Doctors Without Borders, and Ellen and the studio audience had a blast.

I learned a lot about Robin leading up to those appearances on “Ellen,” and I always respected and appreciated how open he was about his struggles with addiction and depression. As I read some of the press about his death yesterday, I was led to a “Good Morning America” interview with Diane Sawyer from October 2006 where he said something that has stuck with me.

“It’s the same voice that… you’re standing at a precipice and you look down, there’s a voice and it’s a little quiet voice that goes, ‘Jump.’ The same voice that goes, ‘Just one.’ And the idea of just one for someone who has no tolerance for it, that’s not the possibility.”

My own personal demons may be different from Robin’s, but the underlying connection hit home. We both have had ugly little voices in our heads that encouraged unhealthy behavior or perpetuated untrue and harmful beliefs. Robin’s pushed him to drink. Mine have told me that I’m worthless or undeserving of love and happiness. In the past, mine pushed me to try to take my own life, and perhaps Robin’s pushed him towards taking his.

What Robin pointed out during that interview, though, is that it’s the same voice pushing you to take action, whether it’s a small action that seemingly wouldn’t have consequences, like having a single drink, or a much bigger action, like jumping off a cliff.

It’s reminded me that I can’t listen to that voice at all. I can’t validate any single negative thought that may pop into my head, because as soon as I give that voice a platform, I’m inviting it to continue manipulating my thoughts and actions, and I can’t let that happen.

I think back to the roughest episodes of my own depression, and they all were downward spirals that escalated until they were out of my control. But they began much more simply, just a trash-talking voice in the mirror that would plant little seeds of disgust and self-hate. But I listened to them, and gave them power, and so when those messages evolved into more severe messages of loathing and hopelessness, I listened. And I believed them, because I believed everything that had come before.

I’m in a pretty good place right now, in regards to my mental health. One of the most important things that I’ve learned in the past few years is that how I think about myself is just as important for my overall health as what I eat and how I move. And what I’ve learned from Robin Williams’ passing is that I need to start fighting as soon as that little voice pops back into my head. I can’t accept any little bit of venom and vitriol that it may spit out, because if I let it, those little bits will grow bigger, and that same little voice will turn into something meaner and much more dangerous.

As anyone who has played a board game with me knows, I’m up for a good fight.

Keep it up, David.

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10 Responses to What I Learned From Robin Williams’ Passing

  1. Tanya says:

    David, this is the best article I’ve seen yet on Robin Williams’ death, what he meant, and what his suicide should mean. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. Diane says:

    Wonderful words and I echo your sentiment. I think so many of us can relate to the struggles of depression. It’s just hard to see a guy who brought so many laughs to the world have to leave this world despite fighting depression for so many years. I wish him peace and hope others can see the best parts of him as a whole and not his final solitary act as the summation of his life.

    You’re doing great work David. I’m happy you’re in a good place. Sometimes knowing the next day is what could be completely different is what has to keep all of us going. Life is worth it and so are the people who love us.

    Not that any of my words are to diminish his feelings. Just hopeful that more who are out there that struggle will not see this as the solution to temporary problems.

  3. jrhuffman26 says:

    Absolutely on the money David, I am 100% in agreement. The inner demons can be our absolute nightmare, and choosing to fight them is only way to succeed!

  4. jean says:

    David, I have followed your blog for almost a year and I’m always in awe of your eloquence and how by showing your vulnerability you show ours who follow you. Thank you for this beautiful piece about Robin Williams. I know he would have approved.

  5. Michelle says:

    David, I adore this post…I’m very glad you exist. :)

  6. Nurse Karen says:

    Some day, I think there will be a genetic fix, or a vaccine for the brain chemistry anomalies associated with such severe depression & bi-polar type illness…until then, we must do what you have done, Dear David: treat our bodies as precious and holy, nourishing our flesh with fresh air, exercise, pure water, healthy foods, engaging the mind with wholesome adventures & earnest work, and just as importantly, feeding our need for emotionally balanced relationships filled with Love & compassion, attain some form of spirituality to lift one Up, when the body begins to age, or to fail…to support a life well-lived. This gives a foundation upon which to build a defense against the “slings & arrows of outrageous fortune” that may beset us in this life, and support our destiny to Be in this adventure of being human… I grieve as if for a lost family member, for laughing with Robin has kept many a sad day from overwhelming me or mine…we must keep in mind that Robin not only coped with addictions, and he had had heart ailments, & surgeries, & the infirmities and insecurities that come with an aging body in a Hollywood-youth-oriented culture. I suppose the good that may come of this, is in seeing how mental illness is not a stigma to be suffered in isolation, but rather a condition for which one unashamedly seeks help. Reverend Rick Warren’s son, Matthew, committed suicide last year, and his death has spurred a focus for the Church {Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California} to not only deal with their other endeavors to fight HIV/AIDS, poverty, substance abuse, etc., and now: to rally leaders in the field of health care & mental illness to seek new avenues of treatment, for the old ways of psychotherapy & pharmaceuticals do not always work, –and one size does not fit all–as evidenced by these two fine men who succumbed to suicide in spite of the best that money, and love of family & friends, could do…I am so glad you fought back from that brink, David. With your intellect & gift for analysis, perhaps you might find more words of advice for others in a similar situation…you never know, your “tricks” just may work as a key for someone’s locked mind…Keep It Up, David. Love you! Praying for solace for the Williams’ family…

  7. Michael says:

    All I can say is thanks for posting what a lot of us have been trying to articulate for days.

  8. David says:

    Thank you, everyone, for the wonderful comments. They mean a great deal to me! Please continue to share and discuss mental health issues in your own lives – there’s no reason why an illness as common as depression should be kept so quiet.

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