Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Dear Robin Williams

It's been almost a year since I last updated this blog. And it takes a tragedy to bring me back to the land of the writing. That's a terrible way to be, and it make me a horrible author. Not in the You-Can't-Write-for-Shit-Kid sort of way (any previous blog entry spells that out to great effect anyway), but in that Now-It-Seems-Like-You're-Only-Writing-This-for-Guaranteed-Hits way. This is what Reddit has done to my brain. Anyway, I'm crossing platforms for only the second time. After the jump you'll see a blog post originally written on my company's intranet collaboration platform. I needed to share here, as well.

Dear Robin Williams,

Another eulogy. This one though...

Look, they're all bittersweet. Death is a natural and fully expected part of human life. When I wrote about Sid Caesar, I was sad of course, but I wasn't shocked and dismayed. Dude was 1,000 years old, it was bound to happen soon. My sadness was that this man who had inspired and informed so much of my life was gone. It wasn't unjust, it wasn't startling, but it was bittersweet.

But this one.

Robin, you have been a hero of mine since Mork and Mindy. Your improvisational skills were unmatched, and aren't likely to be seen again in my lifetime. Not only that, but you took comedy to such heights that you were able to infuse smiles and laughter into even the most serious of roles. Typically when using the aforementioned improvisational skills.

And so it was with great shock and no small amount of devastation that I learned of your death. I expected something heart related, to be honest. After all, your battles with cocaine addiction are publicly known, and that much abuse cannot be good for a heart, even when you're in recovery. When details started coming through and it was later confirmed that you had committed suicide, I was beyond stunned. I sat at my desk, staring at the screen in disbelief. How could this man, this joyous, wonderful, incredibly hairy ball of comedy and mirth take his own life, I asked myself. You were Popeye! You were the Genie

How could you do this to me?

That's what I thought. That was the very first thing I thought when I heard the awful truth.

And it is one of the worst thoughts that has ever traipsed its way across this bundle of synapses I call a mind. For that, you have an eternal apology, Robin WIlliams. I got really selfish, and that's not fair to you, or your legacy. 

Some might wonder how a man such as yourself, almost a living embodiment of humor, could ever reach an emotional state so low that suicide would ever enter your brain. See, that's the problem. We don't understand it. We think selfish thoughts and call victims of depression 'lazy' 'weak' or, perhaps most damning, 'selfish'. On the surface, with absolutely no context, it's easy to think that. It's because most people don't understand what's happening. They don't understand that you literally cannot "try to not be depressed". We look at you, Robin Williams, and simply do not have the ability to compute that a man with such a great smile and such amazing talent can feel so all alone in a world that loves him. 

Comedians often seem to have serious demons, largely because comedy is a natural defense mechanism, and the more you rely on it, the more you need it. The more laughter you get, the better you feel, but the instant the laughter stops you've got that much further to fall, worsening the disease. Some turn to drugs and alcohol. Some fall into a deep depression, which leads them to drugs and alcohol. Some people straight up quit and try to find a regular job, hoping that security will fill in the gaping hole where comedy used to be. Now, most of the people that read this might find it hard to believe, perhaps more so those who have met me in person, but I understand that feeling so very, very well. I'm not saying I'm some world class comedian who should be headlining Caroline's or anything, but think of the life of a comic on the road:
  1. Show up in a city you may or may not have been to before. You might know a few faces, but the vast majority are strangers.
  2. You're away from your home, your spouse/SO, maybe your kids but you have to be. This is what you're paid to do.
  3. You stick around for a week, maybe two, playing the same stage every night, sometimes twice on a big night, and you get into a rhythm.
  4. The crowd loves you. For a couple of hours every day you are doing work that people love. You're bringing something they have asked for, and even on a bad night, it still beats sitting at home watching the tube, so they praise you even if you might not deserve it.
  5. But at the end of the show, you always wind up back in your hotel room. Alone, missing your spouse/SO, your kids, and your own bed. The high you experienced from the work you did earlier is gone and there's just an empty hotel room with bad art on the walls and even worse carpet on the floors to match the empty feeling in your mental/emotional state with sad thoughts on your mind and even worse cravings in your belly. 
  6. Vice can very easily become your best friend.
  7. You finish your schedule, quite exhausted, and then head off to another city to restart the process.

So, people whom I've met, I have to ask: Does that remind you of anyone?

I understand where the spiral begins, Robin Williams, and I'm beyond sorry for thinking of myself first. Which leads me to my final point.

This country does not treat mental illness in a respectable way. We have some good programs for people that can find them, but mental health is considered something only rich people have to worry about, or a weakness to be avoided. We need to treat depression like cancer. We throw money left and right at cancer. People will buy anything with a  pink ribbon on it because we all know someone who has suffered because of cancer, directly or indirectly. We even understand that most of that money doesn't go anywhere near a research facility, but actually towards keeping the foundation itself afloat and we still do it. Why? Because it makes us feel like we're helping. 

When was the last time you saw something with, say, a gray label to support depression and mental illness research (gray is just a color I pulled out of the air. It works on a few levels. First, gray = gray matter so there's that. Then there's the whole mental illness is a gray area in diagnosing. You could just be a perfectly normal weird kid. And then there's the general feeling of gray you start with when you suffer from depression)? When was the last time someone held a Relay for Strife event to bring awareness to the millions of people that suffer from mental illness? The answer is very likely never. Because we don't view mental disease as actual disease. Because our hyper-realized Western Macho culture is so deeply rooted in the Rub-Some-Dirt-On-It-And-Get-Back-In-The-Game mentality that we can't see that a cerebral wound can be worse than a physical one. 

I am so, so sorry that that should be the case. It is unfair. It is unjust. It is wrong.

I loved the joy you brought to my life. I loved the way even a tiny smile could light up your whole face. I loved that you could do a one man improv show with 80 different characters in one hour. I love that you were doing Family Guy style cutaway bits before Seth MacFarlane was out of diapers. I loved everything you ever did. Except Patch Adams. That was awful. 

I'm sorry this happened, Robin Williams. 

Mr. Attack Resist

A Message to the Depressed

Here is a basic list of resources/hotlines that you can call if you are feeling suicidal, or are worried about someone who is.
United States: 1-800-784-2433 (1-800-SUICIDE)
United States (en Espanol): 1-800-SUICIDA
United States-veterans 1-800-273-8255, Veterans Press 1

Also, you can hit me up on through this blog and ask for a moment of my time. Send me a DM on Twitter. I will respond to any @ or DM messages. Reach out. Let me listen. No judgements, no condemnations. Just an ear and maybe a joke or two, if you want.

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