Monday, August 11, 2014

One Spark of Madness: Remembering Robin Williams

Growing up, I didn't particularly like "Mork & Mindy." Even at a young age, It just seemed too hokey and my childhood brain refused to suspend reality for 23 minutes a week in an effort to enjoy this alien-come-househusband.  I found it predictable, slapstick, goofy. Yet people would howl in laughter at the character of Mork, especially how he got along with Mindy's father. Still, it propelled Robin Williams into becoming a household name, a respected comedian in a murky, giant sea of comedians coming out of the late 1970's and early 1980's. Williams cut his teeth in the comedy clubs on the West coast for years before landing the role of "Mork," a role which launched him into becoming a celebrity.

Earlier today, the world was informed that Williams committed suicide by asphyxiation. How brutal. How calculated. How utterly heartbreaking. How unexpected.

Sometimes, and this isn't boasting by any means, only someone who has suffered from major depression and/or substance abuse (dual-diagnosis, co-occurring disorders) can fully appreciate the inherent energy it takes that aforementioned spark to remain afire. Then there is that terrible, horrifying moment that can last, pre-meditated, for ages, or as the result of a knee-jerk reaction during which one simply resigns oneself to the dark side of the madness. The side we, as funny people, try so hard, SO HARD, to mask. My personal belief as a manic/depressive is that no matter how much therapy, how much rehab, how many attempts to stay on track, how many accolades he was awarded, his despair IN THAT MOMENT was SO overwhelming that he simply felt that the world would be a better place without him. Or, conversely, that he'd spare his family and loved ones any more of "having to deal" with his mood disorder and substance abuse. 

There's a song by The Flaming Lips (isn't there always?) that has always reminded me of the ramifications of my own personal suicidiality, which, folks, has threatened to engulf me far too many times than I wish to claim. It's called "If I Go Mad/Funeral In My Head." To me, it's an opus about which one is to be remembered. It addresses not only Williams' statement to embracing the madness, but also looking outward at that which is left behind when we pass away. 

Robin Williams worked tirelessly in an effort to make other people make people laugh and have a good time, even when he himself, perhaps, had a psyche hanging by a thread. He was known for his warmth and graciousness, though he never really took care of his own problems first. Recent reports claim he returned to rehab for a "tune-up" in order to maintain his sobriety, notoriously sketched with drug and alcohol abuse, for which he was seldom apologetic and even addressed in his stand-up routines. If you can't mock the disease with which you are afflicted, I believe you succumb to it far more quickly, pitifully.  He tried to give a face to depression, true despair. Maybe we would've taken him more seriously if he wasn't so goddamn funny all the time, bringing so much joy to everyone. The breadth of his roles, be they more dramatic ("Dead Poets Society," "Good Will Hunting") to the silliness of "Mrs. Doubtfire" paid testimony to his versatility as an actor and as a man of many faces. 

The face we could not see today was that of his war-torn eyes, exhausted from fighting his inner demons and seeking permanent relief from what, in all likelihood, with enough therapy and support, could possibly been a temporary emotional condition. What goes through one's mind at that final, grave moment? It's something I've thought about numerous times. Hang myself? Heavens no. Too complicated. Shoot myself? Too messy. OD? Easiest way out, most pragmatic, least wretched. That speaks purely to the physicality of the person deciding to commit suicide. Disregarding the notions of whether or not one's religious beliefs condemn one to a fiery eternity or a blessed heaven for taking the decision of one's death out of the hands of God, I, instead, try to empathize with the decision--whether rational or irrational, chemically-fueled or stone cold sober. I realize in those moments of despair that I have a child to raise, and work to be done on this earth, and I speak out and talk to those whom I love most, who I know won't blow me off or judge me with contempt or dismissal of my feelings.

Loved ones will undoubtedly ask themselves "What could we have done to keep this from happening?" and too often, the answer is absolutely nothing. A horrifying statistic, isn't it? I can only imagine someone in Robin's state of mind finally resigning himself to his depression, and those truly determined to finalize the ending of their lives at their own hands succumbing to diffusing the spark of madness which has kept their facade so intact for so long while inside, they struggled just to catch a breath every day. Think of it this way, albeit graphically: releasing the chair and letting the rope strangle you is akin to taking your two index fingers, wetting them slightly and pressing the fire of that spark of madness into darkness. 

Robin Williams' suicide doesn't make him a bad man. It doesn't make him a dishonorable man. It doesn't make him a cowardly man, really. It makes him a thinly blown glass ball being tossed around direction by direction until it finally is dropped, cracked and shatters. It's nobody's fault

Sixty-three is too young to die when he was in talks to reprise his role as "Mrs. Doubtfire," and had a number of other projects in the works. That's the thing about depression--if you're not laid up in bed, curled into a ball for 3 weeks, you're on the go-go-go, making all sorts of grand plans. That is, in fact, one of the signs people should look for in someone one suspects may be contemplating suicide. That person will want the world to think they're at the top of their game, ready to tackle it all and happy to do so, when the exact opposite is the truth. As in a lot of cases of suicide, it occurs when family and friends least expect it, because the person who wants to die genuinely is trying to get as much fun and love out of his/her last days. The disillusion of life. 

Robin, thank you not only for sharing your comedic brilliance and thousands of personas with the world as an actor and comedian, but also for admitting and exposing yourself as a human who has struggled with depression and substance abuse. You brought hope to the hopeless, happiness to the sad, and laughs all around. 

My sincere hope is that he find rest and comfort in the face of a horrid exit from this mortal coil. I hope he makes the universe continue to laugh and contemplate. I pray his family peace in knowing he did not leave them because he did not love them; rather, his overwhelming personal grief, those monsters, got the best of him. 

Again, thank you, Robin Williams, for the funny voices, the silly impersonations, the frankness of your stand-up routines, and your keen ability to inspire and be a response to inspiration. You will not soon be forgotten. I'll even forgive you for "Mork & Mindy."

Rest in peace.


BMF said...

This is gorgeous. You should have it published somewhere. So succinct. So honest. You really speak from your heart, Annie.

Rob Cheney said...

Said from the heart. We hadn't realised at home how much of an impact his death would have as his work had brought much joy to us. Going to disagree about mork and mindy as it brings back fond childhood memories of watching it on a Saturday tea time with my family

Andrea Miklasz said...

Ok, Rob, I'll grant you "Mork & Mindy!"