I was playing with my one year old daughter on our living room floor when my phone, that was lying on the glass table beside me, suddenly buzzed indicating that someone had just posted something to their Facebook wall. Normally, I don’t check these types of things right away, but for some reason, I decided to grab my phone and see what this person had posted. What I saw didn’t register for a good 10 or so seconds. The status read, “OMG :O” with a link to a news article with a headline that read “Robin Williams Found Dead in California Home.” I read and re-read the headline a few more times, while staring at the picture of Williams’ adorable, happy face that accompanied the article. When it did finally register, I was too shocked to even speak. I snapped out of my reverie when my daughter suddenly decided to crawl away from me, at full speed. I quickly got up from the floor and ran after her, picked her up from the hardwood floor and showered her beautiful face with kisses. I held her tiny body close to my chest; I held her there for a few minutes, with eyes closed, still trying to absorb what I had just read a few moments earlier. It was only after she struggled and squirmed that I decided to place her on the rug again, so that she could continue playing with her toys.
Robin Williams is dead. Robin Williams is really dead? OMG! How could this be? How could someone so wealthy, so successful, so beloved, and so exceptionally talented kill himself? These thoughts kept circulating in my head over and over again. It was just so shocking and heartbreaking both at the same time. I then kept thinking about my favourite films by him and how wonderful he was in them, namely “The World according to Garp,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Good Will Hunting,” “Dead Poets Society,” “Jumanji,” and “Awakenings.” “Good Will Hunting,” especially, is my most favourite movie of his of all time; the excellent story-line, the brilliant dialogues, the intellectually stimulating themes — the movie is perfect on so many deep levels that there are no words to even describe it.
I normally don’t mourn celebrities; I mean, I do get upset and feel for their families and fans, but there was something about Williams that really affected me to the point of bringing tears to my eyes. And, while it was tragic enough that the world lost such a great, exceptionally talented man, the thing that saddened me the most was that he didn’t die accidentally or from any natural causes, he died because he wanted to; he actually ended his own life, because he was suffering from both substance abuse and severe depression.
It really makes one wonder how someone like him could even be depressed in the first place; a man who seemingly has all the money in the world, fame, success, a beautiful loving family, adoring fans, and the list goes on and on. From the outside, he led the type of life that would have been the envy of many people. However, that’s not where it ended and unfortunately many people, including those I personally know, don’t seem to understand that wealth, success and fame does not necessarily buy happiness. A person may perhaps look happy on the surface, but on the inside they are battling a dark, horribly distressing demon that is trying to overcome them, their essence, and hence result in their downfall. And that was exactly what had happened to Williams.
As tragic and shocking Williams’ case was, we need to understand that depression is an illness — a very, very serious illness — and should never be taken lightly. We also shouldn’t judge Williams for ending his life the way he did either. We don’t know what he was going through. We don’t know what demons he was battling inside. We don’t know anything about what he was going through, internally. Just because he appeared happy and content doesn’t mean that that was the case. Clearly he was deeply disturbed mentally. And I am certain the decision for ending his life was not an easy one; it’s never an easy one. So, we seriously need to stop judging him nor calling him “selfish.” (It is beyond my comprehension why anyone would assume people who commit suicide are selfish; there is nothing selfish about ending your own life. Nothing at all.) We need to instead try to understand depression and what exactly its symptoms are, before we pass any sort of despicable judgments and criticism.
I realize that depression is often seen as mundane and trivial; in fact, many people have even used it quite casually in conversation, like, for example, “Man, I am so depressed today!” And while it’s okay for people to use the term in any context they wish, or deem fit, they also need to understand that it’s not something that should ever be dismissed or taken lightly, especially when the person who is clinically depressed is taking anti-depressant pills and seeking help through rehab. There are people who are “everyday” depressed, and then there are those who are depressed to the point of needing serious medical help. We need to be more sympathetic, empathic even perhaps, to the latter because depression is a genuine incapacitating condition. And many people suffer from it. Even “privileged,” extremely wealthy and famous men like Robin Williams. A friend of mine, Ali A. Rizvi, said it best:
To the ‘check your privilege’ crowd: Robin Williams was a white male American who grew up in a wealthy, intact family; earned a full scholarship to attend Juilliard; went on to have an immensely successful career in comedy, film, and music, winning an Oscar, five Grammys, four Golden Globes, and two Emmys; and had millions of people around the world who loved him dearly, including his own children.
Yet he still struggled with substance abuse and severe depression crippling enough for him to take his own life and say goodbye to all of that.
You don’t have gradations of trauma depending on how “privileged” someone is based on some arbitrarily generated criterion list. Stress isn’t about environmental stimuli themselves – it’s about an individual’s response to them. You can never truly know what someone is going through simply based on your own perception of their life.
That’s not to say it’s never appropriate for people to keep their privilege in check in certain situations. But it’s not a bad idea to check yourself before blanketly telling others to do it.
Depression doesn’t pick or choose whom to affect and whom to pass over, for it doesn’t take any personal factors into account. Depression can affect anyone and everyone. Of course, people who are not as wealthy or privileged as Williams will most likely suffer a plethora of acute mental illnesses, as some probably don’t have the means to cure/curb it through medication and rehab, but that doesn’t mean that the wealthier and more fortunate are completely immune to such illnesses. It’s sad how we always link illnesses and disease to the poor or more unfortunate people around the world, as if the rich and the overly successful don’t suffer from them either. And when we do learn about people like Robin Williams suffering from severe mental illnesses, it takes us by so much utter surprise and shock. And I, too, was and am guilty of this. Needless to say, I am ashamed. Indeed there is no such thing as being too wealthy or too famous or too successful to be suffering from any sort of severe mental illness. It affects everyone equally and with quite a dreadful vigour.
Robin Williams may have had fame and success, but he was a poor soul who was suffering internally and in desperate need for a way out. He was a brilliant yet tortured human being who decided to take his own life, because depression took the best of him. It weakened him and made him helpless and vulnerable. It snatched him from a life that we will forever commemorate for many years, decades and centuries to come. We lost a great actor; a great father; a great husband; and a great human being.
Let’s stop criticizing Williams for his decision and instead focus on the root cause of why he did what he had to do. Don’t blame Williams for being “selfish” or “immoral.” No, he was not at fault at all. Blame depression. Depression is the main, evil culprit here. Horrible, despicable depression that snatched our beloved Williams away from us.
May he rest in peace. Always.