I think most people have at least one movie where they were moved by a character or message that Robin Williams brought to life. For me, it’s just so hard to pick. In Hook, he helped me to believe in your inner, eager spirit. In Good Will Hunting, he reminded me that all the knowledge and smarts in the world is not equivalent to really living, enjoying, and being in the moment – to loving life. I think, however, that nothing personally compares for me to the last scene in Ms. Doubtfire.
When I was 13, my parents got divorced. My parents had promised to me many times as a child, that no matter what happened, they would not get a divorce. They would work through their problems and keep our family together. This was Earth-shattering for me, even though I saw it coming. Wanting to lift my spirits, I watched Ms. Doubtfire, having completely forgotten about the scene at the end of the movie:
“If there’s love dear, those are the ties that bond. And you’ll have a family in your heart, forever. All my love to you my poppet, you’re going to be alright.”
Predictably, it touched me deeply and I carried the message with me into adulthood. I already had heard those things before, but Robin really made me believe it. He made me feel like he understood, so I trusted him. The message too, that families could come in all shapes and sizes and that all that mattered was that we were loving to each other, also helped me in overcoming my fears about being gay. I could be loved, I could still have a family, that everyone is different, and everyone experiences pain, but it doesn’t mean you can’t live a normal life again. “You’re going to be alright.”
People are of course, debating once again whether or not what Robin Williams did was selfish in taking his own life. As someone who has experienced real depression, I cannot speak for everyone else who has been sick, but I can say, I do not personally believe that makes him selfish. The act itself has selfish consequences, but honestly, the man was in serious pain. To force someone to do anything simply because it’s what you want, is also selfish. Guilt-tripping people into doing what you want is not loving them, it’s manipulating them. I am not suggesting that anyone who is depressed should give up, but I am saying that when someone kills themselves, they rarely do it to hurt other people. Many of them know they have family who loves them, they know it will hurt them, but they’ve decided that the pain is so terrible that they can’t deal with it anymore. Many times, the people who are in that situation are so selfless, that they feel that they can’t ask for help because they feel that they are hurting others by dragging them down with them. Making them sad by showing them or admitting to them that they’re hurting. And it’d be one thing if you just felt bad here or there, but sometimes you feel bad for a very long time. One of the worst rounds of depression that I ever went through lasted more than a year. I did not want to be depressed, I was doing what I could, but I couldn’t just make it go away. It doesn’t work that way, it’s a sickness. Your brain is stuck in a chemical process that not only makes you feel like crap, but distorts and twists your reality to make you believe that you are worthless.
When we lost Robin, when I lost Robin, I was deeply saddened for knowing his pain. Then I felt angry, because he gave up. Then I was sad again when I remembered how powerless and painful it had made me feel. Robin had serious depression, but he was successful, well-liked, had friends and family, was giving and loving and thoughtful, but none of it was enough because depression is not prejudice. Even the richest, funniest, most selfless man in the world can still break his arm, right? Because he is still human and the human body can get sick. It screwed with my head at first though, because when you’re sick, you look to others who are sick to understand, bond with, give you hope. If such a wonderful, brilliant man couldn’t survive the wrath of the disease, how can the rest of us? I think the reality is, we need to remember that depression, for many of us, doesn’t really go away. It’s like an addiction, especially if it’s genetic depression that you have. You can get better, but you’re still an addict. For many of us, it’s a reality we will face our entire lives and I think many of us fear that one day, we just won’t see enough of reason to keep fighting it.
However, in the way that an addict can surround themselves with support and give themselves tools to help them when they feel sick, so can those who are depressed. It doesn’t mean that you’re not going to feel like shit sometimes, that you’re not going to slip into depressive states, but there is hope that you can come out of it again. It’s also not your fault if you do, we’re still not sure why it is people get depressed. But there’s hope that because you did come out of a serious bout of depression once, you can do it again. If you’re careful and take professional help when you can, you can also lessen the severity of those times when you feel terrible, so that they’re bearable. Medical science is also getting better, we’re finally starting to take depression seriously, as an illness. Western medicine is starting to look at Eastern alternatives to mental health and figuring out why it sometimes works better than drugs or can be a helpful addition to necessary medications. Stigmas about depression are being directly challenged, thanks in large part to celebrities who are honest about their condition (as Robin very often was) and doctors who challenge old perspectives. There is hope. Never, ever allow yourself to believe the lies your mind tells you about being alone and not being able to be understood. Yes, to a certain degree, you are so unique and wonderful that no one is “exactly” like you, but depression and mental illness creates these same feelings in far more people than you’d think.
ARE YOU HEARING ME? YOU ARE NOT ALONE. YOU MATTER. IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT.
And regardless of anything you’ve done or haven’t done in this life, you deserve love and attention for the things that hurt you, because you are a human being. You don’t need another reason.
I will leave you with a last bit of advice from my two favorite authors, both of which suffer/suffered from depression.
“What are we holding onto Sam?”, the tiny hobbit, Frodo asks Sam in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Tolkien answers through Samwise Gamgee-
“That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.”
What is “good” is subjective to each person, but I promise that it does exist for you in some way, some where in the world. There is goodness in the world, and good experiences still waiting for you, should you choose to claim them. You also have goodness inside you that can contribute to this world. If there’s darkness in this world that haunts you, it also haunts others. If you don’t like it, band with those who agree with you and stand together to destroy it with love. Help bring that light into the world that you so desire to see. You’re not the only one who wants that, I promise.
Second, turn to love from others.
“Listen, dementors are among the foulest creatures to walk this earth. They feed on every good feeling, every happy memory until a person is left with nothing but his worst experiences. The dementors affect you more than others because there are true horrors in your past, horrors your classmates can scarcely imagine. You are not weak, Harry. You have nothing to be ashamed of.” Rowling tells us about her fights with depression through the metaphors of dementors. Her answer for us, comes through the loving words of Albus Dumbledore -
“It’s not in the nature of a dementor to be forgiving. But you know, happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, when one only remembers to turn on the light.”
Depression is a vicious, aggressive, merciless liar. Vanquish it with the strongest thing you have, love. That light that Harry fights the dementors with is love and happiness. Let people tell you they love you and believe them. Trust them. It’s the kind thing to do, both out of respect for their intelligence, and for your own health. Focus on the words of kindness, the happy memories, the looks of love and admiration in the faces of the those you love. To be clear, this is not about making you feel guilty, this is about focusing on what makes you feel good and loved. After you focus your thoughts, turn and look your depression in the face and stay “Expecto patronum! Eat shit and die, you heartless, lying, bastard of a parasite!”