Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A comedian slips into the black hole of depression

It's not necessary to post any of the hundreds of his hilarious videos to demonstrate that Robin Williams' suicide is a tragedy. Years ago, I laughed so hard at a friend's videotape of Williams' HBO special that I literally fell out of my chair. I don't think any comic — Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, Steve Martin, anybody — ever made me laugh that hard.

But behind the humor, behind the manic, non-stop jokes, was a chronically depressed man. The depression finally overwhelmed him, and the humor that made others laugh so hard no longer amused him. Those of us who have never fallen so far into the black hole of depression wonder what could ever compel a person to take his own life, especially a person so full of jokes and laughter as Robin Williams. But for millions of people, that black hole is never far away, and the solid ground around it easily crumbles when circumstances or situations connive to make them lose their balance and slip deeper into that abyss.

Mental health treatment, drugs, and a supportive network of family and friends can sometimes alleviate some of the danger, and an outwardly normal life can be lived. But the black hole never goes away, still grasping at one's feet, still tilting a person off-balance.

Many years ago, I attended the funeral for a friend who had killed himself. I dreaded the service at a fundamentalist church, worried that the preacher might declare my friend to be condemned to hell because he committed a mortal sin with a gun that left no time for second thoughts, regrets or forgiveness. Instead, the preacher declared that God loved my friend and would not judge his lifetime of kindnesses on one final, desperate act.

The best way to remember Robin Williams is to see that all who, like him, lived too close to that black hole, receive mental health treatment and reassurance.

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