“The peace of mind one experiences on one’s own, one’s certainty of self in the serenity of solitude, are nothing in comparison to the release and openness and fluency one shares with another, in close companionship . . .”
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by
Since the news of his death, I have been thinking about Robin Williams – about his life, his inspiring work, and the way he died. And here are some thoughts that I can’t get out of my head….
In his work, he appeared so funny, so joyful, so engaging, with seemingly boundless energy. But if you really really looked into his eyes, especially during interviews, what you would see was wisdom, depth and sadness. A whole big ocean of despair. It wasn't diluted by the cameras, the lights, or even laughter, it was that strong. His eyes always said "I love my craft, I love my children, but I don't really belong here...I am just a visitor..."
Who knows what specifically pushed him over the edge. My mom used to say "you never know what's going on behind closed doors." The closed doors of our hearts, our minds, our houses. We just speculate and often over-simplify - depression, anxiety, early stages of Parkinson's disease...Loneliness. What pushes one over the edge? We will never truly know.
The interesting thing is that we were all shocked by the news of Robin Williams' death. He fooled us all in a way, and lulled us into a sense of security thinking "Robin Williams is strong and he will be around for a long time. Look how funny he is. He survived the heart surgery and all."
Was he putting on the brave show for all of us? Possibly. Was he so unique in doing so? I think not. Isn’t there a bit of "Robin Williams" in all of us?
How many of us put on the brave show every day? How about every hour? How many of us take deep breaths just to be able to get out of bed? And for how many of us no breathing or mountains of antidepressants are enough to get us out of bed? How many of us conjure up a wide smile and say "I am great" when asked "how are you" while crumbling inside?
As a coach, I see it a lot. People come seeking "career advice." And often times, it turns out that while they may need tweaks to their résumés, what they seem to be even hungrier for is a human interaction. Just for someone to care, even for a fee, and listen to the small insignificant - and yet to them enormous and paramount - details of their lives. Think of all the people you love the most. Those people who create a safe, warm internal glow in your heart. I bet their eyes light up when you enter the room and they genuinely want to hear what you ate for lunch and whether you enjoyed it.
I suppose, ultimately, we are all alone in our heads. Prisoners of our minds, our despairs, our fears...I know, it’s not a unique thought. For some reason it feels more real than ever to me now. In the world of so many people, no-one should feel so alone within the prison of our minds that there is no other way but to leave this world. But I know it's idealistic to think that.
The older I get, the more I am convinced that nobody can live for someone else. Robin Williams seemed to have such loving children whom he adored. And yet, they didn't have enough gravitational force to keep him here.
The odds, I think, are stacked up against us in some ways. There are certain exacerbating circumstances of the world we live in.
For example, I think social media makes us feel more lonely and isolated. It creates this emotional dissonance. A mind cannot help but wonder "I have 100+ so called friends on Facebook. Didn't anyone notice my cryptic SOS message??"
Also, our world values self-reliance and personal responsibility a lot. I don't know if it's above all else, but it's close, pretty up there. We must make our own medical decisions, do our own taxes, take charge of our own career, raise perfect children - no matter the circumstances, etc. etc. etc. That's a lot to deal with, don't you think? And now imagine doing it all under the watchful and often unkind eye of the public.... Wouldn't it drive you mad?
Brene Brown, a researcher and writer who studies vulnerability and shame, says that for men shame comes from one source - being viewed as weak. Did Robin Williams feel that he wouldn't be able to bare watching his kids and the whole world pity him in his battle with Parkinson's? Could the shadow of the shame be too dark?
Williams' friend and actor Harvey Fierstein said "Please, people, do not fuck with depression. It's merciless. All it wants is to get you in a room alone and kill you." It really stuck with me…"in a room alone…” And I wanted to add, "and please people keep each other company." Yes, depression is an illness and please don't mess with it. Do whatever must be done. But if there is a bit of despair and loneliness in all of us, let's not wait for the darkness to envelop us. Let's mind the depression but let’s also just really mind each other. And no, I don’t mean “let’s take care of each other, let’s hug and sing Kumbaya” (although there may be a place and time for that too.) All I am saying is pay attention to other fellow humans. Even the unlovable kinds (or maybe especially them).
There is nothing more important than listening without judging (and man, do I suck at that, a massive work in progress). You know those announcements right before a hurricane? They say “please check on your elderly and disabled neighbors.” I think we should just check on each other - young, old, abled, disabled, it doesn't matter. And do it all the time.
For example, it could start simply by asking someone "how are you" and really listening to the answers... Don’t walk away. Don't let them get away with an impersonal "I am fine." Listen for clues. Read between the lines. Let's allow each other, allow ourselves, to get unglued from time to time. Think of it as a cleansing ritual. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign we are human and we are learning, and we are doing something so natural and normal – relying on each other.
Here is my wish and prayer for myself and for all of us. Since we are all just mere humans, visitors on this beautiful planet, when the night falls on our souls (I am not saying IF because it is enviable that it would happen during the course of our lives in varying degrees), may there always be someone by our side... Someone real. Someone who will simply say "I hear you, I see you. Namaste – Your spirit honors your spirit." And may this message come in every form imaginable, including but certainly not limited to the following:
"Want to grab a beer?”
“Shall we have some strong Turkish tea?”
“How about we take a walk together?”
“Let’s sit quietly here and pray together.”