‘No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.’ – A note on the death of Robin Williams

Like so many, last night I was left deeply saddened to hear of the death of actor and comedian Robin Williams. I was literally lying in bed listening to ‘Flight to Neverland’ from the score of Hook with tears in my eyes, which came to a head when I made the mistake of watching the final scene of Mrs Doubtfire: ‘all my love to you, poppet, you’re going to be alright’ always used to make me teary, but I know now I’ll full on break down. Initially, this reaction surprised me, in the sense that I was thinking ‘I never even met this man, why on earth am I so affected?’ Shortly after, I took to my Twitter and can honestly say I have never experienced such an intense mass public outpouring of heartbreak and loss like it. More noticeable than this though was the tremendous sense of respect, warmth and gratitude that abounded, which helped me answer my question: this man, through his tremendous acting, his comedy and his spirit touched and inspired so many lives, and that to me demonstrates the mark of a true artist. Many of his films were a staple of my childhood, and even now I’m still discovering and enjoying his work, and will proudly continue to do so. My thoughts go out to his family, friends and all of us who were inspired by him, and I thank him for sharing his gift with the world.

Hearing that his death was an apparent suicide gave me great pause for thought and has challenged me to change the way I look at the world and how I relate to people. Depression is a terrible illness, and though I have never experienced the dark places it can trap people in first hand, it has touched my life in the sense that some of the funniest, kindest and most awesome people that I am proud to call my friends deal with it day in, day out. I hear and read it often described as a black cloud that will follow you around, and some days the downpour can be torrential. Some might say that because I’ve never experienced it myself I have no idea how it really feels, and they’d be right. I have no clue. In all honesty, there have been times that friends have let me in when they’ve been suffering like this and I’ve felt this awful sense of being completely useless as a friend because I don’t have the answer, didn’t know what to say to make it better. Nowadays though, I’m slowly learning to understand that what I can do to help isn’t about knowing exactly the right thing to say or do, it’s about being there to help that person hold that umbrella up against the cloud, and help dry them off when they need it, even if my efforts make only the minimal bit of difference. Then I will feel I’ve done my job as a friend. Roughly two weeks ago, I took a walk with my grandpa and my carer at the time across the Clifton Suspension Bridge here at home. About halfway across we stopped to take in the view, and grandpa pointed out the fencing running along the edge. He said that it had to be put up to try and discourage jumpers. I also spotted a plaque nearby with the number for the Samaritans on it, and it made me realise something: we as a society seem to have a major troubling taboo about mental health, depression in particular and this needs to change. Yes I may not know how it feels, but I do know that I am not OK with the idea that people can suffer for so long in silence to the point they feel that the world is better without them in it, or that death is the only way to make whatever pain they are going through end.
There are of course treatments, but not everybody has access to the support they need, and anti-depressants aren’t the answer for everyone.

One thing that really riles me is when I hear ‘what did they have to be depressed about?’ so I implore everybody: be kind, be open and don’t be afraid to talk and be there for each other, because that person may be facing a battle you know nothing about and feel completely alone when there is no need to feel that way and we all have power to make a difference to someone however small and insignificant it may seem to us at the time. As Robin observed in Dead Poets Society: ‘No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.’

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7 thoughts on “‘No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.’ – A note on the death of Robin Williams

  1. Hi Kerrie, Perhaps you will recall me as Kate_e_Kat from the Alfie Boe Forum. I have been meaning to write you for a long time about how much I love the reviews you post on your blog. I am always so pleased when I see in my email that you have a new blog entry. I am quite sorry that I have let my being busy keep me from sitting down before today to tell you this. When I read your most recent blog I knew I had been remiss for far too long and had to respond right away. As I said before, I always love your reviews. I live 6000 or so miles away in California, but you have a way in your writing that makes feel as if I get a taste of what you have seen and I can feel the excitement as if I was there too. It is a wonderful gift you have Kerrie, and your blogs just get better and better. I was so very moved by your blog regarding Mr. Williams. I think you got right into the heart of it. Through his work he touched so many people’s hearts. I know when I heard of his passing I was so very sad and then when I heard how he died it hurt because I thought how utterly unfair that someone who brought so much laughter to so very many people could be at a point that he thought this was his best option. You are also so correct about your thoughts on depression. It is a shame that in this day in age there still this sort of taboo about mental health. As a woman who has had a few battles with depression and who has lost a few people who were so very important to me because they chose to fight “their demons” by self medicating through drugs or alcohol, depression is a very real condition and it can be vicious. Even though I have sought treatment, I still for the most part hide that I have my struggles. Trust me, I had to think about it pretty hard before I even wrote this to you. And why…because I have had people say things to me about being weak, being spoiled, just wanting attention. (Trust me on this…while you are having a panic attack so bad that you can barely breathe, it is not the time you want attention. I know in my case as I feel it coming on I am praying I can find a place to hide until I can pull it together again.) When you can’t breathe and you sometimes don’t even know yourself why this is happening, the last thing you want is people asking questions. I actually had someone say to me, the very thing you mentioned. “What do you have to be depressed about?” I can tell you, I have asked myself that a million times well. I am not stupid, I know I have a pretty darn good life. And yet there are times when for no reason I start feeling like the most useless person on the planet and that people would be better without me and that things will only get worse. Or that everything is out of control and I am powerless to do anything. And sometimes it is an overwhelming sense of sadness that just makes my whole body hurt and feel so tired that I can barely move. I had one of my friends tell me after my son and husband had been killed in an accident with a drunk driver that, “Well, now you at least have a reason for those blue moody things you get.” While she has always tried to be supportive, I knew then that she did not understand. And that those blue moody things were very real far before my heart was broken by their loss. It’s these things that make it feel shameful. And sadly, for men I think it might be harder. Just last year I lost my brother at far too young because he used alcohol to deal with his darkness, as he called it. Sadly he thought getting therapy would make him look weak. I tried very hard to change his mind but in the end the addiction he developed won and his liver failed. Even the love from all the peoples lives he touched could not save him. I know how much I miss him but I have to believe he has found the peace he was so looking for or I don’t know how I would cope. Another thing I’ve heard, you are so funny, how can you be sad? People don’t understand that humor can be a very good coping method as well as a mask. After all, it was Charlie Chaplin who taught us in the song he wrote, “Smile though your heart is breaking…”. It is true sometimes I have found, if I start feeling bad, that if I can find a reason to laugh and smile it can break the cycle. Sometimes not. And well, people as a rule find being around a depressed people not very fun. Add in a little dose of humans for the most part wanting to fit in because I don’t think we are hard wired to be loners. And thus we learn to pretend, to put on a happy face so people don’t know we are not life of the party. When depression doesn’t have me in it’s grip, I do laugh and smile easily and I can be very funny and it feels really good. I can have all the normal emotions and interactions with people and it real and I feel authentic The hard part is that while at times when I am in it’s grip, I’ve learned to cope by sliding on the masks…and when I do it well, people around me don’t know the turmoil inside, but there is a price. It’s exhausting, it’s not real and I feel like a total fraud and if that isn’t one more reason to feel depressed, I don’t know what is. I thought a lot about what you wrote and you are right it’s not ok at people suffer in silence. Depression should not be a shameful thing. A friend who knows as well how hard depression can be sent me a little sign that says, “Depression, Anxiety and Panic Attacks are not a sign you are weak, They are signs of having tried to remain strong for so long”. I am trying to keep that in my heart and mind daily. I also have been trying to be my authentic self all the time and by doing that I have trying to keep myself on my own when feeling depressed rather then pretending with people. Your perspective has given me another thought. I guess it’s time to own up, so to speak. My hiding it just is keeping the old shameful cycle thing going. I have never claimed to be perfect, but I guess it’s time to quit hiding this particular wart. Keeping it hidden I don’t think is really helping me, and maybe by opening up it might help someone else. One more thing, you don’t have to feel you need the right words when your friends talk to you about depression. You had it right, you were there and you were listening. One of the things I loved about my husband was that he got it. He didn’t suffer from depression, but he loved me enough to pay attention, get information and do what he could. He didn’t have all the answers, but he never belittled me for it or discounted what I was feeling. He was there for me, he held me when I needed it and gave me space when I needed that. He made me feel safe enough not to have to use the masks. I know it was hard for him because he felt he should be able to fix everything in my world. But he didn’t let any of the bad things scare him away. I miss him and our son so much, but I try very hard to be my best self because I know that is what they both would want for me and to be happy so many more days than I am sad. And that would be a pretty darn good thing honestly. It would be great if we would be wildly happy every day, but we know it to each life a little rain must fall. I can live with that. Thank you Kerrie…wish you were closer so I could give you a hug. Your blogs always make me happy, but today you were also like an angel that reached out and gave me a something to think about and also made me feel better too. Hugs, Kate Date: Tue, 12 Aug 2014 13:05:33 +0000 To: wrgsrtofb@hotmail.com

    • Dear Kate,

      First of all, thanks again so much for getting in touch; it is great to hear from you! I’m sorry I’ve disappeared from the forum, me and my love of Alfie have kind of outgrown each other… please do stay in touch from know on, and please don’t apologise for being busy, we all are and it’s great to hear from you whenever you can spare a few minutes. I’m so thrilled and touched to hear that even at 6000 miles away, my blogs still have the ability to bring you joy, and I hope they continue to do so.
      Secondly, thanks for your kind words. More importantly though, thankyou for your courage in being able to share your story with me. I can’t EVEN begin to comprehend how difficult it must be for you at times, and have the utmost respect for you and others in similar situtations who are just trying to do what we all as humans do, get through the day, whilst facing circumstances like those depression gives you. Like I say in my post, I have no idea how it feels, not really. But I hope you know I will always be here if you need me and will always try my best to do what I’m able: to understand.
      It’s funny, I wrote this blog yesterday just as a way for me to sort through how I was feeling at hearing the news. I’ve been touched and humbled by the comments I’ve been recieving from friends – I’ve always felt comfortable writing about how I feel, and if in turn it resonates with and helps people after helping ME make sense of how I feel, then I feel like I’ve done my best work 🙂

      Take care and hugs,

      Kerrie x

  2. Great thoughts here Kerrie. I love the ‘holding the umbrella up against the dark cloud’ idea. It always amazed me that the suspension bridge was one of the first places you’d see promotion of The Samaritans, surely it’s WAY too late by this point? More awareness needs to be made of this mental health condition and the work groups like the Samaritans do.

    • Thankye kindly sir! It struck me that these thoughts are probably no different to what tons of other people are feeling, but I just felt the need to share. That’s a very good point about the Suspension Bridge, and a scary one… The reaction I got from friends saying how it helped them to know that there are people who understand to some degree has inspired me to help raise what awareness I can 🙂

  3. Pingback: 'Words and ideas can change the world' - a tribute to Robin Williams » Rife Magazine

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