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Williams' Suicide Shines Light On Depression

August 13, 2014

By Ben Boychuk

Here's an old joke. A man walks into a doctor's office and says he's depressed. He says that life seems harsh and cruel, and he feels alone in an uncertain world.

The doctor says he has just the treatment the man needs. “The great clown Pagliacci is in town. Go see him. You'll feel better.” The man bursts into tears. “But doctor,” he replies, “I am Pagliacci.”

Alan Moore wrote roughly that same version of the joke in “Watchmen” almost 30 years ago. It's made the rounds again since the shocking news broke Monday afternoon that Robin Williams had died, apparently by suicide. Now we know. The Marin County Sheriff's Department on Tuesday confirmed that Williams, 63, had hanged himself in his Tiburon home.

This great comedian and actor — a man who brought so much laughter and joy and light to millions — succumbed to the darkness. His seemingly boundless energy is gone, extinguished. How is such a thing even possible? What horror. What sorrow. What loss!

And it bowled me over. Not just because here was another dead celebrity whose work I'd loved as a kid. (I dressed up as Mork from Ork, the TV character that made Williams a megastar, for Halloween in 1978.) I've struggled with depression for decades. I've known people — including somebody very dear to me — who chose the same path that Williams took on Monday. And I understood, even though I hate the choice.

Over the years, Williams had been candid about his struggle with drug and alcohol abuse. Addiction and depression often go hand in hand. Last month, in fact, he had checked himself back into rehab, not because he'd fallen off the wagon but rather because he feared he might.

His publicist on Monday said Williams “has been battling severe depression of late.” Of late?

An interviewer for the Guardian of London described him this way in 2010: “Williams' bearing is intensely Zen and almost mournful. … He seems gentle and kind — even tender — but the overwhelming impression is one of sadness.”

It's commonplace that comedy derives from pain. If Williams' stature is any indication, his pain must have been gargantuan.

“You look at the world and see how scary it can be sometimes and still try to deal with the fear,” Williams told another interviewer in 1989. “Comedy can deal with the fear and still not paralyze you or tell you that it's going away. You say, OK, you got certain choices here, you can laugh at them and then once you've laughed at them and you have expunged the demon, now you can deal with them. That's what I do when I do my act.”

Don't be deceived by the public mask. You can never really know what's going on inside somebody's head. People who haven't experienced depression — bona fide depression, not merely the occasional bout of the blues — often do not understand how debilitating or insidious the disease can be.

When my brother-in-law killed himself 11 years ago, I overheard somebody at his funeral say, “I don't understand why he would do something so stupid. He was such an intelligent individual.”

Intelligence has nothing to do with it — indeed, depression has a way of turning your intelligence against you. Standard rules of logic do not apply.

If any good may come of this horror, perhaps more people will come to view depression as the illness that it is and either seek treatment or learn better how to comfort the afflicted. It's a disease that may be managed, if never completely overcome.

Medical science tells us that depression stems partly from a chemical imbalance in the brain. Medical science has given us wonderful drugs to help restore the proper balance.

But it's really not about the chemicals. Pills can take the edge off, but they can't fix everything. And, in my experience at least, the language of therapy — soothing, nonjudgmental — is fine as far as it goes, but Freud, Jung and their descendants have nothing on Aristotle, Aquinas and Dante.

Truth is, we do live in an uncertain world, fraught with stupid divisions and desperately lacking in compassion and decency. But it's easy to forget that we're really not alone. Don't despair. And, whatever you do, don't forget to laugh.

Original Source: http://www.pe.com/articles/williams-698725-depression-don.html

 

 
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