The world was shocked with the news that the much-loved Hollywood actor and comedian Robin Williams took his own life. It was hard for his fans to reconcile his animated persona on screen with the revelation that he was actually an unhappy person off screen. It was discomforting to think that someone who made it a business to make people forget about their worries was himself overwhelmed with anxieties.There were other celebrities who have come and gone in equally tragic circumstances but their star wasn’t as bright as Robin Williams’s. He was a household name and this is evident in the continued tremendous outpouring of tributes and support from around the world weeks after his death.
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Williams’s death was a great loss not just to the show business industry but also to generations of people who enjoyed watching him breathe life into the characters he played in films. He has been in our lives since some of us were kids. To this day, I still laugh when I watch footage of Williams as the Genie in the animated film Alladin.
Williams was an all-around entertainer. There was no film genre he couldn’t fit himself in. He was in comedy, drama, musical and animation. A lot of actors ruin their careers after unsuccessfully switching from one genre to another. Williams did not share their problem though because moviegoers did not have a problem watching him being a funny man or a serious bloke.
When you watch Williams in action, you would be amazed at how quick-witted he was and at his mastery of improvisation during live shows. One can be forgiven for thinking that he must have been high on drugs while doing his shows because some drugs have been known to help people lose their inhibitions, make people appear confident and sharp. Considering he has admitted to being addicted to cocaine and alcohol in the past, that theory is not too far-fetched.
William’s death made me appreciate my ordinary life. When I look at celebrities, I feel tired for them. They always have to put their best foot forward. I can’t imagine being funny all the time like Williams. It must be exhausting. It can be difficult being in the limelight and Williams had been in the limelight for almost four decades.
While I was watching a video of his stand-up comedy show in his early days, the possibility of why Williams ended his life occurred to me. He must have been sick and tired of entertaining people but could not retire just like how ordinary folks would when they have reached a saturation point in their career.
Only someone who felt trapped would think of killing himself. He probably felt trapped because there were too many people who were depending on him. Those who were relying on him included his family for emotional and financial support and the millions of strangers who he felt obliged to entertain. It was reported that Williams didn’t want to get more acting jobs but was just forced to for financial reasons. In other words, he was doing it for other people. That reason alone could have been a source of his depression.
Every time someone dies especially from suicide, people tend to become more philosophical and question the meaning of life. The meaning of life has eluded a lot of people, indeed.
Yes, we will all die one day and the things we do now – the struggles and the squabbles we go through to get what we want – will not matter in the end. But while we are alive, we have to do something to make our lives worthwhile.
Life is about having options. The less options you have in life, the less you will enjoy life. When you don’t have an option but to stick to a job you don’t like for instance, you will feel trapped and depressed.
What gives meaning to our lives is what we do between now and the day we die. We may spend hours in our jobs but our jobs need not define who we are as a person. We should have hobbies and pursue other interests for the fun of it or to gain a new skill. Some hobbies can give people financial rewards and result in financial freedom. Financial freedom can give people more options.
As a rule, you should not be doing things only because it makes other people happy. You should do things because it makes you happy foremost. If you have to disappoint someone because you have to stop doing something you no longer want to do, do not think twice about it. You always have to remind yourself that life is too short to be trapped in a situation you do not enjoy.
Of course there are times when you have to play the cards you are dealt. But that is just life challenging you to be more creative in looking for a way out of a bad situation you find yourself in. Challenges can give you character. You should embrace them. Always remember that the secret is to think about what you want to do and not what others expect you to do.
In life, things are not always what they seem.
15 Replies to “Robin Williams’s death and the meaning of life”
Robin Williams was not simply depressed, but rather, he suffered from a medical condition called “Clinical Depression.” Many, in fact most, people have no understanding of this condition and how it affects someone’s life.
What does the term “clinical depression” mean?
Answers from Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, M.D.
Depression ranges in seriousness from mild, temporary episodes of sadness to severe, persistent depression. Clinical depression is the more severe form of depression, also known as major depression or major depressive disorder. It isn’t the same as depression caused by a loss, such as the death of a loved one, or a medical condition, such as a thyroid disorder.
I thought about whether he was suffering merely from depression or clinical depression but could not find an article that states that Robin Williams was suffering from clinical depression. Did you find one?
I would have thought that someone who suffered from clinical depression would have ended his life much sooner than he did and would not have been able to function normally from an early age.
Clinical depression can be debilitation and people who suffer from it don’t really know where the source of their disorder is coming from. It was reported that Robin Williams was still very active prior to taking his life. It was also reported that changes in his life like his second divorce and the fact that he was having financial problems were affecting his outlook in life. His substance abuse and alcoholism obviously contributed to his feelings of helplessness.
One can surmise that the main difference between “severe depression” and “clinical depression” is one of diagnosis, and otherwise little or no difference.
Dr. Harry Croft, a psychiatrist and addiction expert and chief of CNS Trials at the Clinical Trials of Texas, says the phrase suggests to him that Williams wasn’t actually planning to visit a rehab center for addiction but was instead seeking help at a psychiatric hospital.
“I would surmise that he was in treatment for depression, not substance abuse,” Croft told CBS News. “One doesn’t really enter a facility for maintenance of sobriety unless there’s something else that’s going on that threatens that sobriety.”
Depression is often difficult to treat and can also be resistant to drug therapies. It’s estimated that only about a third of people with major depression will achieve remission after starting antidepressants.
Treating severe depression typically requires some type of drug therapy, such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and other psychotropic medications. Unfortunately, many of these drugs can sometimes worsen a person’s depressive symptoms. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns consumers that people who take SSRIs may have an increased risk for attempting suicide.
Hmmm…it seems to me that he was not officially diagnosed with clinical depression. If he was, he kept it a secret because it would be harmful to his career as a comedian. It was not mentioned as well that he was taking the drug therapy that could have helped push him over the edge.
Like I said earlier, severe or clinical depression can be debilitating or prevent a person from functioning normally. That was not the case with Robin Williams. It was even reported that he finished a few films prior to taking his life. Exhaustion could have added to his misery.
I don’t think you can really look for reasons ‘why’ someone was depressed. Depression is a force of nature. I’m sure we all know people living with it (or are those people ourselves), and the only positive outcome from the tragic Robin Williams story is that it might make fewer people spout unhelpful and ignorant sentiments along the lines of “What do you have to be unhappy about?” or “But he/she has such a good life,” when what’s required is their empathy.
Suicide is a serious issue. A lot of the articles that came out after Robin’s death tend to glamorise suicide. It is always worth examining why some people like Robin commit suicide. The idea is to help those who are contemplating doing the same thing to find better options other than ending their life.
Unfortunately for Robin, he lived in a world where people still can’t accept that feeling sad is a normal part of life just life feeling happy. And just like what I said in my previous article:
What is a healthier outlook in life then? Humans have different set of moods. Normal people have a baseline or set point of happiness. We bounce up and down from that baseline in response to short term events depending on the situation, like when we hear some bad news or good news. Most people normally return to their baseline after some time. Unfortunately, some of us think that we have to be above the normal baseline all the time to be considered a “happy” person, which is quite an impossible state to achieve because it means that in order to be “high” all the time, the natural tendency to be down after a high needs to be continuously overcome. And if we keep soaring higher, the longer the fall that is sure to come sooner or later.
If we prefer to constantly experience that “high” feeling, we also have to be constantly entertained by outside stimuli. This outside stimuli could come in the form of watching a spectacle on TV, the movies, being on the computer all day playing a video game, or being around a large gathering of family and friends having a party just to be entertained. In short, when our brain is being entertained all the time, we don’t have time to think or engage in self-reflection.
How do we sustain the baseline level of happiness? Being happy does not necessarily mean that we should always be in a gathering with friends having a ball or a party. Being happy does not necessarily mean that we should literally be laughing all the time or making jokes that make light of otherwise serious things. It would be more ideal to find happiness during our spare time doing some productive work that stimulates the imagination — like reading a good book or learning a new set of skills to keep our brains occupied and sharp. This sort of baseline happiness is more sustainable and healthier for the brain. It offers greater potential for monetary rewards, which can lead to being in a healthier mood for longer periods of time.
Caroline Hunt, a professor in psychology at the University of Sydney, Australia suggested that society would be better off if people backed away from their obsession with getting more happiness, because the activities to satisfy such an obsession is does more damage in the long-term. To quote what she said in an interview:
“There are a lot of misconceptions about what makes us happy, often involving unrealistic expectations of just how happy we could be. There’s a small industry suggesting what people should do to make themselves more happy but most of the time it would be more useful for people to accept that being unhappy or being in a state of melancholy some of the time can be OK. In fact it is part of being a human being.
In the book Against Happiness, author Eric Wilson emphasized that he finds it odd that sadness is seen as not a normal part of life but as a weakness, something to be eradicated.
“You should really embrace those dark parts of your life. They are natural. They are normal. It seems to me those darker sides of experience, those times when we are sad or sorrowful, we often learn things about ourselves that we would not learn had we simply remained content.”
I think you should have not stated the speculation about financial trouble as to a possible cause that pushed him over the edge. It is a rumor/speculation and should be kept out of this.
He has been very open about his battle with addiction and depression and I recall watching his interview on Inside the Actors Studio wherein he publicly admitted to it as well.
It is hard to comprehend for us who don’t suffer depression what extent they reached to push them to suicide, but that’s the thing. We who don’t have it would not be able to comprehend it completely. It is outside what we can comprehend as a rationale action, hence any action caused by it is irrational to us.
If you watch other comedians, the way their smart comedy is structured is actually from a dark place that they experienced. Either racism, bullying, sexism, bigotry etc. But they manage to verbally deliver it (maybe even physically show it) and present it to the public that makes it look trivial and funny.
Comedians like Gabriel Iglesias or Trevor Noah are good examples of what is done but if you look into the joke, it is actually quite a traumatic experience if you go through it yourself.
Comedy comes from a dark/negative place most of the time if you think about it. And the good ones then to have gone through it personally which allows them to deliver the punchline better. Even a jab/joke about politics comes from a valid complaint turned into a form of comedy.
The fact that you raised that he may have given up due to pressure to please others seems way off if you look at all his interviews, even with Craig Ferguson which is the more later ones I can recall at the top of my head.
We will never know what really caused it, we can only speculate but I would advice aligning our speculations at least with what we really know and not what is rumored.
The main problem with depression is somewhat like addiction, they won’t seek help. With addiction, you don’t think you are addicted which is what keeps making it worse. With depression, you think the world is against you and there it is you against the world. So I sort of actually hate it when I hear people recommend people with depression seek help because 1) they most likely don’t know they actually have depression and may just think they are sad for the moment (not always) and 2) it should be those around them that actually keep tabs on the people around them (regardless of whatever condition a person may have).
The act of empathy should not just be limited to depression but to people in general, especially those that you actually care for and call family/friend.
The problem with people like Robin Williams is he has a facade that is always cheerful so it is harder to see whether or not something is really wrong. And when the device he runs to to cope (alcohol) is taken from him to deal with addiction, then it creates a bigger problem if the alcohol addiction isn’t filled with a void.
A.A. is self depricating telling you you can’t do anything about your addiction as well. If you watch P&T BS show about A.A. it would give you a real glimpse of the fallacy that is A.A.
It just changes one addiction for another that depreciates your self worth, which if you look at it, aggrevates depression.
For now, unless there is a magic pill that is not unhealthy to help them not be depressed, I don’t really know what can be done except be there for them once you find out something is wrong.
I don’t think it was a rumor. He said so himself that he was glad to go back to working in television because he needed a regular paycheck. His close friends even said that when the television show was cancelled after just one season, he was devastated. Robin also talked about having to pay a huge alimony to his second wife. That was said to have forced him to keep working in movies and accept roles he didn’t really like doing. Most of the write-ups after his death discussed his money problems. Here’s an example:
Yes, he was said to have been suffering from depression but there were other things going on his life too that can push any one of us over the edge if we had to deal with them as well. When a person feels trapped in a situation like Robin’s – having to continue working even if he didn’t want to just to be able to finance his lifestyle – it is definitely depressing.
When the thing you love doing becomes a chore, then it’s not fun anymore. He may have loved acting or performing once but like any human being, he may have felt too old and tired to do it. Unfortunately, he must have thought he did not have the luxury to retire. He just quit life.
Ilda, I think this article should be illuminating of the comic-as-depressive mentality (especially as it is from a comedy website): http://www.cracked.com/quick-fixes/robin-williams-why-funny-people-kill-themselves/
It’s my first time reading an article over at cracked, usually just watch their after hours videos and spit take on youtube.
But yeah, I do honestly believe the really good comedians/comics we have really have been through a lot (most of them at least). And that is their coping mechanism to a certain degree as I stated in my comment.
We’ll never really know what caused it because they have been through (past) and are going through (present) a lot of issue that cumulate because they are unable to deal with it like those without depression.
So it isn’t as simple as saying this event drove him to suicide or it’s A plus B. We weren’t there and weren’t going through what they were add in the “effect” of what depression does to you.
And what I wish Ilda would just realize is the fact the getting depressed (just becoming sad for a situation/predicament) and having depression are 2 different things.
The job issue she mentions is just a way people like us who don’t have depression try to rationalize the act of suicide. So that it makes sense to us. He did A because of B. But it’s not like that.
A lot of people without depression but are in a predicament where they work a job they no longer love but have to to serve other’s interest (some/most OFWs as a case in point) don’t commit suicide. It’s because the sadness is not aggrevated by the depression (condition) that they have. But they are genuinely sad about the situation they are in. There is a distinction.
What I am trying to get at is that we should just stop trying to give a reason as to why a person with depression committed suicide because that is something we won’t be able to comprehend no matter what we do unless we also have depression (in whatever degree it may come).
We should just try to help them if we know/think we know they may have it/are going through some form of it. Because they would clearly be unable to help themselves.
Those that call suicide hotlines are not yet at the extreme point I feel when it comes to suffering depression. They can still choose to “save” themselves or try to at least. Those that have gone over the edge are hanging by a thread and slowly slipping over the edge of the cliff. They will need someone else to come and reach their arm out to them so that they aren’t alone.
What makes you think I don’t know that? If you read my previous responses to Jerry Lynch and Dave, you should have realised that I am aware of the difference.
Not everyone who commits suicide suffers from clinical depression. I had a friend who committed suicide years ago. He was very close to me. He wasn’t suffering from depression. He was upset about something at that time and probably felt like he wouldn’t be able to cope with what he was being forced to do.
Robin Williams was a celebrity and his problems with drug addiction, alcoholism and money woes were public knowledge. One doesn’t need to be an expert to conclude he had serious problems that compounded his melancholia.
I wrote this article because I wanted to counter articles that seem to glamorise suicide. I wanted to show Robin’s human side and to make other’s realise that there’s always an option.
At no time did I, or would I, glamorize suicide. Also, just because we can find no specific quotation that says Mr. Williams was diagnosed with “clinical depression” does not mean that was not what he suffered from. Perhaps my very first comment did say that, it is the general opinion that clinical depression is what he suffered from and it also is unknown what came first, the depression or the drug use; or what caused what in this case. Again, being depressed for a while over an event is not the same as suffering from depression.
In fact right now I am a bit depressed over a situation I am in, but I don’t believe I suffer from depression.
Well, because he was not officially diagnosed with clinical depression, none of us can say for sure he was suffering from clinical depression. And the fact that he was able to function like a normal person – finish a few films – just before he committed suicide is an indication that he wasn’t suffering from the debilitating effects of clinical depression.
Thanks! That was really funny and very true. 😉
BTW, one thing I got from that article is that a lot of comedians build a facade to hide their true character. They feel the need to hide it for fear of rejection. It is sad to think that some people put too much importance on what others think of them.