The death of actor Robin Williams has left many in shock, myself included. I can’t imagine a world without his talents, and the nature of his death has brought all my old memories of depression and suicide back into focus.
A couple friends have suggested that Williams committed a selfish act that will ravage his friends and family for years to come. I can see where that line of thinking comes from. After my best friend killed himself in 1996, I felt the same way. I resented and hated him for doing it. But my perspective is different today.
My friend’s suicide and my own struggle with depression over the years compelled me to do a lot of research about what makes the brain tick. One lesson: Those who commit suicide are under such distress that they are essentially severed from reality. Much like an addict feeds the demon because they can’t help it, even though they know they could die, people with severe depression are compelled to throw the kill switch because they are blinded to everything around them. The brain is essentially broken, no longer able to process things as they really are.
I have no idea what Williams was going through in recent months, but I suspect this is what was happening to him.
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Was he selfish for wanting to end it? To the extent that he wanted peace for himself and to escape the noise in his head, yes. Was he selfish to his family and friends for forcing them to deal with the pain his passing will cause? That’s a lot harder to parse.
I don’t think anyone with depression sets out to hurt people and leave them behind. When pain overwhelms and chokes off reason, you tend to lose the ability to see those around you.
I’ve never contemplated suicide, but I’ve been depressed enough that I couldn’t see the people in my presence. They could be there talking to me, but all I’d hear is the wind. The brain completely turns in on itself, causing a destructive, sometimes unstoppable chain reaction.
Only Williams knows what was going through his head at the time of death, so I’m not going to judge.
I’m just going to appreciate the life I have today and live it to the full. That will include the regular enjoyment of all the great movies the actor left behind.
Robin Williams in The Fisher King, one of my favorites among his movies.