The Battle – Farewell, Robin Williams

At 2am this morning, when I finally tore myself away from The West Wing and decided I should go to sleep, I saw the sad news that legendary actor, Robin Williams, had taken his own life.

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My generation was lucky to get to know him in our childhood as the Genie, as Mrs Doubtfire, and as a whole host of other benevolent and inspiring characters. We loved him – we still love him. He was a crazy uncle to us all. He was also, without doubt, one of the most talented actors we will ever know.

When I saw the headlines that he had committed suicide, I took a long, slow breath. It was sad news, indeed. I was not surprised. He had been open about his battle with depression for many years, and so many of the best comedians are blighted with the demons at the other end of the spectrum. Perhaps this is what makes them so good at being funny – they have so much practice at keeping the smile in place, at behaving as if everything is great, just fine, there is so much to laugh about… It becomes an effortless charade.

Sometimes, the smallest victory in depression is getting home and feeling as if you managed to fool everybody that day.

I think I put on a good show today. Nobody suspected how bad it is. I made everybody laugh. They all think I’m normal. Even better, they think I’m fun and outgoing and happy. Mission accomplished.

Some of the toughest moments are when you look at your successes, and you can see how good your life is, how many people around you love you and care about you, and you still sit slumped on the sofa, thinking to yourself, I don’t want any of this any longer.

If there is anything to be learned from the battle of another man, it should be that there is not a scale of severity with depression. If you’re not suicidal, that doesn’t mean you are less worthy of help and support and treatment than somebody who is. If you have mastered the effortless charade, that doesn’t mean that you are coping well. You don’t have to be looking at the last option for what you’re feeling to be recognised as serious. That ‘waiting it out’ isn’t the answer. You don’t have to accept the bad days, because it’s not just a bad day when they happen over and over again.

Depression bites deep, and hard, and holds on. People who are lucky enough not to know this black dog don’t realise that you can’t just shake it off. They don’t realise that we are all actors, giving the performance of our life, because we worry about the reaction of our friends and family if we admit that sometimes life is impossible, and we don’t even know why.

Let’s talk about the battle. Those of us fighting in it are brave, and strong; not weak, nor cowardly. To go out into the world every day, despite the growling and the darkness, is an act of courage and determination.

Let’s talk about those people who march in to the darkness, seeking the light on the other side. Genie, you’re free…

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