In the days following Robin Williams’ apparent suicide, his battles with drugs and alcohol have been a topic of discussion. Did he relapse? Was he really clean all the years his publicist said he was? More questions than answers remain, but his wife, Susan Schneider, released a statement that may give insight into what went through Williams’ mind in his final moments.
“Robin’s sobriety was intact,” she said. “And he was brave as he struggled with his own battles of depression, anxiety as well as early stages of Parkinson’s Disease, which he was not yet ready to share publicly.”
I’m a lot of things, but a licensed doctor I’ll never confuse anyone for. Depression is a scary disease, and one that took a college classmate of mine’s life in January. Life beats the hell out of all us at times, yet it’s daunting to fathom a mindset that doesn’t allow for that switch to be turned off. Up is permanently down. Light is permanently dark. Joy is permanently pain. As Schneider notes in her statement, Robin’s entire (professional) legacy has been that of making us laugh, making us think and in his most powerful moments, making us shed tears. And as Jimmy Valvano preached shortly before his death, laughing, crying (and thinking) represent a complete day.
In a grand scheme sort of view, he was a psychologist to a generation who grew up on his work, to the soldiers overseas allowing the constant threat of war to subside if only for a few hours thanks to Robin’s natural gift of gab and humor and the sick children he comforted. Again, I never met Robin, but being there for so many, he may have lost touch with the one person he confided in with everyday: himself.
And let us not forget the early stages of Parkinson’s he was battling. Mention the disease to anyone and the two names likely mentioned are Muhammad Ali and Michael J. Fox. Both are entertainment legends and prominent voices and faces of living with the disease. Yet, here’s Fox whose body movements have stood far beyond his control since being diagnosed in 1991. And Ali, like Fox, unable to control his bodily movements and can no longer speak. During his prime, no athlete or entertainer in the world lived with more life barreling out of their pores than Ali. The iconic fights, fascinating interviews and transcendent stories? Most come off as recorded fairy tales to those not old enough to experience Ali at the height of his powers.
We’ll never know for sure what caused Robin Williams to take his own life. But maybe the realization of living with Parkinson’s was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Robin Williams, unable to speak or move? It’s a daunting realization to read and write. Imagine attempting to cope with the thought of your body one day betraying you for reasons far beyond your control.
Death, disease and the haunting of mortality are common in all of our lives, present on every street corner. We’ve seen those close to us/in our communities lose lives to personal demons or external factors. It doesn’t take a celebrity’s suicide or uprising like the one in Ferguson to serve as a reminder as T.I. once noted, “Life ain’t always a dream and horrible sh*t happen.”
But if the week’s happenings fail to motivate us to contact someone, tell him or her we love them or simply shoot the sh*t, then maybe, just maybe, we’re the ones with the pulse needing checking.