A Tribute to Robin Williams
Mork may have been an alien, but was never alienated, due to his warm heart, generosity and innocence. His mistakes often got him into trouble, but his care for others got him back out of trouble again.
And although he was different, like any outsider, his differences faded when he connected with others through humour and the insightfulness that requires.
Robin Williams modelled this generosity of spirit in his own life, with countless fans, friends and colleagues talking warmly about his care and empathy as they remember him this week.
Williams leaves an important legacy: a rich acting career that showed the deepest truth lies with characters who are complex, unique and hold darkness as well as light within them.
Again and again, his characters exhort us to be ourselves, to seize the day, not to follow the crowd or stay in step, but to go after what it truly important, even when that involves personal risk.
In Dead Poets Society his character encouraged the boys to speak out, express themselves and have the courage to express their uniqueness.
In Good Will Hunting he shows up how being smart is no substitute for connection and love.
And my favourite of all his films, The Fisher King, perhaps goes the furthest. The film is clear: doing the right thing, acting on the love that you feel, is not remotely easy, and nor does it always seem normal. But it is ultimately redemptive both for the Perry, the crazy character played by Williams, and for the DJ whose careless words prompted his girlfriend to be killed early in the story, and who later risks life and limb for Perry’s sake.
It may seem strange that someone who was so able to connect with others and was so insightful about the human condition should feel so alone.
But depression can be a powerful force. Inherently, it leads a person separate and without hope. The ultimate outsider – leaving behind their own sense of worthiness.
And the stigma associated with talking about depression can make it worse. Admitting to being depressed takes courage. It is like ‘coming out’ of the mental health closet.
The irony is, so many of us have been or currently are depressed. And if we have not been ourselves, we are bound to know friends and family members who are, or have been. All around us are people whose fear of the stigma keep them alone when they most need to connect.
I seriously contemplated killing myself more than once – when I was 21 and again when I was in my mid-30s. The shock of realising the devastating effect it would have had on my family was the main thing that stopped me.
Although I am not in that state at all now, I find it pretty scary to write these words and risk unleashing judgement on myself.
But what I also know is that while there will always be people who judge, there will be even more who get it. People who have struggled themselves and who know what it is like. Depression, unfortunately, is all too normal.
I hope that a small silver lining of a tragically large cloud that is Robin Williams’ death will be that more people talk about depression, and that we all help those who are depressed right now remember that they are not alone.
Although it doesn’t make his suicide worth it – nothing could do that – I think Robin Williams, always kind, would like that.
Devi Clark is Founder and Editor at The Outsiders’ Network. Devi also coaches careers changers who want a meaningful ethical career at NewLeaf Coaching.