Robin Williams: The Burden of Being Brilliant

I have not posted anything regarding the death of Robin Williams because I wanted to stay out of the discussion in honor of his family and his memory. I agree with his wife: I felt it was more important to focus on how he lived than how he died.

After all, none of us are the sum total of how we leave this world, but what we do while we are here. Did we make a positive impact? Did we do something that changed someone’s life for the better?

I think that in the case of Robin Williams, the answer to both of those questions would be “yes.”

Rather than go into detail regarding his passing, I do think it is important to address the circumstances that apparently lead to his death: depression.

I have been in the human service field for 13 years. I have worked with hundreds of people with disabilities during that time; many of which were experiencing severe and chronic depression.

I’m not an expert and I don’t pretend to be. There is no M.D. or PhD behind my name, but I have seen what depression does to the human mind, the human heart, the human body, and the human spirit.

I have seen it take brilliant and talented people and turn them into frightened souls afraid to leave their homes. I have seen it cause physical pain and discomfort. I have seen it destroy lives and families. I have seen it force those suffering from it to turn to alcohol and drugs as an escape from the anguish that always returns.

I have seen it kill.

There is no easy solution to addressing it. For some, therapy provides a positive means of managing each crisis as it arises. For others, medication coupled with ongoing treatment by a professional is the answer.

It is a tough road to travel and many people find themselves travelling it alone. Without support and without treatment, recovery is almost impossible.

The pressures placed on the average person trying to support a family and live in this consumption-based society are hard enough to manage.

Can you imagine how challenging it was to be in the entertainment industry for 40 years? Can you imagine how difficult it would be to live up to not only your own expectations and your family’s expectations, but also the expectations of the world? Can you imagine what it was like to have to be funny all the time? What must it be like always having people expecting you to perform on a whim – and not just a few people, but millions? What must it be like to be known for your quick wit and improvisation?

Would you ever feel like you could just turn it off? Would you ever feel like you could go anywhere and just allow yourself some rest from having to be what everyone else expects of you all the time? Think of having millions of strangers look at you — waiting for you to do something spectacular.

What if you just didn’t have it in you anymore? What if you did have it in you, but you wanted to let it out on your terms and not someone else’s? What if you had to live this life under a microscope; to be judged by people you don’t even know and who don’t even know you? What if your entire career was based on your skill?

What if you felt weakened from it all? What if you felt like your suffering was burdening those around you, dragging the people you love along with you for the ride? What if you felt like you were causing the unhappiness of everyone you loved?

What if you felt like you had to medicate this never-ending pain just to survive, but you couldn’t go to a doctor, because the world would know and judge you for trying to give yourself enough strength to wake up in the morning and just be what they needed to you be?

What if the career you fought so hard to build and keep was now tearing you down?

What if, one day, it was just too much?

I never had the honor of meeting Robin Williams, but I saw him as an incredible entertainer, comedian, … a brilliant human being. He touched so many lives with his comedy and with acting on the large and small screens.

He was amazing, but there is a burden to being brilliant all the time.

We, as a society, really need to rethink how we treat stars, and this man was a star. Should we chase them down with our cameras and cell phones? Should we frequent entertainment websites that make money off the consumption of someone else’s talent? Should we continue to view them as perfect, and as such, expect them to be perfect all the time? Should we tear them down when they fail to meet our lofty expectations, allowing the media to make advertising along the way.

These are people, not products.

There is a difference between a celebrity and a star.

A celebrity is someone that wants to be consumed, even at his or her own peril. It is someone that has no talent for anything other than being in the limelight. (I’m certain you can come up with your own examples of people like this. I won’t give them the benefit of mentioning their names here.)

A star, however, is someone with a gift: someone that shares that gift with the world and makes it a better place just by being in it.

Robin Williams was a star and he needs to be remembered that way. Period.



It’s a Scandal

          It was my cousin’s idea really: She was the one who suggested that I get into watching the ABC show Scandal, so I did.

          I went on Netflix and began watching the first two seasons in preparation for the upcoming season. I’m the type of person that has to see the character development from start to finish. I have to know the backstory, so I spent days watching the show in sequence just to get a feel for it.

          I was intrigued and happily surprised by the great drama and dialogue. I was also happy to see the show’s creator was Shonda Rimes. Yay Hollywood.

          First, there was a strong, female lead in a role that showed her beauty, as well as her strength, poise, and intellect.

          Second, it was a woman of color, and I have to tell you that I was incredibly proud of that fact. Growing up, there were so very few people that looked like me on television. (Okay, Kerry Washington looks a lot better than I do, but that’s not my point.) Sure, I enjoyed the Cosby Show and Family Matters, but those were comedies. Hollywood just wasn’t ready to take the chance on establishing a show where the main character is a black woman – and a smart one at that.

          We have always been supporting characters, sometimes portrayed as lovers of the main character. We were two-dimensional plot fillers with little dialogue. Rarely was the depiction of a capable woman of color. We had attitude, but no depth. We were stereotypes.

          Now, there is a show on television that appeared to focus on a woman that was capable of being more than someone’s “arm candy.”

          As black women, we had finally and successfully gone from playing whore to playing heroine.

           So it gives me great displeasure to state that I’ve grown increasingly concerned with Season 3 of Scandal. The show is still good. Don’t get me wrong. The acting is great. The writing is well developed and complex. The storyline, however, is making me cringe at what they are doing to my favorite female lead.

            In Season 3, Olivia Pope has gone from intelligent, strong and formidable to naive, weak and gullible all because of her love for a man she can never have. This may possibly be realistic, but it is disappointing as far as the character  development is concerned.

          Let me first start by saying that while I like Kerry Washington’s compelling portrayal of Olivia Pope, I’m concerned about the fact that the “love of her life” is a married man who appears to be wrong for her in so many ways.

          Fitzgerald Grant is a powerful man, but he is only powerful because of what others have made him: governor and president. He is not powerful in his own right. His advisors push him in one direction or another and when he does finally try to take charge, he ends up drinking himself into oblivion and antagonizing those around him. He is indecisive and must rely on others to give him what he thinks he wants. He is his father’s son, that’s for sure.

          Yes, the house in Vermont was a romantic gesture, but he is not wiling to pull the plug on his marriage in order to make himself happy; and he’s not doing this for the kids. He’s not doing this for loyalty to his wife. He’s doing it to keep his job. That, to me, is the epitome of selfishness.

           I’m trying to fathom the reasons she is in love with this man and I’m still having difficulty finding them. He is not genuinely kind to anyone. He is a lousy father, much like his own but less overbearing. He is an intellectual, but he wields it with incompetence. He’s not good husband material in any way, shape, form or fashion. He has no concept of romantic loyalty.

Or humility and decency: this is the same person that fired her father from his job after holding the man hostage in a basement, chained to a chair. Oh, and he also spent that time describing how Olivia “tasted” and how “talented” she was in bed.

            Are you kidding me? Don’t say that to her parent and have the audacity to declare your love for her in the next breath.

          He has killed a judge in cold blood to protect the lie of his presidency. He flaunts his mistress in front of his wife, you know, the woman that gave birth to his children. He openly threatened his wife with political ruin by publicly calling her a racist if she did not play along with his goal of finding a way for the country to accept his mistress as his eventual First Lady.

          The only respect I have for him is that he served in the military and fought for his country, regardless of the personal moral cost… I do believe his character wants to do what is best for the country, and I find that noble. I just don’t like the idea of Olivia falling for the 20 % of the time when he’s actually worthwhile.

          What is he the other 80% of the time?

          He is first and foremost an adulterer. He is a father that has no real relationship with his children. He has no problem being cruel and cheating on the mother of those children. He has murdered a federal judge to hide his own indiscretions and retain his job. He has publicly lied about his exploits and has demonized an innocent staffer by naming her as his mistress and subjecting her to public humiliation, while the highest federal authorities in the country protect his true mistress.

          Despite Liv and Fitz’s longing glances and hopeful references to the (amazing I’ll admit it) house in Vermont. Despite their declarations of “I Love You,” she is still his mistress. She is still not his chosen one for the entire world to see.

          It’s not that he’s all that attractive – he doesn’t smolder or ooze sex appeal like one would think. He doesn’t present as particularly kind or altruistic. He doesn’t show himself to be a hopeless romantic, but rather a hapless drunk.

         Don’t get me wrong: I’m not asking for the romantic hero of the show to be perfect, but he should at least be able to cultivate and grow his own set of balls.

            The challenge for the show’s writers is that fans are so invested in this relationship, that they, like Olivia, look past everything else. I did for a while, but I have always felt badly for Mellie. Who can blame her for being bitter? Women are not born that way. They are molded and shaped that way by living a life that is not picture perfect and trying to find some semblance of happiness while wading through all of that heartache.

          I suppose I had it with Fitz when he told Olivia to “Shut up” two episodes ago. I beg your pardon: If I am making a valid point and you allegedly love me, don’t you dare say “Shut up,” to me.  I was surprised that she didn’t let him have it right then and there. After all, Olivia he had no problem giving a quick, but effective verbal slap in the face to Edison, who suggested that, well, she was sleeping with the President (which, by the way, was true.)

          I continue root for the “formidable Olivia Pope.” Not the relationship, but her. Art doesn’t just imitate life. Sometimes life imitates art by making some behavior, while questionable, commonly acceptable. I want to make sure that the little girls of this up and coming generation to have a positive character to look up to and hopefully emulate.  It’s a Scandal if the producers let this opportunity slip by.

Beautiful Girl

She was a beautiful girl, but she didn’t realize it until she was much older; when it was too late to savor the moment and hold onto it as long as possible.

To some, her complete denial of her own beauty must have made her even more attractive in many ways.

She was very thin at 17; so thin that she felt weak at times. A sinus infection would have her almost passing out as soon as she left her bed in the morning. Her primary care doctor insisted she gain at least 10 pounds and take Iron pills in order to give her the strength that a normal teenager should have.

She had black hair, brown eyes, and mocha-colored skin that was free from blemishes. She barely needed to wear makeup, so she refused – only putting on Avon’s Burgundy Brew shade of lipstick before heading out.

She was picked on growing up which forced her to hang her head low when walking down the hallways at school. Years later she would realize that hanging her head so low for so long in unjustified shame would cause her severe neck pain in the future.

Her family had wanted her to be more feminine; wear dresses, skirts and makeup to show off her lean, feminine frame. They wondered why she wasn’t more like her mother. Her mother carried herself with uncommon grace and poise regardless of where she was going. Her mother always dressed in flattering styles and colors. Her mother never left the house without carefully styled hair, makeup, and intoxicating perfume.

Her aunts and uncles always noted her appearance and wondered why she didn’t try harder to present herself better. They had daughters that “kept themselves up.” Why couldn’t she?

The images of this young woman were so deeply etched in their brains that any subtle change in her appearance disoriented them.

She had stopped wearing glasses when she was 12, but no one seemed to remember that fact even into her 30s. What they did remember was her enviable figure.

In college, she filled out more, but she was still wearing a size 6 when she graduated.

Years later, after getting married and having children as well as living life, her body began to change. Those changes were minor at first, but after the stresses of a divorce and changes in work environment, the pounds began to pile onto her tiny frame.

After 20 years, she gradually gained over 100 pounds without even realizing what it was doing to her body. Her blood pressure was increasing, as was her cholesterol, but these were silent enemies. They didn’t announce themselves nearly as loudly as the clothes she was no longer fitting into.

Slowly but surely, she could no longer deny it. She was getting fat. Not curvy. Not voluptuous. FAT. Some women can gain weight and carry it well. Their beauty shines through despite the extra pounds.

This girl was not so lucky.

The buttons on the pants she wore were making impressions in her stomach. She had to inhale just to get her size 8 pants on, so she moved to size 10, then size 12, then size 14, but she still was in denial. She didn’t look that bad; at least to herself.

Then came size 16, and the loss of the flat stomach that use to produce 100 sit-ups with very little effort. Gone were the Daisy Duke shorts…replaced by slacks and jeans with elastic waistbands. She dared not show her widening legs in a skirt or dress now.

Her back began to hurt. Her doctors became worried and soon, the medication followed.

Then some in her family began to look at her very differently. Rather than pride in her beauty, they instead expressed disappointment in how much she had let herself go. Their brows lowered, their lips pursed, and their heads shook.

In her mind, she was the same person. She continued to be smart, sweet, loving, and compassionate – but she was fat, so nothing else seemed to matter. Her aunt expressed concern regarding her health, and not her appearance. Her aunt had been diagnosed with type II Diabetes, and she didn’t want her niece to share the same fate.

I was that beautiful girl. I look at pictures of myself from when I was in high school and college and wonder what happened to her. That girl weighed 110 pounds. This woman weighs 248.

I have lived my life and while there are many things I would change, the only real regret is that I never appreciated myself then, but I need to appreciate myself now.  Losing weight is hard for just about everyone, but it is especially hard for me. I am my own worst enemy. I can find any way in the world to justify my lack of exercise and my aversion to consistently stay on a healthy diet. I will tell myself whatever lie works best that day, but the truth is, I’m hurting myself and my children by continuing on this path – a path I put myself on and one that only I can remove myself from.

The mind is a powerful tool and until now I have only used it to con myself into and out of things, rather than use it to strengthen my resolve.

This is the beginning of my journey. Will I get back to 110 again? Probably not, and honestly I don’t want to be 110 pounds again. My ideal weight is probably 125 -135, and I will get there. I have to get there. I have two children to care for and it is my duty to be around for them; to watch over them, guide them, protect them, and love them. God blessed me with them and I have to fight for them by fighting for myself.

I also have a husband that loves me and wants me healthy and happy. I’ve made promises to him too that go beyond the vows of the altar.

It is for my family that I do this. It is for their future, and mine, that I start this journey.