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.