Please Let Robin Williams’ Depression Be His Real Legacy. ~ Ben Ralston

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Depression is a miserable f*cking thing.

It’s up there with tics and cancer on my list of “If there’s a God why did he make this?”

I’ve been depressed, quite seriously, twice in my life. Both times there was a fine line between sanity and mania, life and death. Both times I nearly didn’t make it.

Those who aren’t depressive simply cannot know what it feels like.

It feels like you’re not really alive—just a shadow of a shadow. The world loses all meaning, color, depth, purpose, light. All that’s left is a hollow monochrome shell and all around you people are living their lives in full glorious technicolor.

You feel like an aberration. You can’t help but feel that the world would be better off without you.

Robin Williams touched me deeply in two ways.

Countless moments of laugh-out-loud joy, always tinged with such a deep, rich humanity. He affirmed you even as he made you belly-laugh. That’s why we loved him so much.

As an artist, few will ever come close to him.

But I’m hoping that his legacy will be more than just his art. I’m hoping that in death his life means even more than that. I’m hoping that his impeccable artistic genius was just the warm up act—and that the punch-line of his life is to make mankind a little more compassionate.

Wouldn’t that be something? Wouldn’t that be fitting?

Last time I was depressed one of my closest friends told me something I’ll never forget. She said: “I don’t know why you can’t just pull yourself together.”  That moment highlighted for me the reality that people who are not depressive will never understand what it’s like.

But now the whole world understands that one of the funniest and most warm-hearted men felt so bad that he took his own life. With all his success, his family and kids, and his acclaim, he felt so bad, so low, so down, as to take his own life.

Everyone you meet is fighting a tough battle. But some of us walk the razor’s edge from time to time. Be kind, and don’t judge another’s pain. Because you never know how deep it can go.

And if you know someone that suffers from depression…

… love them.

Touch them, buy them gifts, call them, surprise them, stroke them, hug them, whisper to them, tell them jokes, watch a movie with them, take them out for dinner. Your reaching out is a bridge back to life.

You can break through that shell and let a little light in.

Reach out.

“At it’s worst (depression) is about being devoid of feeling altogether”:



Depression is a Highly Intelligent State of Being.


Robin Williams was Family.


A Life to Remember: Robin Williams.


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About Ben Ralston

Ben Ralston has been practising personal development—necessity being the Mother of invention—since he was about six years old. He’s been teaching and sharing what he’s learnt along the way for a couple of decades. His main thing is Heart of Tribe retreats—whose very purpose is to help you fall back in love with life, no less. Leading these retreats alongside his woman Kara-Leah Grant—also an elephant journal writer (that’s how they met!)—they combine a deep well of lineage-based yoga teaching experience, with expertise in healing trauma and various other methods of personal development. Ben also works with clients one-on-one via Skype, writes, makes videos from time to time, and is passionate about parenting. He lives in an intentional, tribal community in the hills of Croatia, where you might find him gardening barefoot and talking to the rocks. Connect with Ben on Facebook or YouTube or check out his website for more info.


33 Responses to “Please Let Robin Williams’ Depression Be His Real Legacy. ~ Ben Ralston”

  1. Ben_Ralston says:

    Please leave a comment – I'd really like to start a conversation here…

    • anon says:

      You're very right about people who haven't been there having absolutely no idea what it is to be depressed. I have a friend, one of my oldest, who has nearly committed suicide at least once. The thing is, it revolves around me, at least as far as I can understand it. That is, he doesn't feel much love from his own family. His parents are divorced, and materialistic, and he judges their personal lives. His extended family is varying amounts of the same. I've been his best friend for close to 15 years now, and he claims I'm the first person he came out as gay to. For the first few years it was a great friendship, but then he became depressed easily, about I don't know what. He started asking me for more commitment (keeping it vague as to what it meant), and as I see it, started to construct this image of me in his mind. I don't know if he's in love (in the romantic sense), but he definitely sees me as a soul mate, an extension of himself.
      I was scared of this, as I wasn't sure if he wanted a relationship with me, but I tried to remain his friend. But all this was a lot for me to take. I remained his friend, but was not as patient with him, and was an ass at times. Never teasing him about anything, but more abruptly telling him he needs to find another focus for his affections. Many times. Anyway, I'd say for about 8 years it kind of continued in this pretty abysmal way. Him being very depressed a lot, telling me I was all he wanted, and asking if I could just be something for him. Throughout this time, many of our mutual friends told him to stop talking to me, his few attempts to see a therapist, or psychologist, were met with the same advice, and he would just stop going to those people, saying they didn't understand.
      Then about a year ago, after a really long talk and a move away from him (started grad school), I decided maybe I shouldn't talk to him. Nothing else had worked, he was still depressed, nothing seemed likely to change. So for 7 months I literally said nothing. He tried calling almost daily for most of it. Sent numerous texts. Tried talking to me through other people. It doesn't matter how I felt, but I know he was in a lot of pain. Eventually I figured it wasn't working. So I went back to what it was before. Sparsely texting him, hearing how he just needed more from me.
      So my question is this. What do I do. I don't expect an answer, but what if the person causing the depression is someone that can't help, because it is untrue to that persons being? Am I wrong to be afraid of leading him on?

      • Ben_Ralston says:

        Hi Anon,
        All I can say really is that You are not the cause of his depression. With or without you he'd be depressed.
        All you can do is be true to yourself, and show him the love that you are capable of showing him.
        Ultimately we're all only responsible for ourselves, period.
        With love, Ben

    • Lin says:

      And scary, Ben, don't forget how very scary it is.

    • anon says:

      Depression is the black hole of hell. Been there. RIP Robin Williams I will miss you.

  2. Linseed Roy. says:

    hard to comment on zero content

    • Jade says:

      Sir, I don't agree everyone either, but everyone is entitled to express their thoughts. Rather than "zero content", can we say instead "content that does not express my own viewpoints" or "I do not agree because…" since the writer graciously opens himself for your feedback.

      The content doesn't "speak to me" in a way that I can say I feel the same, or that have no argument on points. But I value the presentation as another perspective to explore. A look under lid of someone else's barrel is simply an opportunity to learn more. Even if that learning is "I don't agree and this is why."

  3. Michele says:

    Hopefully the light his life brought will bring more light on depression and alternative treatment for it. I have suffered from severe depression for 20 years and have tried everything reccomended and as well as not, to fight it. Traditional and western medicine has no real answers for us. Depression is deeply and soulfully painful. I am debilated and ashamed because of my inability to overcome this pain. I have no doubt that Robin felt this way. It's hard to believe that such a lovable man could feel this way, but maybe his death will bring more answers to this horrible thing called depression.

  4. Veronica says:

    A couple of things in your essay really struck me. First, "Those who aren’t depressive simply cannot know what it feels like." As someone who survived a suicide attempt, I agree with you. There's nothing like that nothingness caused by depression. It's not like just being sad one day. It's much, much blacker than that. Second, "The world loses all meaning, color, depth, purpose, light. All that’s left is a hollow monochrome shell and all around you people are living their lives in full glorious technicolor." Again, you hit it right on the head. I've always described it as seeing everything in black instead of color. Had it not been for friends who found me in time, I wouldn't be here. My depression was finally diagnosed and I was prescribed antidepressants. For the first time in my 40 years, I felt "normal." Depression is so much worse than people realize, especially people who have never experienced that "black" feeling. They should thank their lucky stars they've never known such a hopeless, helpless feeling.

  5. Lori says:

    I was speaking to a friend this morning, explaining how there are many of us who have been fighting so hard for so long to keep our lives from ending tragically, that we make it look easy on the outside, even unnoticeable. Like Ronda Rousey – part of the reason she's able to make her fights look "easy" for her, is that she Trains So Hard. Some of us have been doing that kind of Emotional Training in response to what we have suffered – growing self-awareness, self-control, self-regulation, etc., – and so, when it comes to stepping into the Ring of Life we can take many of Life's Challenges almost without flinching, or "hardly breaking a sweat". Very few people understand that such strength, such perseverance against the odds has its price, and for those who must pay it, they pay year by year, day by day, hour by hour, and sometimes even – moment by moment. So I agree with you, Ben, it is always best to err on the side of compassion rather than judgment, as you never really know the internal battles that some people are fighting just to Keep On Keepin' On, nor the point at which they might actually lose the will to fight any more. Imagine spending 63 years in prison. We were all lucky that Robin Williams fought as long and as hard as he did to give us the gifts he had to give.

  6. You're absolutely correct, people who've never experienced it have no idea. And yes, even though the depressed person often doesn't engage when reached out to, the thought and gesture of someone caring enough to try can make a difference. Sometimes 'the' difference. Thanks Ben. 🙂 xo

    • Ben_Ralston says:

      In my case one or two people just kept reaching out – even though they didn't understand how I felt at all – they just kept on reaching out, every day almost… and in the end it was very comforting. I think I was very 'lucky' in that regard, and I'm aware that for a great many people suffering from depression there is no bridge at all.
      Anyway, thanks for the comment Anna, and much love to you. x

  7. Joanna says:

    Thank you Robin for giving us a voice! Now let's use it! Thank you Ben for articulating this perfectly! <3

  8. Beth says:

    Ben, thank you so very much. The more pieces such as this I read, as well as the comments that follow, the more the pain in my heart eases. Much of what you've said resonates with me and in some way mirrors what I myself have said since I heard the terrible news. I too have struggled my entire life with depression and there have been times the only thing that has kept me alive was knowing what the alternative would do to my family. Yay, (former) Catholic guilt! So many times I've heard "snap out of it" or equally helpful advice, even once from an incredibly horrendous psychiatrist who pushed every button and left me at the end of every session wanting to just off myself in my car in his parking lot.
    All of that aside, Robin's passing, at this time in my life when I am on a very different path and seeing things differently than I ever have before, has brought into clarity a number of things which I will now think of as his final gifts to me and anyone else open to receiving them. He has reminded me to not only be receptive to joy and laughter and beauty and compassion in myself and others…but to be fiercely grateful for them. He has reminded me that with all the darkness in the world, no amount of news-following, activism, Facebook-sharing or general angst-filled fretting will solve anything if we feel we must repress our own need for that joy as well as a communal sense of grief when such a bright light has been snuffed. He has reminded me that even when I'm in self-preservation mode and working to maintain the upper hand on my depression, I need to find ways to be compassionate with those who are in the throes of their own battles. There must be a way to be supportive while maintaining my own health. But more than anything else, I'm just overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude for, as was so eloquently stated above by Lori, how lovingly and selflessly he remained in his cell of depression all those years to give people he would never know pure joy.

  9. @RoksanaLiam says:

    Awesome article. We do need constant reminders about this condition called depression… It's kind of like we know…but not really… I've been through three major depression episodes in my life… and from time to time it's lurking back in my life… my ways of coping…is spirituality, maintaining real/deep friendships, learning to feel my feelings and striving to live a life filled with sense of fulfillment and purpose (that one is the hardest for me to experience)…oh!! and gratitude is a big one.. again thank you Ben for your awareness building article (and great choice of videos).

  10. Beth says:

    Ben, thank you so very much. The more pieces such as this I read, as well as the comments that follow, the more the pain in my heart eases. Much of what you've said resonates with me and in some way mirrors what I myself have said since I heard the terrible news. I too have struggled my entire life with depression and there have been times the only thing that has kept me alive was knowing what the alternative would do to my family. Yay, (former) Catholic guilt! So many times I've heard "snap out of it" or equally helpful advice, even once from an incredibly horrendous psychiatrist who pushed every button and left me at the end of every session wanting to just off myself in my car in his parking lot.

  11. Mel says:

    Thank you for sharing! While many may not understand depression, the more we talk about this and other mental health issues, the more compassionate our world will become. To those who think that suicide is selfish. think about this: would you blame someone who suffers from depression? Suicide is no more a choice than depression is.

    Spread a little joy today, like Robin Williams did for so many of us.

  12. Rob says:

    Thanks, Ben. That was beautiful. I used to be like that girl who said to "just pull yourself together" until I had a bout of depression myself several years ago. Needless to say I am now as compassionate as I can be and am working to be more so with each daily meditation. It is truly laughing through the tears that I listen/watch clips of Robin Williams giving us the gifts of his talent.

  13. Lee says:

    I'm not posting here to take anything away from Robin William's tragic death. But rather to share my experience with depression. I'm struggling through my longest bout ,over 5 years in my third major depressive episode. I know what its like to hang on by a thread, suicidal thoughts flit in and out of on'e mind throughout the day – it's a constant battle, it wears you down, I'm tired, physically worn out. When one is so disabled that you find it very difficult to work or rather find an employer willing to accommodate – that's what I really mean. Partners leave (her life coach told her "you have a right to be happy – leave", and she does, and so she did), new relationships don't last when they get a taste of the darkness, but you hope she is the one that will tough it out. I'm 57 and it hasn't happened yet. Friends and family disappear, they try to help with encouraging statements like "just get off your ass", "we put up with you because sometime you can be fun to be around" or "your so intelligent why would you want to live this way". But my favorite comment came from my employer of 21 years "why are you so lazy, why are you throwing everything away, and you need to change your attitude" – this was the most devastating!. So do I know the head space Robin Williams was in when he made his decision, maybe not, but I think I do and it crushes my soul to think he died alone in his despair,

    I wish I was there to hug him, he will be missed!


  14. Amy E says:

    One of the best EJ articles I have ever read. I would love it if his legacy would be to create more understanding and compassion in the public at large. There is so much ignorance about Mental Health in the public at large.

  15. Dawn says:

    A couple of things. You're right about depression. If you've never dealt with it, you don't know. Having struggled with it, sought help, attacked it from different angles and using different tools, gone into denial, become a shell of my former self, I know. I know first hand. You're right about what you said in one of the comments, it is typically a result of trauma, "Heal the trauma, and you can conquer the depression." That's really oversimplified, but a core truth. Where I feel you're wrong and incredibly selfish is wanting Mr. Williams' depression to be his legacy. NO. Just no. He was so much more than that. He fought too hard and too long against his depression for THAT to be what he is remembered for. This man was an altruistic, empathetic, kind soul. He was an actor, comedian, writer, performer extraordinaire. He was a husband, a father, a son, brother. He made it his life's work to make the world a better place. To plaster his face on suicide hotline posters is doing him a disservice. No, it is nothing to be ashamed of, yes we need to raise awareness. On the other hand, I knew, even in the depths of my darkest days that if I didn't seek help that's where I'd be. And if that is what had happened, I sure would not have wanted to be remembered for that, I would have wanted my family to remember me for the good I had done in the world.
    Think about how his family is suffering. How great their loss is. Try, for just a moment, to consider what seeing Mr. Williams face on PSAs for mental illness is doing to them. Have some compassion. Please.
    Lori is correct – many of us are very practiced in putting on the happy face and sometimes we do live moment to moment and no one is any the wiser… I too am grateful that Robin Williams fought as long and as hard as he did. He gave so much to so many. We've lost an icon, may he rest in peace, or move on, whichever the case may be.

    • ZMD says:

      Thank you, Dawn. His depression should not be his "legacy". Yes, it is important, and it should not be ignored, and I think good can come of it by bringing awareness and understanding. But depression is not who he was.
      Just like I don't want to be "the depressed girl", even to my few friends who actually know how much I struggle with it. I want them to be understanding about it, but not define me by it. I want to be known as a good friend, a fun and creative person, even though depression can get in the way of those things. Not as a depressed person who can maybe sometimes be cool if you catch her on the right day.

  16. clongershort says:

    but don't annoy us. please. that just makes it worse.

  17. It has been a pale horse that I ride. Theoretically, strangled by “You can not heal others unless you heal yourself first.”

    When you wrote “Those who aren’t depressive simply cannot know what it feels like.” You said it all in one simple sentence. There is a place that one goes, it’s not known by anyone other than me. It’s tangy, it’s sweet but darker than night. It lures the

    waverly soul. Fighting the beast of “I am not worthy” it a tangled web.

    Knowing where I have been was f*¢ཀing great. Is there anything after that? That is the unknown. It is where we carry the hourglass.

  18. Janis says:

    What;s up with the question "How come God made this?" WE MAKE our own choices in this life. WE CHOOSE to either believe in a loving, caring FORGIVING, God or we CHOOSE to strive to handle life's tragedies, regrets, whatEVER, all alone or turn to so-called specialists for answers to our deep rooted issues. Who the hell knows WHAT caused Robin's depression? Was he molested and never told anyone? Was he beaten down or scorned in childhood? Did he choose comedy to hide his real feelings or simply to appease his inner pain? One thing for sure, is he obviously did not ASK His Creator to heal him. And the pain became so unbearable that he saw no other way except to physically end it. So sad.

  19. catnipkiss says:

    It's so sad, such a loss. But a part of me was a little wistful, having known that kind of deep, endless despair. That part whispered, "Good for you, you got out. Your suffering is over." His fame makes this a huge statement, and you are right, Ben, that it should help bring light to this issue. As a side note, I loved the black dog video. Really awesome. – Alexa M.

  20. Kathy says:

    Thank you so very much for writing this article! You are quickly becoming my favorite writer:). I just wrote to you regarding the "3 steps to healing article you wrote and was too embarrassed to say that I also suffer from depression on top of having a cancer diagnosis. I honestly didn't think someone that wrote that article could understand depression.
    Robin Williams always touched my heart and his death affected me deeply. His passing will bring about more compassion 🙂

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