August 13, 2014

Robin Williams & the Power of Laughter & Sorrow. ~ Shannon Roszell

Photo: Calcio Streaming via Flickr

“You look at the world and see how scary it can be sometimes and still try to deal with the fear. Comedy can deal with the fear and still not paralyze you or tell you that it’s going away. You say, OK, you got certain choices here, you can laugh at them and then once you’ve laughed at them and you have expunged the demon, now you can deal with them. That’s what I do when I do my act.”
~ Robin Williams, 1989

I am particularly saddened at the death of Robin Williams, who after seemingly battling a serious bout of depression, has reportedly taken his life.

I relate closely to the sentiment above—the world is a scary place, and comedy, many say, can be used as a defense mechanism. The sad clown may be archetypal for a reason.

Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, two of Hollywood’s funniest performers both suffered from depression. Chaplin himself said, ”To truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain and play with it.”

Today it is known to that there are a great deal of comedians and entertainers who have openly disclosed their struggles with mental illness—mental health difficulties, brain disorders, whatever term you find most palatable—including Robin Williams: John Cleese, Paul Merton, Jim Carrey, Ruby Wax, Dave Chappelle, Hugh Laurie, David Walliams and Stephen Fry.

In fact, in January, Professor Gordon Claridge of the University of Oxford’s department of experimental psychology released a research report in the highly respected British Journal of Psychiatry studying the personality of 523 comedians.

The study found that many have an “unusual personality structure” with “unsociable, depressive and extrovert manic-like traits.” Claridge clarified that the report in no way proved that all comedians have these traits but that “these personality traits are more common. It is that idea of the sad clown.”

Robin’s illness has long been identified and given his commercial success, I can’t imagine he didn’t have access to excellent doctors, medications and other forms of therapy that can be cost prohibitive for many.

No, reportedly it was known that he was struggling with a cycle of depression.

I’ve been there.

I’ve seen the world through the warped, tangled, colorless, hopeless, tasteless, smell-less, lifeless lens that depression imposes. I’ve been there and it hasn’t been a secret. My family has been very involved and present. They’ve watched horrible television on the couch next to me when I only stared blankly at the screen. They’ve fed me when, if left to my own devices, I wouldn’t have touched a thing. They’ve sat in silence with me when my thoughts were too scary to release.

I’ve been there and that’s why it alarms me that despite all of the awareness around Robin’s health condition, he still managed to take his own life.

Let’s make a pact: if you take care of me, I promise to take care of you. I’ll keep you close especially during the darkest hours when solitude and escape are all that you may seek.

In the meantime, having faced my fear head on, it’s time to turn on Mrs. Doubtfire, the Birdcage and Good Morning, Vietnam, and laugh. Because that’s what Robin would want us to do.

Cause And Effect

the best often die by their own hand
just to get away
and those left behind
can never quite understand
why anybody
would ever want to
get away

~ Charles Bukowski

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Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: Calcio Streaming/Flickr

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Shannon Roszell