It's hard to know where to begin this post. I've written, deleted, and rewritten the opening line dozens of times, and the clock has not yet struck 6am. I didn't want this post to be about me - it seems tacky and selfish - and yet, it's impossible to ignore the parallels and influence present. I didn't want this post to be about him - there are already tens of thousands of those that all say the same thing - and yet, it's so hard not to launch into a recollection of his greatest achievements. I didn't want this post to be all about depression - his goal was, after all, to make us laugh - and yet, this feels like an opportunity that should not be wasted. And so here I sit, wishing to express so many seemingly unconnected things, and having no idea where to begin.
From the time I was old enough to say my own name, I have thought about Robin Williams, quite literally, every single day. That may seem like an overstatement - who the hell, aside from a deranged fan, thinks about a celebrity every day? Someone that has to say his name numerous times a day, that's who. When you grow up with a celebrity's name, especially an insanely famous, hilarious, and well-loved celebrity, it's impossible not to think about them often. For 30-some years, I've daily gone through the same routine - at the bank, at work, at social functions and interviews. I introduce myself, or hand back my form, or wait for my number to be punched into a computer. Pause. Smirk. Inevitable lame joke. Apology for lame joke. Questioning of my parents love for me. Rinse and repeat.
It dawns on me now that sharing a name with, and being a huge fan of, such an iconic figure has influenced my life more than I might have realized. Even that name you see at the top of this page - Robyn J. Williams - was influenced by him. My legal name is Robin Williams; I swapped the "i" for a "y" and added my middle initial in the hopes that people might not make the connection as quickly or as often (and to ensure I had any hope of securing a domain name). This may go a long way in explaining why, for the first time ever, I feel a genuine sadness at the passing of a celebrity. It's no exaggeration to say that there are few, if any, memories I have in which he played no role - even if that role was often just a bad joke at my expense.
But it of course goes deeper than that. Mr. Williams and I didn't just share a name, we share(d) an illness. He made no secret of his struggles with depression and addiction, and knowing that a man who brought so much light to the lives of others couldn't find the light in his own is a hard blow. It serves as a stark reminder that depression knows no boundaries. It does not care about your fame. It does not care how many people adore you, or how many followers you have on Facebook. It doesn't care that you have a good sense of humour, it doesn't care that you're talented. It doesn't care about your scholarship to Juilliard or your HBO special. And it most certainly does not care about your bank account balance. When people ask - and they have, and they will continue to - how a wealthy, successful, beloved man could possibly have anything to be sad about, it tells us that we still have much work to do in educating people about mental illness. It tells us that people still do not understand that depression doesn't have a face. That people can carry their depression in their pockets, laughing and joking and filling the room with positive energy all the while. That it's always the last person we expect. That we never see it coming. If we can manage to pull anything positive out of Robin's suicide, it will be a little more knowledge and a little more awareness. Perhaps, finally, we can begin to understand that this is a real illness that can affect, and even kill, those who seem most immune to its symptoms.
Rest In Peace, dear man.
You're only given one little spark of madness. You mustn't lose it. -Robin Williams