We awoke a few days ago to the news that actor Robin Williams was dead. Within a short time, the news media was reporting his death to have been a suicide. Having confirmed that sad truth, the focus then turned to the depression that oppressed him most of his life. The contrasts of William’s life are not easily missed. His career included some of the most hilarious, slapstick comedy since Charlie Chaplin, but also included dramas of darkness.
We chalk it up to him being a remarkable actor, exceptional at his trade. No question, but perhaps that exceptionality was also an expression of a deep seeded condition that left him vulnerable to the winds of pressure from a demanding world, without a corresponding internal world stable and secure enough to ground him in the wake of it all.
I never met Mr. Williams, but I have had the privilege of sitting with hundreds over the years who have shared his pain. Unless you listened carefully, observed closely and then were given some opportunity to glimpse within by the person, you would not know these lonely sojourners. They are not all actors. Some are teachers, accountants and physicians. Others are business owners, tradesmen, stay at home parents, pastors, priests and police officers. Whatever their profession or lot in life, their lived experience is overshadowed by a dark cloud we call depression.
Thirty years ago, I was on a path to hopefully become a professor of Hebrew and Ancient-Near Eastern Studies in higher education. The direction of my life changed (or perhaps was changed) when I encountered numerous people in pain up close while serving in a pastoral role. I discovered two striking truths at that time that could not be ignored. First, that there were many more people living in pain than what I had ever imagined. Second, that I was not the only one. Three decades later, I go to my office and wait for one of those pained souls to let me in...and it is always a gift I treasure with care and grace.
Sometimes my clients appreciate the experience and share with me how understood they feel in our relationship. A good education is an excellent preparation to enter the field of mental health, whether that be from the formal halls of a credentialed university or the inner chambers of one’s own experience in pain. Did I fail to mention...even psychotherapists can know this dark cloud up close and personal.
If this all sounds too melodramatic and confusing for you, that probably means you do not struggle with the illness of depression. If, however, these words resonate for you, find someone you trust and tell them your story. Take your time and use your best judgment to locate that person who will respond with patient acceptance and you may discover the one gift you have yet to experience fully--hope.
Smile, though your heart is aching
Smile, even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky
you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through for you
Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile what’s the use of crying
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you’ll just
(Charlie Chaplin, another depressed comedian)