Carpe Diem. Robin Williams introduced me to this concept and more over my lifetime. I feel this completely irrational connection to a man I never met. In many ways, I feel I grew up with him. His body of work rode perpendicular with my life occasionally turning to intersect and knock me off my course. As I mourn with rest of the world, I reflect on the lessons he taught me.
1. Zany is Funny! Nanu Nanu
Growing up on a farm can be isolating. I spent my share of time outside or reading but at night I would escape to other worlds via the TV. We got our first TV when I was 5 and a year later in 1978 Mork and Mindy aired. Robin entered my world as a crazy alien living in Colorado. It was like we were practically neighbors with me being in Kansas. Everything about the show was ridiculous. He arrives in an egg. His luggage arrived in a second egg. He mostly dressed like a 70’s toddler. He was observing the world and I got to learn right along with him. The voices, the energy, the physical comedy – all perfection and relatable for a young impressionable gal. I wanted to make people laugh because he made me laugh.
2. Make Your Life Extraordinary
Dead Poets Society arrived right in the middle of my angst filled teenage years. I loved literature and drama. DPS had both. The movie was the main reason I chose to stick with theatre as my college major. I wanted so badly to be able to touch people with my words the way Robin could. He could make you laugh and he could make you cry. I recognized his unique ability and I wanted to share it. The difference is Robin could seize the day. He was able to throw himself into any role with complete abandon. I cannot. For an actor to be able to give a great dramatic performance, they have to be able to open up the door to the pain they store in their soul. Robin and I both suffered from depression. This little pebble which hides under your skin needling you from within. Others can rarely see it. In fact, many never realize how much another person suffers until it is too late. I was afraid if I opened the door to my pain it would swallow me whole. I would never be able to recover. Robin was able to open his tortured soul and craft it beautifully for others. DPS gave me the hope I would be able to reach extraordinary heights.
Quotes from a scene in Dead Poets Society:
“Seize the day.
Because we are food for worms, lads. Because, believe it or not, each and every one of us in this room is one day going to stop breathing, turn cold and die.
Make your lives extraordinary.”
3. Your move, Chief.
When Good Will Hunting debuted I was 2 years post college. I had lived on an Indian reservation, lived in Las Vegas and done a lot of partying. What I hadn’t done is start living. Where Dead Poets Society and inspired me, Good Will Hunting showed me I was failing. Like the main character, Will, I was an orphan who had locked up my demons and thrown away the key. The demons never stay away for long. They slip under the door and plague you when you least expect it. After realizing I couldn’t be the great actress I dreamed of being because I was unwilling to face my demons, I lived an ordinary existence. My hope was if I could out live them. If I ignored them long enough, they would leave, right? Wrong. I tend to be a smart ass and deflect all seriousness as a way to protect myself from the truth – I’m a fraud. A big fat fraud living in fear of failure and in fear of losing myself to the darkness I’ve been keeping at bay. If I couldn’t make my first dream come true, why didn’t I pick another? Or why didn’t I make my first one work? It was up to me after all. Needless to say, this movie made me think. It did not move me to action. My demons were still winning.
4. It gets easier!
“We got to tell everybody. We’ve got to remind them. We’ve got to remind them how good it is.” Leonard (Robert DeNiro)
“How good what is Leonard?” Dr. Sayer (Robin Williams)
“Look at this newspaper. What does is say? All bad. It’s all bad. People have forgotten what life is all about. They’ve forgotten what it is to be alive. They need to be reminded. They need to be reminded about what they have and what they can lose. What I feel is the joy of life. The gift of life. The freedom of life. The wonderment of life.”
The crux of depression is when you are in depression you can’t see how depressed you are. By the time you get to the point where you no longer care about anything else in the world, it is beyond your ability to make good decisions for yourself. I know. I’ve been there several times. Occasionally a bout will creep up on you in rapid sneak mode and before you realize what is happening you are curled up in the corner sobbing because your shoelace broke. In many ways, the catatonic phase some of the patients in Awakenings were experiencing is much like depression. A depressed person can’t see the good. They can’t remember joy. I didn’t see Awakenings when it first came out. I saw it much later. It broke my heart. I knew the feeling of helplessness to a disease. The inability to fight an enemy you can not see. There are moments when you have depression where it does suddenly lift. You are filled with life and joy. I want to wake up like Leonard(DeNiro) and remember the joy. Or in truth be more like Robin’s character and stop hiding from the world. There are many ways we block ourselves off from life. Whether it is a disease/ailment which others can see or a hidden demon blocking our way, we each get up every morning and fight the good fight. All we need to know was said by Eleanor(Julie Kavner to Robin’s character, Dr. Sayer, “It gets easier. You don’t think it will but it does.”
5. Finish the Game.
“I’ve seen things you can’t even imagine. I’ve seen things you can’t even see.” Alan (Williams) in Jumanji
Robin taught me these lessons. It is up to me to use them. His death should be a wake up call to our society. Depression is real even though we can’t see it. The people who suffer are good people who deserve to be helped and saved. There is a stigma in our culture to steer clear of any reference to mental health. It causes many sufferers to hide further and anguish alone in their pain. It is time for us to have open arms to help heal those of us who struggle to work through the emotional baggage we carry. I often hear the phrase misery loves company but I feel it is misunderstood. People don’t want to be around miserable people. I hear folks boast all the time about the miserable negative person they finally unfriended on Facebook and how good it feels. No, misery loves company because it can’t get any company and it is lonely. When I’m depressed I purposely push my friends and family away. I can be down right hateful. It is my confused way of asking for help. The next time someone you love is acting in a depressed or miserable or hateful way try to get closer to them. Love them more. If they are depressed, they can’t see what you see. Let them know it is ok to get help. It is ok to reach out. The bravest action is to reach a hand out for help. Match their bravery by grasping their hand and leading them to help. Once you start a game of Jumanji, you have to finish it with all the players. In life, we need to remember it is not a game of Solataire. We must finish the game by working together.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255 Your call is free and confidential.