I was standing in my kitchen last night making a batch of chocolate-chip cookies when I looked over at my TV and saw something that I couldn’t wrap my head around, something that just wasn’t right. Robin Williams, one of my all-time favorite actors (and human beings in general) was found unconscious in his apartment, having died of apparent suicide.
My first thought was that this has got to be one of those ridiculous internet hoaxes that are sometimes seen. It didn’t make sense that Robin Williams could be really gone. How could a person whose voice and face were such a part of my childhood be finite?
He had to be hiding somewhere, impersonating a fictitious and over-the-top but oh so loveable housekeeper or paying a visit to Never Never Land for an imaginary food fight with the lost boys. Or maybe he was just taking a nap in his magic lamp or playing a wickedly interactive board game, fending off monkeys and monsoons.
He couldn’t really be gone.
As the sad realization hit me that he had indeed died, that this wasn’t just some cruel prank, I couldn’t help but think of the pain he was going through, the inner struggles and demons he must have been facing right up until he took his life. There are so many people who are dealing with much more than we know; depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol abuse and other facets of mental illness. What breaks my heart is that these people often feel that they can’t ask for help; that they are “in this thing alone,” or even worse, that they are unloved or not worth it. Seeing the outpouring of sympathy, love and respect for this late beloved actor, father, and friend over the past 24 hours has been incredible; those who knew him, those who worked with him, as well as complete strangers who, like me, were touched by the talent, joy and immense heart that this man brought into our lives in some way or another, confirmed how much this man was loved, was adored, and will be truly missed. We’ve come a long way, but we still treat mental illness as a second-class disease. It’s evident in the choices we make as a society and, too often, in our actions as individuals. The stigma, though far less potent, lingers.
Although we’re accustomed to hearing about artists and their hidden “demons,” Williams was such an effervescent, joyous presence that his struggles could put into sharper relief just how life-altering and devastating mental illness can be. If he couldn’t conquer it on his own, who could? The lesson would be one last, great contribution from an artist who made so many already.
As President Obama stated in a very touching tribute speech last night, “”He arrived in our lives as an alien, but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit. He made us laugh. He made us cry. He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most.”
Through his work, he inspired people, he made us think, and he imparted wisdom that only he could do in a way only he could do it. Below are just some of the life lessons Robin Williams leaves us with.
1. It’s important to be an individual.
2. And to speak your mind.
3. Never stop learning.
4. You have to dig deep to find “the one.”
5. Live life to the fullest.
6. And be eager to try new things.
7. Find the good in each situation.
8. The greatest gifts are the ones that can’t be bought.
9. Don’t be afraid to get in the game.
10. Always highlight your strengths.
11. Know that nothing feels as great or as awful as deep love.
12. A grand gesture goes a long way.
13. A true friend always sees the best in you.
14. And never forget, you hold the cards.
Thank for you the laughs, for the tears, for the wisdom, and most importantly, for your ability to make us smile. You will forever be in our hearts.
If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental illness, please seek out help and guidance. You are not alone in this and there are people out there who love and care oh so much.