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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Beast of Burden - Understanding Depression

You know, it's very rare that I find myself directly affected by a celebrity's passing. 

Until recently, I hadn't felt so strongly about a celebrity death since 1997 when Princess Diana was killed in that Parisian tunnel.  A woman who had gone to great lengths to balance the global fascination towards her and the privacy that she wished her family could have despite her being a public figure.  When the news broke about her passing, it floored me.  Not because she was a princess, but because she was human just like everyone else.  She had her struggles, and she tried to do her best to overcome those struggles, just as we all do from day to day. 

Well, today, I'm having a really hard time with the suicide of Robin Williams.  His August 11 death at sixty-three years old was certainly quite shocking, and for someone like myself who grew up watching him perform his zany, quirky, and hilarious comedy in both film and television, it was so hard to hear the news.  Who could forget one of his first roles as Pam Dawber's alien husband on "Mork & Mindy" - a role who played between 1978 and 1982?  Who could forget him shouting out the words "GOOD MORNING VIETNAM"?  He proved that he could do drama as well as comedy with "Dead Poets Society", "Good Will Hunting", and "Patch Adams".  He could even play the role of a calculating psychopath, such as in "One Hour Photo".

But of course, he will be remembered most for his comedy efforts from "Aladdin" to "Mrs. Doubtfire", to "The Birdcage" to "Happy Feet", I can't remember a Robin Williams movie that I didn't like.

Well, okay..."Old Dogs" was pretty bad.  But hey, every film star has to have at least one lemon.

The point is that Robin Williams has been a part of my childhood memories, and his death really hit me hard.

But again...there's more to it than just mourning the loss of a talented and gifted actor. 

It's how he died that really made an impact on me.

You see...unbeknownst to a lot of people, Robin Williams suffered from depression.  And depression is a mental illness that a lot of people struggle with daily.  That's part of the reason why I decided to turn this blog green today.  Green is the official colour that represents mental health awareness.

And believe me, I know all about depression.  Although I haven't been clinically diagnosed as having depression by a medical professional...I have to say that I know I suffer from it.  I mean, I basically spent the entire teenage portion of my life locked away in my room aside from going to school listening to some of the most depressing music of all time.  How is that not a sign of depression?  

And I just want to say this.  Many people don't understand that depression really is a serious mental illness.  Telling somebody to "snap out of it" will make a person more depressed.  Trust me, I know.  If I had a nickle for every time someone told me to get over my sadness (and this includes family members, friends, teachers, and random people on the street), I wouldn't have to worry about working again for the next five years of my life.

Let me describe what depression feels like.  Depression is not wanting to get out of bed in the morning.  Depression is not being able to put on a genuine smile on your face because you're not finding anything to smile about.  Depression is feeling so anxious that you don't want to even speak to people for fear of them not understanding or silently judging you.  Depression is like being trapped inside of a darkened room with no windows to look out of, and a steel door that no key would ever unlock.  That is what depression is.  I know because I have felt those feelings.  Often.  

And here's an interesting fact about depression that I learned while watching the news coverage on Robin Williams' death.  While I don't have any specific statistics to confirm this, a couple of psychologists have stated that people who are highly creative tend to be stricken with depression more often than those who aren't.  Certainly, Robin Williams was one of the most creative people to ever grace the silver screen, and he was one of those rare people who could convey any emotion and have you feel it.  I never would have known from his work that he suffered from the demons of depression.  I certainly never expected him to take his own life because of it.

But then, nobody ever expected John Belushi to do the same.  Or Chris Farley.  Or Marilyn Monroe, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain, or any other celebrity who suffered from depression and turned to suicide as a way to end the pain forever.  It just seems like such a drastic solution.  And yet at the same time, I understand why they entertained that option.  After all, I thought about it myself.  The only difference is that I found something to hold on to, and I am still here to tell my story.

And, I think that's really the only way to bring awareness to depression and mental illness.  Talk about it.  Share your story.  Make your voice heard.  Eliminate the negative stigma that comes from mental illness.  Show compassion towards those fighting the battle, don't criticize them.

In fact, I'll be ending this blog entry off with a couple of phone numbers that you can call if you do have thoughts of suicide, or if you are suffering from mental illness, like depression.  It may be too late to help Robin or any of the other celebrities I've named...but maybe this will help so many other people who are struggling.

Take care.

And, one last thing before I go.  I want to take the moment to express my deepest sympathies for the loved ones of actress Lauren Bacall, who passed away yesterday at the age of 89.  She was certainly a beautiful and talented woman whose class and charm radiated on the silver screen, and who will forever be idolized as a world class Hollywood legend.  She will be missed.




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