Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The Day the Laughter Died...

With your permission I will step away from my beer swilling pontification for a post and talk about something that has affected me deeply.

I have always been a class clown. A total ham. I acted out, acted up, didn't fit in, and generally played the fool.  When I bartended I had to be the showman, flipping bottles, flaming shooters, magic tricks, and even a stint blowing fireballs. Now that I cook, I am often heard singing or seen dancing behind the line, or just offering up an endless string of one liners and movie quotes. In fact I said to a co-worker the other day that I was worried my entire life was boiling down to a garble of movie references. And a number of those references belonged to Robin Williams.  Needless to say I was shattered yesterday when I heard the news that he had taken his own life, but honestly not that surprised. Robin Williams fought his demons for so long. He was an alcoholic and a drug abuser. He struggled with depression. It is often said that artists hurt more than normal people because along with the beauty of the world they also see the cruelty. He has been a mainstay of the entertainment industry for all of my life. Playing bittersweet roles as well as the truly clownish ones. As I think back, almost all of his roles had a touch of sadness to them, just enough to highlight the joys of the movie. Mork reported to Orson not just the fun aspects of Earth, but the sad ones too, such as losing a friend (something we are all identifying with today).  Three of my favourite movies were his so called `Dark Trilogy,`One Hour Photo, Insomnia, and Death to Smoochy. Here Robin led us into the sadder reaches of his mind. Here we caught a glimpse of the things that were not quite right. He gave us so many laughs, with his stand up, and his cartoon voice-overs, Aladdin, Robots, Fern Gully, But he seemed to take less and less of those roles as the years went on. He was rarely without a smile, but one could begin to see the sadness mounting in his eyes. After years of being clean he started drinking again, and then went into a deep bout of depression. He sought help for drug abuse again, and seemed to be doing well. But somehow the demons he had fought all his life overwhelmed him, and he gave into them yesterday morning.

What drives a person to suicide? What is that final breaking point? It is hard for us to understand. Especially when the person is someone like Robin Williams, loved globally, a genuine kind person, with a loving wife and family. Why would he do that? It doesn't make sense to us. We have all been low, we have all been depressed. Yet we still can not comprehend how this can drive someone over the edge. Well in short, Depression, is a mental illness.It affects more people than you will ever know. Too many people are not seeking the help they need. Partially because mental illness is still seen as a taboo subject, and partially because there is not a lot of help available for those people in that situation. Granted, the mental health community is gaining ground with more funding and better recognition, but it is still not enough. The people working in this area are stretched thin. If anything good can come of this I hope that Robin William's death will serve as a wake up call and a rallying cry to help those in need of care most. We often focus on these issues when it is far to late, after the depressed loner has shot up a school, or the fired employee has returned to kill his boss, or that one person who just doesn't fit in builds a bomb in his garage, or a beloved celebrity takes his own life. These stories are in the news everyday, with alarming frequency. And the media deflects the responsibility, "It's the gun manufacturers, we need more gun laws." "It's rock music." "It's rap music."  Never once has it been stated that we need better mental health assessments and better care for the diagnosed. That we need community wide support to prevent these people from falling through the cracks. 

The loss of this comedic genius can never be truly measured. But we needed this kick in our complacency. Look to your friends today. Ask them how do they feel. Tell everyone you see today how much they mean to you. Learn and recognize the signs of depression. Ask yourself, how do I truly feel? Do I need to talk to someone? Is my mood affecting my life? I am losing interest in doing the things I once loved to do? Am I still motivated in life? There is help out there, you are not alone! Chances are someone you meet today is depressed. More than a few people you will meet this week will have contemplated suicide at one point or another in their life. If you need to call someone and talk to them. Call your local hospital and ask to be connected with a social worker.


In Canada there is the Mental Health Helpline  1-866-531-2600
In the USA there is the Mental Health America
And the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 In The UK there is the Mental Health Foundation

Robin, I am so sorry that you had to seek the peace in death that you could not find in life. You were a hero to us, I hope your life can serve some good still by guiding those like you to seek the help they need. And by guiding the rest of us to offer the hand that has been withheld too long.

Thank you for the laughter.