Our hearts are broken. This funny, kind and gentle man is gone. He, like the 30,000 other souls that commit suicide each year in this country, was struck down by depression.
Many people find it incomprehensible that someone so talented, beloved, good and wealthy could take his own life. One commenter from Fox, Sheppard Smith, (not surprising, I guess) called him a “coward.” What a cowardly thing to say from a man who has, most likely, never suffered from the grind of depression as Robin did. However, this commenter isn’t alone in his ignorance. One poll found that over forty percent of all Americans viewed depression as “a lack of willpower.”
Rather than cowardly, I believe Robin’s well-documented life-long battle with major depression and addiction was heroic. As someone who had lived in the trenches of major depression over the years and known hundreds of fellow soldiers like Robin, I feel that people who struggle with depression are my heroes.
Ironically, Christopher Reeve, Robin’s long-time friend who studied acting and roomed with him at Julliard, defined what a hero is:
“I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”
Given his brilliance, fame and wealth, one could say that Robin was anything but “ordinary.” Yet, he was a flesh-and-blood human being, just like you and I, who suffered tremendously. And he, tragically, decided he just couldn’t take it anymore.
Until he committed suicide, he had somehow found the strength to persevere over the course of his life despite his poor mental health. I’m sure that there was many times that such perseverance involved pushing through the pain of depression on a daily if not moment-to-moment basis. The pain, known all too well by sufferers, must have been so dreadful that he was holding on by his fingertips.
A loss of hope was at the bottom of Robin’s decision to end his life, a loss that no amount of love, support and guidance could assuage.
As Elizabeth Wurtzel wrote in Prozac Nation:
That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end.
Psychiatrist Kay Redfield Jamison, a professor at Georgetown University, herself a sufferer from depression, had this to say about suicide in her seminal book on the subject, Night Falls Fast:
When people are suicidal, their thinking is paralyzed, their options appear spare or nonexistent, their mood is despairing, and hopelessness permeates their entire mental domain. The future cannot be separated from the present, and the present is painful beyond solace. ‘This is my last experiment,’ wrote a young chemist in his suicide note. ‘If there is any eternal torment worse than mine I’ll have to be shown.
Rest in Peace, Robin. Thank you for all the gifts you freely gave to the world. Your suffering is over.