Last week was surreal. It was beyond busy between my day job and Happiness Happens Month. But the surreal part happened early Monday evening when I was talking on the phone to a co-worker, and looked up long enough to see the CNN scroll read something like, “Robin Williams Dead at 63. Apparent Suicide.”
Time stopped as I tried to process what I read. That’s when the surrealness started — that phase of going through the motions in a detached manner, as if you’re watching yourself in a play.
The Death Of Smile-Maker Robin Williams
The speculation news started with experts making comments on depression, substance abuse and their role in a possible suicide. Some comments were good, while others were in left field. My heart hurt for Robin’s family.
The death of such a smile-maker during Happiness Happens Month made it seem even more significant.
I started thinking about our Society members. Many of you have shared with me that you deal with depression. Someone close to me deals with depression and suicidal thoughts, and I’ve learned that Robin’s death hit her hard.
When someone who has made so many people laugh and smile chooses to end their life, it’s a blow to the heart for those who loved and appreciated them. In part, it’s because we want more of the happiness they could create. We want to believe that they lived in the happy place they were able to help us visit. We’re left feeling confused that the public persona wasn’t the entire person.
Celebrity or not, our public self isn’t anyone’s entire being.
We all have a public self that we openly share, and we have a private self that’s a work in progress. We’re always trying to re-discover our private self, because it changes as we change. As we recognize these changes, sometimes we allow them to trickle into our public persona. Other times, we share them with those closest to us. And other times they stay private, known only by us and maybe a journal.
Our emotions are complicated. Some people naturally have higher happiness set-points. Meaning if something unhappy happens, it’s just biologically easier for them to bounce back to a happy place. Others are challenged with biological depression. This means they have to put more effort from a mental and biological perspective into finding happiness all of the time, and even more if something unhappy happens. It’s not fair, but biology never has been a fair playing field. It also doesn’t mean that people who are innately happier don’t have unhappy moments, or that people who deal with biological depression don’t have happy moments.
We all experience a variety of emotions that range from happy to unhappy. However, we rarely know what anyone is really feeling at any given moment because of the public masks we all wear. A person’s ability to make us smile may be their gift to the world, but that gift may or may not reflect how they are feeling at that moment. Robin had been dealt a new and tough health challenge, Parkinson’s disease. Since he’d kept that diagnosis private, the majority of the people around him really didn’t know what he was coping with.
The death of Robin Williams reminded me of how blessed I was to have been inspired by his creative works, and to value every smile I had because of him. It also reminded me that I don’t know what’s really going on in anyone’s life, from the chronically cranky to the smile-maker, and I should practice compassion towards others.
Since the family of Robin Williams has asked that we honor the light he shared, what was your favorite Robin Williams movie or line?