I get what brought down Robin Williams. I’ve lived it. Like many of us who suffer the effects of depression and addiction in silence, wearing painted-on smiles and mustering just enough energy to subsist, I tried walking a dimly lit path alone for far too long before seeking help.
Through the redemptive, healing love of Christ; and wise counsel; and dear, loyal, patient friends; and a loving community; and an amazing wife; and, yes, a bit of chemical assistance—I am on a journey of trading the depths of despair, anxiety and shame for the heights of hope, joy and peace. I’m not talking about a problem-free panacea, of course, but about a brighter path where life holds meaning and purpose and anticipation, and where I face hardships from a position of security and clear identity.
Why acknowledge this so publicly? Because someone reading these words is suffering in that same debilitating silence. You think: I have to hold it together. I’ve got to keep smiling. I could never reveal this dark secret. My family couldn’t handle it. It’s too painful to face. I’m ashamed of this defect. I’ll just keep hiding and numbing the pain. If I crack enough jokes, or stay fit enough, or earn enough money, then everyone will believe I’m fine.
Or this: I’m too far gone. There’s no hope for me. I’ll hang on as long as I can for the children’s sake. Among all of the big lies, that’s the biggest: that hope is lost. That it’s too late. I’ve been there. But no. No. No. No. Hope is not lost. It is not too late. I know it might feel that way. But your life is worth it. You matter. You have gifts and talents and insights and laughter to share. We need you, and we want you.
Letting your deepest hurts rise to the surface might sound like the most frightening idea imaginable, but doing so in a trustworthy setting is a crucial step toward discovering freedom from the shackles of despondency. And freedom, yes freedom, is in fact possible for you. You don’t have to keep taping the broken pieces of your shattered heart together. There are safe places to fall apart, to let the shards hit the floor, to give up, and to begin to mend.
When I think of Robin Williams, I go straight to the counseling scenes in Good Will Hunting, especially the one in which Robin’s character talks lovingly about his wife. He delivered that soliloquy with such quiet strength, poignancy, tenderness. Yes, he was a master of comedic zaniness and unmatched improv riffs. But it was the sweetness and light of his turns in Good Will, and Awakenings, and Patch Adams, and Good Morning, Vietnam, and Dead Poets Society, that I’ll always cherish most.
I wish, I wish, oh how I wish he had found hope, seen that lighted path out of the darkness. Yes, it’s too late for him, but not for you. Not for me. Not for any of us who will summon even the tiniest bit of desperate courage to cry out, “Help me. I want to live again. Whatever it takes."