There is a fine line between creativity and mental illness. When tapping into the true artistry of the mind and heart, your sense of reality can change. People who move us the most with their creative gifts allow themselves to examine culture in a manner that digs deeper than most of us are willing or able. Yet the more layers you philosophically peel off of the onion of life, the more the tears are going to flow.
The tragedy of Robin Williams’s death does not simply lie in the questions surrounding his suicide. The specifics details may not be known, but I think we can assume the genuine and significant existential angst this brilliant man must have experienced. Creative, artistic, reflective people can’t be happy all the time. When you take the time to really sit down to contemplate humanity, the world, and the seeming futility of life, there is no way not to wonder, “What is the point?” People who truly consider the nature of existence will never naively subsist in society.
In order to get out of bed in the morning, most of us choose to ignore the harshness of life. I don’t wake up thinking about genocide or child prostitution. Instead I worry about what I am going to eat for breakfast and what form of caffeine to ingest. I read the news to stay informed, but I distance myself from the information I am inundated with. “Wow, that sucks about the Ebola outbreak in Africa… sigh… good thing I don’t live there.” To avoid paralysis, I avoid emotionally connecting with the horror of the headlines each day.
There are moments when the callous, protective, self-involved layer is shed and my rare underbelly is exposed while I weep about how helpless I really feel about the state of the world. In high school I often came home from school and cried – not only about drama in my own daily life, but largely about the merciless awareness growing in me about the grave injustices of the world. The innocent benevolence of my childhood was replaced by the brutal realization of history. I wished with all my heart I didn’t have to feel the truth in this way.
The reality is the human condition is depressing and many of us are probably slightly depressed all the time. There is so much suffering inherent in being alive. Heartbreak, death, failure, oppression, unfairness, the confusion of identity – there are endless reasons to feel destitute and wonder about ending it all. The journey is how we learn to deal with all the massive disappointments we face. For people who live in the world of Hollywood, the pressure to be adored is unparalleled. While the glory of being worshipped is an intense high, the moments you are not must be a serious low. Robin Williams’ career was spent in an industry that treats people as disposable and replaceable. It had to be challenging as he aged to understand his sense of self without constant public validation.
People who take their own lives don’t hate life, but actually love it the most. They see and feel beauty so acutely that the pain of the ugliness in our world is too much to bear. The schism of these extremes must be maddening. For those of us who have found self-preservation in the middle, we can never truly understand the power of having those bipolar forces to pull at you. I find comfort in knowing that in addition to the extreme darkness someone must experience to take their life, there was also a time when they were immersed by lightness so bright it was blinding.