I’ve been trying to comprehend the death of Robin Williams. There are very few of those people — in our own lives or celebrities we admire — who move you so profoundly, in life and in death. Of course, no one expected this or at least really believed it would happen. I keep thinking about each movie that I’ve really loved throughout my life, and Robin Williams shows up in so many. Each time I watched one of those movies, I felt relaxed, peaceful, anxiety-free, less sad, and I could laugh or even tear up, more and more, every time I watched him.
Like so many others, I used to watch Good Will Hunting religiously. Each character, there was a slight part of you. Fighting having to grow up and face our fears or feeling like you’re not good enough to deserve those wonderful things in life. Feeling that you are constantly comparing yourself and, in turn, finding your self esteem plummeting. Feeling totally broken inside but knowing just what to say to others. Every time you watched Good Will Hunting, you related more and more, felt more bonded and even safe for a little while in our lives. Especially Robin Williams.
And in so many movies, Williams just made you want to keep watching and exploring what a depth of understanding he had about knowing what made people feel good inside. Just last week I had watched Dead Poets Society again because I always go back to my favorites. Where I feel safe. It was like you knew the lines to the movie and knew each scene and felt the pain in that movie like any pain you have felt in life.
When I watched Jack recently, once again I was reminded how he helped me escape for a short time into childhood, free of worries, no where else to be but watching Robin Williams grow old in the span of a few years. At the end, when he looks curiously like Albert Einstein, he was such a perfect human being — so insightful and at a level of feeling that rings so loud it hurts too much sometimes.
There were so many funny movies and classic TV that you never got tired of going back to late at night just to get a laugh and feel nostalgic. I can’t stop thinking about how much I learned about myself, watching a Robin Williams movie. He made you look at yourself differently, every time. You understood the movie in a slightly new way, each time. Williams had something to give in each character that really made you feel like he got it, no matter what character he was. Even dark characters, like those he played in One Hour Photo and Insomnia. He could always test the boundaries because he was so believable. And he was so in touch with some of the most brutal of the evil games the mind will play. I believe he really understood aspects of each character that only someone who felt so much, could nail with such precision.
But I also know with that level of intensity of laughter, perfect timing, insightfulness and total randomness comes a level of pain that is equal, if not greater, than those tremendous moments that we watched him excel at. He felt those moments of despair like so many can relate to, yet he couldn’t find a way out this time. It’s obviously so horrible what his closest family and friends are dealing with. I understand he openly shared many of his anxieties and depressive thoughts. But not even the closest person in his life will know everything because it is so hard to take or imagine, that sharing it would be equally as traumatic. No one knows the depths of Robin Williams except him. It took its toll long enough for him to bare the pain anymore. So many are heartbroken and in shock because there is nothing else to feel for someone who you felt like you knew like a best friend, like even better an more idealized than anyone we know. Williams just leaves a gaping hole. He was the best.
So like those people who pass away and we talk about for awhile, he will become a memory that you come back to with melancholy and feel sad that he’s never going to move us again. Yet there are always his classics. And there are so many. It just hurts that he doesn’t get to enjoy them. It’s so tragic to think that he felt too much despair and hopelessness that he had no other option.
Unfortunately, your tunnel of vision becomes smaller as more builds up. Even hinting at it with friends, talking about it on late-night TV shows or sharing with the world could not diffuse much of the pain. No amount of treatment or help can put you back together when you feel so broken that the vision just becomes a tiny dark dead end. It feels impossible to get out from. It’s a disease that’s often more terrifying than anything imaginable because it’s constant. It’s truly relentless and consumes you at all times. It might linger on the sidelines and invade your mind on occasion, but triggers will increase those thoughts.
When thoughts become so consuming they affect us not just emotionally, but also physically, it really becomes a sign of danger. How we eat, how we sleep and how we function are so intertwined with depression. Because of this, it can ultimately affect our decision making, or how we perceive our world or the world around us.
I imagine it being so deafening for Robin Williams and so painful, it just hurts that much more because of how much he gave of himself to the world. So I just want to say thank you to Robin Williams for giving us forever a soul that we will never experience again. And all those great movies to watch with awe and that allow us to forget about life for short time. It’s an unimaginable loss because of the tremendous talent that he was, the amount of empathy and understanding of humor and emotional torment. He made us laugh and cry, and without him in this world, it just feels more empty.
There was something in Robin Williams that you could feel, no matter who you are. He was more than an actor. He was a gift to so many who needed an escape. His star was so bright and you sincerely felt that he cared so much about making others smile. Yet the pain he felt inside was so vast and unforgiving.
Goodbye, Robin Williams.
— Jonathan Lukas MFT is a psychotherapist specializing in cognitive behavioral therapy. He is in private practice and runs The OCD Treatment Center of Santa Barbara, working with adolescents and adults with anxiety disorders. Click here for more information or call 805.453.2347. The opinions expressed are his own.