Wednesday, August 13, 2014


I wrote about depression recently. Of course it is on everybody's radar now, at least for a few minutes.

Robin Williams was so funny. Nay, the funniest. He used to scare me a little back in the 70's and 80's when he would just get going on some stage and the host of whatever show he was on was clearly no longer in the driver's seat, but sat back in awe, probably thinking something like "I used to be funny too." Over the decades, RW mellowed a bit. Probably more sober, maybe less manic.

He rode bike to feel well. He talked about this a little last year on The Daily Show. Also, in "Night at the Museum 2" (yes I watched this and I enjoyed it, so there) he, as Teddy Roosevelt, said the key to happiness is "daily physical exercise". The key to so much in our health is daily physical exercise: I do not care if you are 5 or 95, wobbly or an elite athlete. When I tell people this as a doctor, their eyes generally glaze over. It is not B.S. though, it is science.

So maybe if Robin Williams had just gone for more bike rides? Ah, if only. And yes, maybe. But it can be hard to get in the saddle when you are pinned under despair, and particularly if that despair is accompanied by a whiskey chaser. Or whatever the drug of choice (video games? meth? our local personal favorite, weed?).

There is a general malaise that has always accompanied being human, and we have become fairly adept at using technology and busy-ness to avoid it. I am reading This House of Sky by Ivan Doig right now. In that time and place (ranching in the unrelenting wilds of Montana, mid last century and earlier), hard work really does not leave any space for malaise. It is a lovely memoir, a tenderly painted picture and a love story of sorts, love of land and family. It also is about the pain of loss. Their life sort of sucks: I keep imagining my own children being put to the chores, the constant moving, the boarding with townsfolk they hardly know during school months. I cannot imagine it.

The ranchers, with their outhouses and their biting off of the testicles of baby lambs, are not movie stars, nay icons of a generation or three, living in one of the most beautiful parts of Marin County. Not like Robin Williams.

Everyone has their struggle, it is said. I am here to tell you that is a fact, though some people glide through much easier than others, and I am just not sure why that is. We are just made up of all these cells and chemicals and infinitely smaller particles that flavor us just so, and somehow hold us together in the days we are allotted here on Earth.

My father sang every morning, while knotting his tie in front of the mirror of his room in his very modest home. He was a dramatic guy, and funny and unpredictable in his humor, unapologetic to the world for being himself, all full of opinions about justice and peace. You just never knew when he would break into an imitation of Richard Nixon, or break into song in a public place. He had a heart attack in his early 40's, and several after. He lost his wife, he had a heart transplant, he watched his children struggle, he watched the world continue to war with itself. And yet he sang. He walked religiously, and I think he knew religious, being a pastor and all. And he just made this one request to me: leave the world better than how you found it. He rarely swore (at least not in English), and almost never involving God in that transaction. But I did hear him once say "That goddamn depression." He knew that it was real, and not everyone can greet the day with song, no matter how hard they will themselves to do so.

There is an opportunity, in losing such a widely loved man as Robin Williams, for a better understanding and a bit more compassion for the struggles of others. Because that is really why we are here on Earth: to be kind to others.

And to exercise. Seriously, exercise is the strongest drug, the purest medicine, the absolute best high, the ticket to a front row seat in the happy life extravaganza.

Music is good too. As is nature.

My oldest child leaves for college in 2 days. That alone could be cause for complete devastation. And yes, I am sad. But inside of me there is this little burst joy for her. The world, it is out there. Its pleasures and hurts must be deeply mined and there is no time to waste. Read! Write! Learn Latin, go to parties, run cross country, stay up late and study. Fall in love. Learn about your inner strength. Visit often. Call even more often. And never forget, in times of despair, that you are deeply loved. Leave the world better than how you found it. Be kind to others. Notice everything. Exercise daily.

We must not let Robin Williams dash our hopes. He was gifted. He gave us his gift. And he also was human and deeply mired in goddamn depression. The world might have been kinder to him.

Rest in peace.

1 comment:

  1. Love this. Such good thoughts and an inspiring read. Thank you.