Robin Williams’ most uncomfortable role

It’s tempting to think that Robin Williams could have been lifted out of a state of despondency if only he had been able to read all the Twitter comments praising his amazing career as an actor and comedian. Yet this would not be a safe assumption. And it could lead to unnecessary guilt for those who were closest to him.

Words of affirmation and encouragement that lift the spirits of most people are strangely distant and impotent to those gripped with depression. When lost in despondency, they feel unable to shake an outlook of despair no matter what others say to them. 

Robin Williams was transparent about his battle with depression and his efforts to self-medicate with alcohol. It is sad to see anyone overcome by such despondency. In the end, it appears that the man who could play so many characters so well faced his greatest challenge in the role of Robin Williams. Moving from one role to another with enviable ease and humor, he found his most uncomfortable and vexing role in being himself. 

I have counseled people who feel trapped in deep sadness. They speak of a dark cloud that looms over their minds. It’s not uncommon for those who battle severe depression to give up all hope of living a life of joy and contentment. They describe a life of torment where they feel stuck in a flight pattern they can’t escape.  

And the battle these people face is often compounded by a sense of guilt. They feel that they ought to be stronger and better able to deal with things. They don’t want to be a burden to others. And there are always well-intentioned people eager to remind them of how good they actually have it and of how many people face far worse circumstances.

One important question we must all ask is whether we have room in our lives for normal sadness. Do we now live in cultures that encourage unrealistic expectations of uninterrupted happiness? Are we teaching young people the truth about how tough life can be?

Standard criteria for diagnosing depressive disorder does not adequately distinguish intense normal sadness from biologically disordered sadness. Sadness is part of life for all people. 

But some battle sadness at a different level and we must not risk hurting those who struggle with debilitating depression by reducing all discouragement to a matter of choice.

Help for those who struggle

Discouraged people need to hear words of encouragement and maybe even gentle admonishments. Yet some kinds of sadness have physical causes that can’t be cured by simply choosing to cheer up and see things differently.

Biologically based depression cannot be treated exactly the same way as intense normal sadness. We must come to terms with these distinctions to avoid piling more guilt and sadness to those who struggle with severe depression.

Relatively recent discoveries in the field of neuroscience have provided hope for those who suffer with depression.

I am grateful for the medicines available to assist those who struggle with depression. Those who benefit from medication must never be made to feel embarrassed about needing it. They are no different from those who take medication for deficiencies in other bodily organs. Our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made and tragically fallen.

Those who battle prolonged and debilitating depression should consider medicinal aid. Yet medicinal aid must never be understood as the total solution to depression. We are more than bodies with physical needs. All other dimensions of life (spiritual, emotional, psychological and social) must receive thoughtful attention in our battle for health.

In the spiritual dimension, the Psalmist offered a great example of confronting despondency by speaking to himself: “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:6). Part of the battle with sadness is learning how to speak truth and encouragement into your life when your mind pulls you toward a darker outlook.

Steve Cornell

See: Spiritual Depression

This entry was posted in Counseling, Depression, Despair, Robin Williams, Suicide and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Robin Williams’ most uncomfortable role

  1. johntjeffery says:

    Steve: Perhaps you are already aware of my friends’ book on this subject: Steve and Robyn Bloem, Broken Minds: Hope for Healing When You Feel Like You’re Losing It (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2005); on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Broken-Minds-Healing-Youre-Losing/dp/0825421187 [accessed 13 AUG 2014]. Their Heartfelt Counseling Ministry deals with mental illness, bereavement, and advocacy for the persectuted church at http://www.heartfeltmin.org/ [acessed 13 AUG 2014]. Steve Bloem blogs on these and related issues at http://sbloemreflections.blogspot.com/ [accessed 13 AUG 2014], and links this to google+ at https://plus.google.com/104895570442818455597/posts [accessed 13 AUG 2014]. He and Robyn are also on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/bloemsteve [accessed 13 AUG 2014].

  2. James says:

    I love the verse you quoted. The psalmist is asking himself why he is downcast. In the midst of a bout of depression there is often nothing that would make you feel this way and often I have asked myself that very question.
    For me, I liken depression to pain. When you are in a great deal of chronic pain, your personality flattens out, you’re reduced to gritting your teeth and just fighting to endure the day. Chronic depression feels like that too. There’s nothing to do but just grit your teeth and endure, knowing that it will pass like it has so many times before.
    My encouragement to those battling with depression is to do just that, battle. Fight for joy, even when it seems impossible to ever know joy again. Hold on to the promise that God gives joy, that He will not leave you to perish utterly in this darkness. Know that He is pleased with your efforts to be joyful even in the darkness, that He sees those efforts and approves. The fight is the thing, not the winning. The darkness will pass in His time, but the fight is what we are called to.

    • trimmedfig says:

      James, those are wise words. For me, a major part of escaping from depression has been repeatedly telling myself the truth: How I feel does not necessarily relate to how things really are. Just because I feel like everything and everyone is awful, doesn’t mean that my feelings are right. It helps if I remind myself of that, and if I remind myself that I’ll probably feel better in a day or two. For me, staying out of depression also means restricting my sugar intake, increasing my physical exercise and consciously thanking God for the good things in life.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s