August 13th, 2014

Eye of the Dragon

My tweets

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Eye of the Dragon

"... I AM Pagliacci."

A common reaction to Robin Williams' suicide is surprise, most particularly surprise that he suffered from depression.

That part … did not surprise me at all.

Look at him. Pick any movie, any scene, especially the ones where he's smiling. His smile, more often that not, is almost apologetic.

That is the face of a man who is constantly, keenly aware of the fragile, transient beauty of life and existence … and the more beautiful the moment, the more that transience weighs upon him.

That is the face of someone who feels sadness in the midst of the most sincere joy, because of that joy.

That's depression.

It's not just languishing in the dark and reading Goth poetry. It can also be smiling with tears in your eyes. It's not an inability to feel joy or happiness – it's when even joy brings pain.

Some people think that if it weren't for the lows in life, we couldn't appreciate the highs. When you suffer from depression, it’s exactly the opposite: the highs in life just bring the lows into sharp relief.

If you look at Robin Williams' life – his loving family, his career and fans, his financial security, his supportive community – and think that, in the face of all that, being depressed "doesn't make any sense" – you're absolutely correct.

Clinical depression isn't an emotional state. It’s a chemical imbalance. Those serotonin levels don’t respond to logic or reason or perspective, and even when you know all these things intellectually, they don’t magically make the emptiness go away.

I was lucky. I had acute depression, not chronic, and I don't seem to have whatever quirk of psychology or metabolism that leads to substance abuse or addiction issues. I can empathize with the late Mr. Williams, deeply, but I can't ever know what it was really like in his head, to have the Black Dog sinking its teeth in your throat, even when surrounded by those you love and who love you in return.

Subject line courtesy of Patton Oswalt's Twitter.