My personal struggle with depression, by now, isn’t a secret. Last summer, I wrote an article about “coming out crazy” after one of the most difficult years of my life. My sophomore year was fraught with bouts of depression and anxiety that got so bad I had to fight to drag myself out of Walsh every day. Today, as I prepare for senior year, I’m feeling better, almost visibly so. I still have bad days and sudden anxiety attacks every now and then—it doesn’t just go away, after all—but I feel as though I’ve solved the puzzle of my own mind, so to speak.
Here’s the thing about depression, or anxiety, or any sort of mental illness: it’s very easy to hide. For most of my first two years at BC, I could smile all day long until I was surely alone, breaking down behind closed doors in my double or on quiet nights in the Fenwick basement. There was the occasional slip-up–days when I didn’t participate in class or laugh at Shovelhead practices or talk to my roommates–but it was more or less easy to pretend like nothing was wrong.
Charlie Chaplin once said to smile though your heart is breaking, but I can’t help but disagree with his poignant advice. It’s admirable to remain positive through internal struggles, but there comes a point where you have to be honest with yourself and with others. This is not as easy as it sounds. Nobody wants to appear ugly, whether it’s inner or outer hideousness.
For a long time—during my semester-long stint in the cast of Hello…Shovelhead!, for instance, or on the personal blog I ran before joining The Rock—I used humor as a defense mechanism. I still do, to an extent; I’m usually the first to make a dumb joke and almost always the first to be facetious. I’ve always enjoyed making people laugh, and making other people happy tends to make me happy too.
But it tends to happen that when someone portrays a funny self-image, we forget about that person’s difficult reality or humanity. After I revealed my own struggles with depression and anxiety, several of my friends reached out with messages of support and empathy. A girl from Shovelhead, who had always seemed lighthearted and good-humored, told me her own story of scary mental health struggles. The truth is that everyone has their problems and secrets; some of us are just better at hiding it.
When a bright and shining star reveals their dark side, it gives us pause to consider just how many others are struggling behind facades of talent or eloquence or comedic spirit. Look at all the lights of our time that have been turned off by their own hand. Look at Kurt Cobain or David Foster Wallace or Sylvia Plath. Look at Robin Williams, just passed yesterday.
I was never too familiar with Williams’ comedy, but I was a fan of his serious roles in Good Will Hunting and Dead Poets Society, and the gross-out flick RV was always a go-to on family movie nights when I was a kid. It hits home that a man who was so well-known for spreading laughter and joy could keep such darkness under his surface. Robin Williams was talented, beloved, funny to boot. But he was also very sick, and his sickness brought him to a place where he saw no way out.
As we memorialize Williams, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that he had a real disease that overcame him to the point where he couldn’t go on anymore. The depression that drove Robin Williams to death was just as much a part of him as the laughter he gave us in life, and his passing gives us an opportunity to talk about the mental health issues that are so often taboo in our society. We’ll remember him for the gifts he shared with the world, but he reminds us in his passing that even those who make us laugh can be fighting demons.
This article is dedicated to the memory of Robin Williams, a man who brought light into so many lives when there was so much darkness in his own.
if you ever feel uncool or unfunny or unloved remember that there are people around you that can remind you you are cool and funny and loved
— Austin (@blanksy3) August 12, 2014