Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged – Mourning Robin Williams

by Kassandra Lamb

Almost everyone familiar with Robin Williams’ work is mourning the loss of that talent and the tragic way that his life ended.

His death hit close to home for me for so many reasons. He was just a year older than myself and I spent my early adulthood years laughing at his hit TV show, Mork and Mindy, and at his comic routines on The Tonight Show.

Robin Williams--2007

Robin Williams–2007

But the main thing he and I have in common is Bipolar Disorder. I’m not sure if he ever said in public that he had this disorder, but I’m relatively comfortable making this armchair diagnosis (armchair because although I’m a psychologist, I never met the man in person).

A few days after his death, his wife shared that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. This had apparently sent him tailspinning into anxiety and depression. This again hit close to home as a dear friend of mine has PD. And the saddest part of my friend’s experience with this disorder (so far) has been watching this previously calm and upbeat man struggle with the anxiety and depression the disorder has caused.

But back to Bipolar Disorder. This biologically-based psychological disorder is not well understood by the general public, partly because it is not extremely common (1-2% of the population). It is believed to be genetically-transmitted.

Like most diseases, physical and mental, there is a continuum of severity. I, fortunately, have a mild case. Robin Williams had a much more severe case. In my case, the out-of-kilter brain chemistry affects my emotional state. In more severe cases, one’s mood is often almost completely dictated by the brain chemistry. It is not unusual for people with bipolar to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol as they search for a way off this emotional roller coaster.

Most of the time I am mildly manic, which makes me an outgoing and cheerful person. But irritability, a symptom of both depression and mania, lurks close to the surface (ask my family; they’ll be happy to give examples). And if something happens in my life that is depressing, I plummet much faster and further than the average person would.

So I have had a taste of what Robin Williams must have suffered even before his PD diagnosis.

Unfortunately, a few people, shortly after his death was announced, insisted on showing their ignorance of mental disorders and their insensitivity to the man’s family by making obnoxious comments about his decision to kill himself. I can’t answer for Mr. Williams’ decision but I can tell you that if I were diagnosed with PD or some other debilitating illness that would eventually kill me anyway, suicide would certainly cross my mind as an alternative.

depressed woman huddled in a cornerCould I cope with having such an illness–probably if I wasn’t bipolar. But it takes a lot of emotional energy to cope with adversity, especially an adverse situation that you know is only going to get worse, not better. What I might not be able to cope with is that illness plus the depression it would inevitably trigger. Because when one is depressed, emotional energy is nonexistent!

Now before my family totally freaks out, I’m not saying that I would commit suicide, but I can certainly put myself in Robin Williams’ shoes and understand why he did what he did.

I will post more about bipolar disorder at a later date, but right now I need some time to mourn this wonderful man, who brought so much pleasure and laughter into my life and the lives of millions of people around the world!

One of the positives that has come out of this is that so many people are speaking out, sharing their stories and perspectives. Here are a few:

Depression: No Blame No Shame No Stigma – Pirkko Rytkonen

Losing Robin Williams—The Dark Side of Those Who Make Us Laugh – Kristen Lamb (no relation to me)

A good article on Williams and bipolar disorder at Psych Central.

And the man himself on the subject of drugs and sports (warning: foul language and hysterical laughter are involved)

Rest In Peace, Robin Williams. You will be sorely missed!

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week,  usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun. Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.)

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  • Reply
    K.B. Owen
    August 26, 2014 at 10:02 am

    Kass, thanks so much for this thoughtful post.

    I remember feeling not only sad for the loss of such a talented man, but also shaken by the news. He seemed so strong, and had conquered so many problems already. He had so much going for him: fame, money, a loving family, the respect of his colleagues and fans, and satisfying work. It made me think: “How can any of us who deal with depression and other mental/mood disorders stay strong when someone like Robin Williams can’t?” Of course, it’s a flawed question – one cannot transfer the unique experiences of another into a different context – but I couldn’t avoid it crossing my mind.

    In addition to the PD diagnosis, I heard he had recently had a cardiac procedure, which I understand from a doctor friend of mine can cause depression even in patients who don’t already suffer from it. My dad is recovering from his second heart attack, which involved a catheterization and more stents, and he’s having mild depression symptoms.

    A question (if you’d prefer to answer it in a later post rather than in the comments, that’s fine): what’s the difference between bipolar and manic-depressive disorder? Or are they the same?

    By the way, I also recommend The Bloggess. She didn’t talk much about Robin Williams (she said it could be triggering for her), but she pointed her readers to an earlier post she wrote about depression: http://thebloggess.com/2014/01/strange-and-beautiful/

    Finally, I really admire you being so forthcoming about your own struggles. Thank you for sharing that with us!


    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      August 26, 2014 at 12:06 pm

      They are the same thing, Kathy. The American Psychiatric Association changed the name awhile back to bipolar. I’m not sure why they feel the need to change the names of disorders now and again, but they do. Gotta say that bipolar trips off the tongue easier than manic-depressive.

      I had forgotten about the heart procedure piece. I’m sure that didn’t help. Of course, I can’t get inside the man’s head, but I like to think he decided to go out while life was still reasonably good, rather than deal with the downhill slide.

      And I can’t help but wonder if he was feeling shaky in his sobriety and did not want to go down that path again. I have a cousin who is a severe alcoholic. He told my brother one time (when he was sober) that he knew he had another drunk in him; he wasn’t sure he had another sober.

  • Reply
    Shannon Esposito
    August 27, 2014 at 8:38 am

    This is the first post I’ve been able to read about Robin’s death. Funny how a stranger’s death can hit you so hard, right? But as I’ve been taken off my antidepressant for health reasons and so am struggling daily to stay connected to the good in life, to use every tool I’ve learned over the years to not fall back down that black hole, I understand the need for release. Still, it ripped my heart out to see such a bright light snuffed out by this disease. It’s terrifying. It’s unfair. I can only hope he found peace now. Thanks for the video. He does live on and can still make us laugh.

  • Reply
    Kassandra Lamb
    August 27, 2014 at 11:27 am

    Thanks for sharing, Shannon. I focused on Bipolar here because that’s what I think Robin Williams had, but there’s a far larger number (about 10-15%) of the population who struggle with chronic depression (without the fun times of the mania).

    We really, really need to focus more attention in this country on mental disorders, especially now that we know so many of them are based in biology.

  • Reply
    Shan Jeniah Burton
    August 30, 2014 at 4:56 am

    I watched RObin first on Happy Days when I was little – 7 or so, maybe? He shone, even to me. I knew he was different.

    All my life, he was there. And now he’s not, and I hurt for him and his family.

    I have no formal training, but I tend to be very intuitive about emotions, and I am strongly drawn to people’s eyes. Robin’s were so vividly blue I couldn’t miss them – or miss the pain and sorrow there within the devilish glint of laughter and joy.

    Sometimes those get tangled together, maybe too much to ever be separated. That’s something I know well, in my own life, where joy and tragedy coexist, and always will.

    I have no judgment to pass. I think our lives, ultimately, are our own. I can be saddened, heartbroken – for Robin, his family, myself, and all of us who will miss him and know that someone with something unique and wonderful within him is gone. But I think I can also understand, a little. I’ve taken care of someone in the last stages of Parkinson’s, and it was an extremely difficult disease. I can understand not wanting to wait for it to progress –

    And I understand the urge to suicide. My own attempts were many years ago, in college, and half-hearted. I didn’t want to die as much as I wanted the pain to stop, and I didn’t yet realize that its origins, for me, were in an abusive childhood, and a mother who knows she struggles with depression but will do nothing whatsoever to deal with it.

    If things had gone differently, when I swallowed pills, or jumped out of moving cars, or if I had been just a little less stubborn about this living thing, I wouldn’t be typing this now. I wouldn’t have found my way to a determined joy.

    How could I fault anyone who survived so brilliantly for 63 years, for not surviving another hour?

    I’m instead going to treasure the genius that was Robin, and the sheer humanity of him. I can’t watch the clip right now, because I’m beside a sleeping spouse, and I know I’ll crack up and cry all at once…but I think I had this on a cassette I played so often while in my car in my 20s that I had the entire thing memorized…”look in the hole; there might be a snake!”

    Last year, I was watching “The Crazy Ones” when first one of my children, and then the other, said, “Who IS that guy? He’s REALLY funny!” They were very surprised to learn he was also Mrs. Doubtfire and Alan from Jumanji. Surprised, and hooked. =D

    Thank you, Kassandra. For your compassion, your honesty, and for providing the first place I’ve really been able to open up about my own convoluted grieving process. I think it says something very profound about Robin Williams that, even in death, he can still touch so many of us on such a deeply human level.

  • Reply
    Kassandra Lamb
    August 30, 2014 at 11:11 am

    Thank you, Shan, for adding your profound thoughts here. I’m glad that this post provided you that outlet.

    I think Robin will continue to gladden our hearts with his humor and touch our souls with his humanity for a long time to come.

  • Reply
    Lynn Kelley
    August 30, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    Thank you for this post, Kass, and for sharing how being bipolar has affected your life. My aunt wasn’t diagnosed until she was over 50. She’s brilliant, but this condition has caused her so much grief. Robin Williams was one of my favorites. I envisioned him starring as the main character if my first children’s novel was ever made into a movie! Ha, it’s never been published, has been stuffed in a drawer over a decade, but Robin Williams was the only one I envisioned playing the part! Such a loss. So sad his life ended this way. He brought so much joy to others.

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      August 30, 2014 at 10:19 pm

      I was never actually officially diagnosed. I figured out that I have this disorder, and my father had it before me, when I was looking at movies to show to my Abnormal Psychology class. In one of them, the wife of a bipolar man was describing what life was like with his mood swings, and I had this epiphany. I thought: She just described my father!

      Getting the correct diagnosis can be a big relief. At least then you know it’s biochemical and you’re not just crazy!

      Maybe someday you can revise that first book and publish it in Robin Williams’ honor. I can so visualize him starring in one of your stories!

      • Reply
        Lynn Kelley
        August 30, 2014 at 10:39 pm

        Yes, sometimes we don’t need an official diagnosis for certain things. Once we’ve read enough about it, it becomes easier to put two and two together.

        I hope to revise that first novel someday, and I LOVE your idea of publishing it in honor of Robin Williams! So cool!

        • Reply
          Kassandra Lamb
          August 30, 2014 at 10:51 pm

          That would be totally cool! 😀

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