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August 12, 2014
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Kevin MacMillan: Robin Williams’ tragic death – and dealing with depression

This one really, really hurt.

From all the celebrity deaths that have happened in my lifetime (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Walker, recently), news Monday that Robin Williams took his own life after a battle with depression simply floored me.

I tried to convince myself it was one of those terrible hoaxes that have become the norm on social media these days. My first thought, literally, was, “No (expletive) way.” But with information this serious, the Huffington Post, CNN, Fox News and hundreds more outlets weren’t lying.

Robin Williams was a Top 5 actor for me because his range — often under-appreciated due to the hilarity he stoked in us all with his comedy — in theater and on the silver screen was so grandiose.

He had me doubled up in gut-busting laughter in “Mrs. Doubtfire,” mesmerized as a child with his fantasy role in “Hook,” nearly crying with the emotion he displayed in “What Dreams May Come,” eerily creeped out in “One Hour Photo,” and, frankly, he blew my mind with his performance in “Good Will Hunting” with some of the best delivery of spoken word I’ve ever seen in a film during his park bench scene with Matt Damon and his telling of missing Pudge Fisk’s home run in 1975 to “go see about a girl.”

At one point in my life, I dreamed of being an actor, and like I suppose many of us do, I envisioned myself being on stage with the greats. Robin Williams was one of those people in my dreams. I wanted to be the one seated next to him on that park bench, him telling me about the sweet odors coming from the Sistine Chapel and how I could be absolutely vulnerable and powerless from a woman’s love.

As I reflected more on the news Monday evening, though, I couldn’t help thinking about the reason for his death, and how he was seemingly powerless over the depression that consumed him.

In an interview with CNN, radio and TV personality Larry King spoke of his many interviews with Williams, and how the actor often spoke freely of his depression and battles with alcoholism.

Perhaps nothing can help someone better when battling problems than to talk about them and get them out in the open, he said. But still, that doesn’t mean it will save everyone.

“You wonder ... why would someone be so successful, yet so sad — and we have not had the answers to that,” King said Monday. “How could someone who seems to have everything … you know, it’s the old story of ... grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”

I don’t know the answer either, and, unfortunately, Robin Williams felt that the other side was where he needed to be.

While Williams’ suicide is tragic, it does give us an opportunity to talk in public about depression. I imagine just about everyone in this world knows someone dealing with it and/or someone who’s committed suicide because of an inability to cope with its trauma.

Much like drug addiction, there’s a stigma attached to “being depressed” that makes it hard for afflicted people to talk about their problems and seek help. There’s fear you’ll be outcast, or labeled a “weirdo” or a crazy person.

With that in mind — and trust me, this is not easy to write about — I will admit in this public forum that I have had several issues of depression in my lifetime, and many a day when I’d wake and, for seemingly little or no reason, feel “bummed out.”

I’ve never gotten to a point where I felt it was serious enough that I needed to see a doctor, but there have been times over the years when life truly seemed like a burden to me.

Without going into too much detail, I endured a challenging childhood that still has reverberating effects to this day on my adult life. From growing up in poverty to experiencing bouts of verbal and physical abuse to other issues, my transition through adolescence, the college life and into the real world was not easy.

But I was — and continue to be — able to overcome. I started thinking outside the box and was able to put life into a better perspective. I started forcing myself to overcome social anxiety and self conscious-aided fears by being spontaneous and taking risks.

How? Mainly, two ways: 1. Remembering the importance of “mind over matter.” And 2. Surrounding myself with the right people.

Now, “right” can be defined in a million ways for each person, but I was able to come up with my own definition after I chose to trust one of my closest friends to be there for me. Soon, I was comfortable enough to talk to her about my problems, and I let it all out

My point with all this is that, as King said, getting it out in the open was, at least for me, something I needed to do, and I’m much better off emotionally because of it.

I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to talk to someone about any issues that make you nervous or afraid. Likewise, if you think any of your family or friends are depressed, please talk to them.

But to put my advice into a better and perhaps not-so-ironic perspective, I’ll share the four most important words Robin Williams ever said on screen as I once again reflect to “Good Will Hunting.”

Please remember that there is always hope, and to truly believe that when you’re feeling down, that really, wholeheartedly, honestly — “It’s not your fault.”

Kevin MacMillan is managing editor of the Sierra Sun and North Lake Tahoe Bonanza. Email him at kmacmillan@sierrasun.com.


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Aug 13, 2014 08:18AM Published Aug 13, 2014 03:43PM Copyright 2014 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.