"You're only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it." -Robin Williams
I was watching “Happy Days” when, all of a sudden, a funny alien in a red jumpsuit with a silver inverted triangle on its trunk and chest knocked on the door. Mork from Ork had made his debut. The role made me laugh so hard that I sat through the end of the episode for the credits to find out the name of the actor. It was Robin Williams, and I knew, at that point, that I would never forget his name.
When I secretly watched his stand-up comedy on HBO, with my hand on the cable box to quickly change the channel if a parent started moving towards my room, I would laugh from the second Williams took the stage until 10 minutes after he left it. His mind was aglow with whirling transient nodes of thought, careening through a cosmic vapor of invention.
Williams was definitely “not right.” He had fame, however, and made it work for him. The unrelenting stream of consciousness that screamed through his brain and flew out of his mouth was, somehow, coherent and comprehensible. If you think that standing on a stage and just winging it is easy to do, ask Clint Eastwood.
The media labeled him as bipolar, but Williams never said he was. Rather, he said he struggled with depression and substance abuse. He was a self-admitted cocaine addict, and that explains a lot. Cocaine is the gasoline that fuels mania when the brain does not do it on its own. Speaking from personal experience, I think Williams was bipolar, but in denial about it, which can get you killed.
Unfortunately, it did. On August 11, 2014, Williams was found dead in his house, hanging from a doorway with superficial cuts on his left wrist and a closed pocketknife close by. When I was surfing Facebook after a particularly trying day of work, I noticed a less than credible source had cited his passing. I was hoping Williams was as alive as the oft-deceased Morgan Freeman, until I read former WDAU-TV beat reporter David DeCosmo’s post that cited ABC News as the source. Although I never personally knew the man, I was really saddened by Williams’ passing.
Obviously, nobody saw Williams’ suicide coming, or he would still be here. My wife saw it coming with me, and that is why I am still alive. If someone of Williams’ stature can fall through the cracks, what stops anybody from slipping by?
I have said it for years, and I might as well be shouting it to the floor: regarding mental health care in this country, something (read: all of it) needs to change.
Jay Sochoka, RPh, now sees the world as a lot less funny.