It’s been two weeks since I posted here. So much has happened in the world and in my life. I’m struggling to make sense of it all but the words seem awkward and inadequate. I feel that pull though, that need to write it out, even if it’s imperfect and messy and doesn’t make sense to anyone but me. I want to write about Robin Williams and racism and Ferguson, MO and homecomings and cancer and abusive relationships. But I can’t do that all at once. So, one thing at a time.
When I heard about Robin Williams my heart sank, the surface of my skin tingled, tears welled in my eyes. His was an outlier among outliers as a creative, as an actor, as a comedian. He took you with him on whatever roller coaster he was on. He was gifted and he was magnetic. Nearly two weeks later, it’s still hard to believe he is gone.
I’ve thought a lot about who he was as a human, not just a celebrity. As a person who has used humor in her life as a way to defer and deflect pain, I can see that at least some of Robin’s comedy was in response to his own anxiety. If you watch closely, you can tell. This was especially apparent if he was on a talk show or in other situations where he didn’t ‘have’ to be on, but was. When the anxiety is too much, the comedy and humor turn on, full volume, to drown out the anxiety. To an outsider, he’s just being funny and we catch a ride on these brilliant riffs and hold our stomachs and wipe our tears of laughter. In reality, it’s an escape from the discomfort of anxiety and like any escape it can be very addicting and very draining. I can’t pretend to know exactly what happened for him, but there are a lot of things in him that I can identify with. The fact that he was unable to heal from whatever triggered his obvious anxiety and, ultimately, his depression, breaks my heart.
I see Robin Williams as one of those people who, themselves, is a thin place. A thin place is somewhere that the barrier between the physical and ‘other’ world is, well, thin. A place where you can feel the peaceful buzz of energy from ‘somewhere else’. In my creative life, when I allow myself to be vulnerable and open, I feel it. The idea, the string of perfect words, the vision enters into my brain with no effort, like someone reached across the veil and dropped it into my consciousness. It’s a difficult thing to articulate, but if you’ve experienced it, you know what I mean; lots of creative people feel and experience this. Some people experience this as ‘flow’.
The problem with allowing yourself to be sensitive, opening yourself to the thin places, allowing the gifts, means opening up to all of the feelings, all of the emotions, all of the input. If we don’t know how to manage all of that, it can be easily overwhelming. Our society does not honor or equip us to deal with this onslaught of intense feeling and sensory information. We are not taught to respect and cultivate our intuition. For very sensitive people it can be confusing and scary. It can be mistaken for, or lead to, mental illness. It can lead to substance abuse. It can be all of that. For some people, it is just too much.
I believe Robin was a very sensitive person living very close to the veil and comedy was a way for him to push the painful things aside. When he did, it opened the flood gates for his comedic and theatrical brilliance. You can see it flowing through him. Often, he was not truly in control of these riffs, he was but a vessel. And when he was in this space, he likely wasn’t thinking about his anxiety and wasn’t feeling his pain. But when the riff is over, when the laughter is gone, he was still left with his pain, depression and anxiety. That’s how escapes work – they numb the pain for a little while, but eventually the bandage falls off and the raw wound is still there.
I’m sorry that Robin chose to cross over and that, whatever place he was in, he felt it was his only choice. He is missed, mostly by his children and family, but also by the millions of people whose adoration and love couldn’t save him.