Why Robin Williams’ Death Is So Personal For Us All

What’s wrong with death sir? What are we so mortally afraid of? Why can’t we treat death with a certain amount of humanity and dignity, and decency, and God forbid, maybe even humor. Death is not the enemy gentlemen. If we’re going to fight a disease, let’s fight one of the most terrible diseases of all, indifference.
— Robin Williams as Patch Adams

With the news of Robins Williams’ death, why are so many of us taking it personally?  From Good Morning Vietnam, to Mrs. Doubtfire, to his stand-up comedy stage exploits in which we see his inner demons truly exposed, Robin Williams quotes and words have left an indelible mark on society.

Robin Williams was found dead of apparent suicide, Monday, August 11, 2014, following multiple reports over the past few months of another battle with depression and addiction. Just last month he checked himself into a rehab facility in Minnesota for some maintenance work on his successful 20+ years of sobriety. (He sought treatment again in 2006, after quitting drugs and alcohol in 1982.)

Having dealt with depression myself in my teens and twenties, I understand how the battle with depression is one that many people deal with silently.  I understand that it can come in cycles and the importance of getting help before things become too hard to manage. I respect his decision to get help, and have always respected him as a spokesperson for depression, addiction, and mental illness.

But here’s the thing about his death that is hurting so many people right now: we all suffer and Robin seemed to be someone who was able to rise above it and uplift everyone around him as he did it.  This is someone who brought so much laughter and light to the world.  He inspired us to find humor in difficultand stressful situations. 

He demonstrated repeatedly how to reach for the silver lining.  His movies and comedy acts uplifted the world at times when we were down and depressed. “His gift was the most mysterious of all gifts,” James Lipton, the great interviewer of actors said, “It was genius. Genius is inexplicable. … You can teach craft. You can teach technique. You can’t teach genius.”

And perhaps, he was so aware of his role, that it became increasingly difficult to admit that he was in a dark place and needed help.  It may be hard to believe he carried enough emotional pain to want to end his life.  Robin Williams said, “Ninety-nine percent of the people who go through [drug or alcohol addiction] are trying to deal with some pain.”  Obviously, he was speaking about himself as well as others he had met in his treatment journey.

But to be so animated, indicates to me he was a highly sensitive person and highly empathetic.  My description to explain how this can be a challenge is that Robin, like many of my highly sensitive clients, feel the world in 3D when others feel the world in 2D.  And without effective coping skills and strategies for managing stressful emotions positively, life can feel like a burden. Life can feel extremely painful.

So, when someone who publicly advocates for a disease, then decides the pain is too much to bear, even with every resource available to him, I have to believe that the standard procedures for assisting with this debilitating problem need to be reconsidered and further solutions explored.

In recent articles, I have been very open about my struggles with depression as a young adult and how hypnosis helped me to overcome what felt, truly, like a life sentence.  In fact, the doctor told me in college that my depression was biological.  And that I should expect to take antidepressants for life.

From my personal experience and my professional experience, I do believe that depression is both biological and a habit.  The question is which comes first?  Does a habitual way of thinking and responding cause our brain chemistry to change?  For some people, depression is a habit of coping where one shuts down emotional pain and stress when it becomes too much to handle.

The subconscious mind is all about survival. Physical. Mental. And emotional survival. If someone is going to break a habit of shutting down (depression) or going into fight or flight (anxiety), or using drugs, alcohol, or food (numbing out), they must learn active, useful and helpful skills to emotionally survive in other ways.  The subconscious mind won’t let go of it’s old coping skills until new ones are effectively in place.

We, as a society, must advocate for and promote emotional fitness as much as we advocate for and promote physical fitness.  We must teach our children how to manage stress and stressful emotions.  We must teach them that it is okay to feel anger, frustration, fear, and disappointment and show them tools and techniques for managing the stressful emotions effectively and proactively instead of shutting down or numbing out.  Most of all, we must teach them to love and appreciate themselves despite emotions that are less than perfect.  And, we must actively teach our children skills for emotional management that can allow them to feel empowered by their emotions instead of victim to them when life or those emotions feel challenging. 

Hypnosis is not a replacement for medical care.  If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, anxiety, or struggling with an addiction, seek proper medical care or help from a mental health professional.

However, hypnosis is an amazing complimentary health tool along with guided imagery and other modalities that empower you to reframe your relationship with your emotions and eliminate habits.  These tools help bridge the gap between intellectually knowing how you want to think, feel, and behave and actually embodying the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that you want to have.  Hypnosis and guided imagery work with your creativity and the subconscious mind, not intellect.  They can give you the tools to actively cope with stress and stressful emotions.  They can help you to eliminate self-sabotaging thought habits at the subconscious level that trigger anxiety and sadness.  They can help you re-message your subconscious and think more positively.

Once on Actors Studio, James Lipton asked Robin Williams, “If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say at the pearly gates?”  “There’s seating up front!” Robin chimed.  Robin, we will miss your LIGHT.  We will deeply miss your sense of humor, your genius and your ability to help us rise above our pain.  Thank you for sharing your light with us for as long as you did.  I am sure that God did honor your request and at this very moment, you are sitting FRONT and CENTER.  May you rest in peace knowing you were deeply and profoundly loved.