|Robin in The Fisher King|
The death of brilliant comedian, Robin Williams has shocked and saddened the nation this week. Everyone's asking how could a man, so rich, so talented and so well-loved end his own life like that. He seemingly had everything to live for.
The Internet's predictable leap to judgment by the usual set of self-proclaimed experts has got us all sorts of clever answers.
- He wasn't a Christian so he's gone straight to hell - don't be sorry for him.
- He just didn't read the right books.
- See, we told you wealth doesn't bring happiness.
- He was a liberal douchebag
- He chose to kill himself because he was a coward.
Suicide may indeed be a person's choice. I think of Saul who did not wish to die at the hands of the Philistines and others who took suicide as a way out of what they saw as an insoluble problem.
But the idea that suicide is always a clear personal choice is not true at all. There is evidence a-plenty that Robin Williams suffered from bipolar disorder or something closely akin to it. Bipolar is a cruel disease in which an underlying severe neurological condition causes maladaptive psychological responses. What that means is that at times your perception of the world becomes utterly distorted and things make perfect sense to you that make no sense at all to anyone else.
I have two family members who have made multiple suicide attempts over the past few years. They failed, not for lack of trying but because family members were watching, praying and intervening when they lost contact with reality. In one case, I am certain angels intervened. Neither wanted to die, not really. It's just their perception was so distorted that it seemed the least selfish thing they could do. Later, when they weren't in the middle of a psychotic break, they could see that what they believed with all their hearts at the time was not true.
Many artists suffer from mental disorders. Many of them incorporate their illness into their art. Earnest Hemingway, Vincent Van Gogh, Mel Gibson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, John Nash, Brooke Shields, Carrie Fischer, Emma Thompson, Herschel Walker, Michael Phelps, Howard Hughes, Paula Deen, Elton John, Craig Ferguson, Margot Kidder, Sinead O'Conner and Kurt Cobain are just a few of the famous people who battled with neurologically-based mental disorders and often lost their lives to it.
Much of Robin Williams comedy was the result of his successful sublimation of his wild swings from mania to depression and back to mania. He worked it all into his comedy routines. It's little wonder he did so well playing lunatics as in The Fisher King and One Hour Photo. He'd been there, done that and bought the T-shirt franchise. His portrayal of men on the brink of madness were heart-breakingly real for a reason. He'd been there. He was probably there at the time he played them.
I lost a good friend ten years ago to the ravages of bipolar. He was a brilliant preacher and Godly man and incredibly creative. Toward the end of his life his brain betrayed him. He began having blackouts, panic attacks and psychotic breaks and at the last and he became so isolated that no one was there when the madness overwhelmed him and he put a shotgun in his mouth and blew out his brains.
The truth is that Robin Williams death may have been inevitable - a consequence of his bipolar. What may be the real miracle is that he managed to hold off his own death for so long in the face of the unrelenting effort by his own brain to kill itself and stop the pain.
The number one outcome/side-effect of bipolar disorder is suicide. Those who love a person with bipolar need only miss the signs just once to lose their loved one. I know. I care for someone with bipolar. Most days are good, but once in a while it all goes to hell in a hand-basket and if I wasn't here, I could lose the person most dear to me in all the world.
Robin may have lost the fight in the end, but given the severity of the disease that eventually claimed him, his long and courageous fight against it deserves to be lauded for what it was - heroic. Like the defenders of the Alamo, Robin Williams held out as long as he could. You don't berate a soldier who died at his post.
So, Robin, go with God my friend. He sees the sparrow fall and notes its resting place. I suspect one day Robin will stand before the throne of Grace, look up into the face of God and say, "There you are." And God will say, "I have found you my child, come home with me."
© 2014 by Tom King