Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tears of a Clown

Last night's closing thoughts were on the apparent suicide of actor and comedian Robin Williams.  A favorite radio program awakened me with the same topic.  I am saddened by the loss, but I am more saddened by the treatment of the loss.

I expected the world to turn this human being into a mere abstraction--a plastic character on the screen who is simply no more.  However, I didn't expect the Christian community to do the same.  OK, deep down I expected it, but it was still stinky when it happened.  This man stepped into eternity  24 hours ago, and people who've never met Mr. Williams all of a sudden know everything about him, his situation, his spiritual condition, his everything.  My friend, Alexis, summed it up this way on her Facebook page:
Everyone keeps talking about the characters that Robin Williams played and how sad they are that we will never see his talent again in a new way. This is all well and good because he did influence and bring joy to so many people in this way, so please don't think that I am saying it is wrong to mourn the loss of a talent. But please remember that it is not a character who has passed away - it is a man who was struggling. Today I am not mourning the Genie or Mrs. Doubtfire or Professor Keating. Today I am mourning a human being who could not find a way to escape the pain he was feeling in this life. We will miss you, Mr. Williams, not just because you made us laugh but because your life was precious and had purpose and changed the world.
Unfortunately, some cannot separate the celebrity from the human, many more cannot differentiate between the celebrity and the human.  For example when Pastor Rick Warren's son Matthew committed suicide, the world's outcry was the need to stop stereotyping mental illness; the church's outcry was, "He was a Christian, he had no reason to commit suicide."  Now that Mr. Williams is gone, the world's outcry was the need to stop stereotyping mental illness; the church's outcry was "He was a rich celebrity, so he couldn't have been a Christian.  He had every reason to commit suicide."

We who claim the name of Christ can't seem to acknowledge that there is depression and/or mental illness in our ranks.  When it is present, the person's spirituality, faith, and even his salvation itself is called into question.  The "leper" in question is lumped together with "those" people--those with defects that need to be hidden from view because they make the church look bad.

In the early days of my walk with Christ, the thing to do was to hide anyone who was sick, disabled, or physically infirmed in any way and call their faith into question.  Now, we readily accept physical sickness to the point we roll over and accept it without putting up a fight.  Back then, we didn't even acknowledge there was such a thing as mental illness or depression; it was always a demon that simply needed to be cast out.  Nothing has changed much.

Am I saying that there isn't a spiritual component to depression?  Not at all.  If there weren't, the Psalmist never would have written "Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance." (Psalm 42:5 KJV)  What I am saying is that just as we used modern medicine as an aid to physical healing, why is using the same thing to aid in mental healing so taboo? 

It gets worse.  This is where I have to dive into my own stuff.  I'm not speaking something I haven't experienced.

If you know me personally or you've read my blog for any stretch of time, you know that I have bouts with depression.  What I haven't spoken of much is that this is not a recent development.  I've dealt with depression for years.  It started as just a seasonal thing I dealt with in wintertime, but it quickly escalated into long bouts of absolute despair to the point of physical malaise.  For years I had been counseled by my mentor (who is a Christ follower) to get medical help.  For years I refused.  Why?  Because the church advised against it.  Their reasoning was a) my faith just wasn't up to par and I needed to read the Bible and pray more (don't we all), b) would a real Christian allow the devil to attack them like this? c) I was being selfish and had myself on my mind too much was the reason I was depressed (at the time that gem was said I was working a job that was killing me and I was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, but yeah, I was just selfish; that had to be it)  d) there are people with worse problems than you. (yeah...and?)  e) antidepressants have side affects that are worse than the meds themselves (I found out from my doctor that not all of them do).  I finally had one too many rounds of weeks in bed and suicidal thoughts to fiddle fart around with people who were more worried about image than people getting well.  I have tread my own path to healing without leaving my walk with Jesus out.  In fact, it starts there.  Like T.D. Jakes said, "Whatever ain't healed yet gots to get fixed."  I'm not completely well yet, but I can bounce back much quicker, and I have a network of friends and mentors who neither minimize my pain nor let me wallow in it.

So what does this have to do with Robin Williams?  What if in his quest to get help, he was told, "Well Robin, you have everything.  What have you got to be depressed about?"  Most of the news outlets I read from have analyzed his plight in just that degrading fashion.  What if he kept being the squeaky wheel that got no grease?  What if his humor was a covering for the real pain he felt, but his close circle of friends glossed over it to keep the good times rolling?  What if he was simply given crappy advice that kept him ill?  Of course, I don't know these things for certain, and I'm not going to act like I do.  However, for someone who has her phasers set to "snarky" most of the time, I know what the struggle of the sad clown feels like.

It's not simply Robin Williams I mourn, it is all who battle depression I mourn for.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for these insightful comments. I don't know why people can't see that depression is a very real illness---just like heart disease, diabetes, etc. I have a good friend and a brother-in-law who have suffered from depression their whole lives. Both live on the edge financially, mentally, and socially. Neither is understood, often by those who should be closest to them. My friend's father STILL thinks she is "just lazy". Seeing their struggles made Robin Williams' death that much more painful for me. I figured that not even his associates really understood his daily agony and struggle. Often, depressed people are not able to earn enough to obtain the diagnosis and health care they desperately need---like the two people I mentioned. I pray the world will open its stupid-assed eyes and really SEE these people, recognize their agonizing struggles, and actually HELP them!!! God bless you, and I admire you for getting up each day and doing your best to function and follow God. Most of us wouldn't have half your stamina!