Robin Williams was a local boy for me. When I moved to the Bay Area of California for grad school, he was playing in the local comedy clubs (yes, I know this bit of info really dates me!). Then came Mork and Mindy, and he was off and running.
He was a local boy, because he grew up in Marin County, across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. He lived in San Francisco, Marin, and at one time, owned a home in Sonoma, where I live. I would see him and his two year old daughter (mine was 3 at the time) while we were at the soccer field on the weekend, with our other kids. He was a celebrity that everyone treated like the neighbor he wanted to be; quiet, friendly, but private.
Listening to the radio and TV reports of his tragic death, I was struck by how others in the area perceived him in the same way. We all felt like we “knew” him in some way, that he was “one of us.” My son and daughter, both now well into their 20’s called to say how surprised they were that they felt his loss so strongly. Not so surprising though. He was thoroughly woven into the fabric of their childhood.
But we didn’t really know him. We knew the person he wanted us to know, but he struggled with thoughts and feelings we could not share. We will all get depressed in our lives at some point, over something. Luckily, most of us will never feel or know the depths of depression and despair that Robin, and millions of others like him suffer daily.
As helpers, we want to comfort every one of them, but we know we can’t. We can be vigilant with our clients, friends and family when we see signs of substance use and/or depression. We can offer support and services to those who are open. But most of all we can maintain and offer our compassion to those who suffer so deeply. We can keep caring.