Depression is the dark side of comedy

THIS week saw the death of the great comedian, Robin Williams. Perhaps what made his death even sadder was the news that Mr Williams took his own life.

At a time like this, it seems natural that there would be a lot of theorising and speculation as to what happened for him, what led him to take his own life.

I have known a number of comedians, and have long been a keen student of the art and science of humour and comedy.

While it is a bit of a generalisation, it seems that many of our best comedians have something deep and soulful about them, a contrast to the irony and satire that makes up so much of what makes us laugh.

They have the uncomfortable ability to move us closer to the shameful and uncomfortable parts of ourselves that we would sooner pretend were not there.

In the truest tradition of the medieval jester they caper and lampoon the king and courtiers, reminding them not to take themselves too seriously.

Indeed Shakespeare's famous quote "many a true word said in jest" can hold great wisdom for those willing to see beyond their bruised dignity.

Robin Williams and his wife Susan Schneider at the premiere of
Robin Williams and his wife Susan Schneider at the premiere of "Old Dogs" in Los Angeles on 9 November 2009

It is like the comedian is trying to break through a wall that is forbidden to face some deeper truth or justice.

It is the comedian who so often reveals the pain beneath the mask, while at the same time distracting us away from their own pain.

Yet they are not the only ones who can wear such a mask, and play the game of distraction.

But what of Mr Williams. Such a man who was so beloved, so adored. A man who did charity work, who gave of himself, who had wealth, fame, influence.

A man who had incredible adulation. Surely, this would be enough for any person.

Can you imagine having such adulation and fame? Can you imagine having the kind of life and opportunity and love that Mr Williams had?

Then imagine that you didn't deserve it. Imagine that you weren't worth it, that you weren't good enough to have it.

Imagine that you weren't fundamentally loveable. Imagine having sneaky and hidden wound-based rules dictating the limitations on who you are.

What would it be like then for people to tell you how wonderful you are. Would you believe it? Or would it feel hollow?

Would you feel suspicious of connection, and disconnect from those who love and care for you, worried they might be just another person lying to you to get their own needs met, using you for what you have to offer them.

Robin Williams
Robin Williams Bang Showbiz

Even the laughter of fans might seem like a dull and distant roar, like listening to the beach through a seashell.

Feeling might be painful, expressing this pain might feel like putting your neck on the chopping block of the judgement of others, and thus forbidden. Instead the emotions start to devour the self alive, shutting out happiness and life, strangling feelings, leaving a focus of numbness to block out the pain.

I don't know what happened for Mr Williams. But I know that his passing made me feel particularly sad.

For me he was a man who was clever, wild, anarchic, heartfelt, soulful, gentle, fierce, and funny.

A man with so much value, but a man who was gripped by such despair that in his final hours that he may not have been able to see it himself.

It is certainly a journey to come back from such a bleak place of darkness.

It requires a concerted effort to leave the darkness, the ability to go to the places that are forbidden and break through them.

The ability to recognise the worth, the love, and the good enough within ourselves. The willingness to ask for support and to express our emotions instead of suppressing our emotions.

Even when those emotions feel wrong. If this sounds like you, or someone you know and care about, then seek help.

Take the risk and reach out. There are hands waiting to support you.

One of the handful of favourite movies for me is the wonderful film The Fisher King which stars Mr Williams as Perry, a homeless man in New York.

It is a story of healing through incredible pain, a story of redemption, and the radical amazement of the magic of the ordinary. It is a movie that makes me laugh and cry.

Farewell, Mr Williams. You will be missed.

If you need help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 44 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636.

Paul Stewart is a personal coach with Compassion Coaching:, and also supports the inSight Men's Circle, and Teen Tribe programs run through Hopelink: 4979 3626.

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