Losing Robin Williams—The Dark Side of Those Who Make Us Laugh
Suicide. It’s a topic that’s been on most of our minds as of late. I was BROKEN when I found out about Robin Williams. It’s like this bright shining star just snuffed out, leaving only a black hole of crushing emptiness behind. I feel terrible for taking him for granted, selfishly assuming he’d always be around.
I haven’t yet cried because I’m afraid I might not stop. My fondest childhood memories involve Mork & Mindy. Growing up, I’d watch Williams’ comedic acts over and over and over, studying his timing and how he could do what he did, because to me? It was MAGIC. In fact, I can honestly say he was my earliest mentor. I learned to laugh and make others laugh, and, since home and school were living nightmares, laughter was my lifeline.
I’m no expert aside from having suicide issues in the family. Also, years ago, I suffered horrific depression after being on the phone with my father when he unexpectedly died. No one realized he had cancer until after the autopsy, because he was always making everyone laugh, always smiling and making us smile…until he was gone.
While I won’t get into a discussion regarding suicide and depression, I’d like to address some reasons many were so sideswiped when Robin Williams took his life. Obviously I can only speak from my own perspective as a humor author and chronic class clown.
Humor is Birthed From Pain
Ever notice the high mortality rates among comedians? Self-destruction is common. One reason is that humor is an amazingly powerful defense mechanism. I switched high schools six times and was poor, thus the target of every group of Mean Girls (which come standard). In my freshman year I turned inward and fell into terrible depression. Then I learned how powerful humor could be. It could be a weapon.
The right turn of phrase could decimate an attacker.
Humor can also be body armor. Funny people use laughter to minimize pain so we can cope. Maybe we come from a background where we aren’t allowed to express hurt, pain, sorrow, disappointment, and so making jokes becomes a way of staying sane. Or maybe there is so much pain that humor is the only way to keep from overloading. This is common among police officers, soldiers, doctors, and any profession bombarded with tragedy.
Never Let Them See You Sweat
I’ve been guilty of this (being the comedian of the family). I love making others laugh and never lose my sense of humor. When I was admitted to give birth to The Spawn, the attending nurse crashed every single vein trying to get an IV in me (until I politely asked if my mom could do it—she is an RN). The nurses missed inserting my epidural (the needle that goes into the spine) seven times. Yet, to the end and through every contraction, I had everyone laughing, even though I was in agony.
When I was 22, I finally had to have four impacted wisdom teeth removed. I couldn’t afford an oral surgeon and so the dentist gave me the anesthesia and proceeded to chisel all four teeth out of my jaw. My roommate who brought me said all she could hear from the room was the staff laughing to the point of tears. Apparently through gauze and anesthesia I was still a riot.
Laughter has been there to help me contend with the fear and pain, but this coping mechanism has a dark side.
I know it’s my own fault others don’t necessarily take me seriously when I’m hurting. How could they? I’m cracking jokes and making everyone happy. I’m a giver. I don’t know if life is worth living if we aren’t laughing. And if we’re going to be in pain, why not bear it with a smile? People & circumstances can take away anything but our attitude, right?
The problem is that others see that smile and might not understand that we do need help and likely aren’t going to ask for it. Or us being “funny” might make it seem we’re not in as dire of a situation.
Just ask the people who tried to get me to an ER last week when I had my first violent reaction to peanuts.
Givers love to give. Comedians live to make others laugh. We love it so much we’re often blind to when we are empty and the darkness is there to pounce when we’re at our lowest. As a community, one of the things we can all do is learn to be better at actively listening. WANA was built on this principle—WE ARE NOT ALONE.
I’ve been doing this myself. Talk less, listen more. Joke less, hear more, be honest. Listen for subtext. If we ask someone, “How are you today?” at least stick around long enough for an answer. Ask the next question.
Lack of Boundaries and Rest
I find it interesting how the corporate world expects to be able to reach us 24/7. Meetings and “work” creep into our Saturdays and even Sundays. But how would our job feel if we showed up with our kids to work? What if we read a novel or took a nap?
Oh, what? No quid pro quo?
My husband gets business calls before we are even awake. 99% of the time, it’s over matters that could wait. We’re interrupted at dinner, on weekends, during church. When are we going to say NO? I now turn off my phone on weekends. I just…can’t.
Most of us—even the funny folks—are running around on fumes. This is when depression sets in even if it isn’t clinical. Humans were not designed to run fill tilt 24 hours a day. Those of us with a gift for making others laugh likely just don’t show symptoms as early or at all. A lot of us “don’t want to bother” anyone.
Also, a lot of us jokesters have set up expectations in others that we will always make them smile. When we can no longer do that—when we are too spent or hurting—we retreat. We don’t want to disappoint.
Situational Awareness—Take It To H.A.R.T.
Are we hurting, alone, resentful, or tense? In this go-go-go-go life, we should be mindful to stop. Take a break so we can check our condition. We wouldn’t drive a car and ignore red lights flashing. CHECK ENGINE. FUEL LOW. NEED AIR. Why do we do this to ourselves? And for the other funny folks out there, joking about the CHECK ENGINE light is no laughing matter.
This is why I’m so tremendously grateful for all you. I might hurt, but I’m never alone and you guys keep me company so a lot less tense.
The hurting? Yeah. Covered in hives and want to scrape off my skin with a carrot peeler (go to doctor in an hour). Resentful? Benadryl kinda making me resent everything, including sounds, light and those annoying air particles that insist touching me. PERSONAL SPACE! And bugs farting. How are the spiders and fruit flies so flatulent?
What are your thoughts?
Do you do tend to minimize by joking? Maybe laugh off things you shouldn’t? Do you retreat if you can’t be entertaining? Do you feel desensitized to pain because of coping so long with humor? Do you have friends of family who are like this? Maybe that you need to watch more carefully?
I miss Robin Williams. The world is a far darker place without him. I hope he’s somewhere he can see how much we all loved him and how devastated we are to be without him.