I Am Pagliacci
You have probably read this account many times, especially after the passing of the genius Robin Williams: Man goes to doctor. Says he's depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world. Doctor says, "Treatment is simple. Great clown, Pagliacci, is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up." Man bursts into tears, says, "But doctor, I am Pagliacci."
This is a line from Alan Moore's Watchmen, and it struck people anew over the recent loss of the revered comedian Robin Williams. The larger than life actor was the Pagliacci of our world, a man who brought infinite joy to millions was a man who suffered alone, and decided to end it all.
Robin Williams is a special human being who will always have a place in the hearts of many. He was the teacher who everyone wanted, the doctor who understood what everyone needed, and the dad any kid would be proud and embarrassed of at the same time. But, through all the grief, the tributes, and memories; people are still struggling with the fact of his depression.
No One's Safe
It's a condition that few understand, and many scorn. It's claimed more lives than most people are willing to admit, and yet society continuously refuses to acknowledge its existence. The English comic James Manford wrote, "If depressions can kill Robin Williams, it can get any of us anytime."
If Robin Williams' death taught the world anything, is that even the happiest and most successful people can't escape depression.
No One Understands
Depression is never an easy subject to discuss, and unfortunately, society has treated it with the least possible amount of respect, either ignoring the condition completely or dismissing it outright. There's nothing less helpful than telling a depressed person to "buck up." If the answer were that simple, then nobody would be depressed.
Healthy people often tell the depressed that there are more people out there in worse conditions. What right do they have to feel sad when those people struggle to live? Depression is something more than just being sad. A condition weighs heavily on a person. It's a feeling of persistent hopelessness, regardless of the nature of the situation.
No One's There
People don't get depressed or commit suicide because they're afraid of facing life; they take their lives because they're afraid to face life alone. They go through life alone, affecting no one, loved by no one. What difference would it make if they just disappeared?
The world would keep turning, people will still go about their lives, and their deaths won't even be a blip on anyone's radar. A person who's depressed has no one, they can be surrounded by people 24/7, and still be an island that no one else can reach.
The confusion and disgust with depression shows how little society understands of what goes on in a person's mind when they're done. Just because someone is smiling doesn't mean they're happy. The most elusive cases of depression are the ones that manage to adapt to people's expectations of happiness.
They can flash a genuine smile, and feel real joy for a time, before falling back into the pit of their own making. The worst part of it is, those that can feel real happiness temporarily, feel their happiness is a lie, something unreal. They think they're lying to themselves, as well as everyone else, contributing even more to their isolation.
Robin Williams may have opened the door to further discussion and awareness on depression. Though people feel his suicide is an act of selfish desperation, the effect should spur a conversation that benefits the depressed. Get the people the help they need, the understanding they deserve, and the companionship they crave for.
Never again should anyone lose themselves in the darkness of depression. Never again should the world lose another hopeful light because spite or ignorance. Never again, should anyone say "I am Pagliacci."