When I wanted to kill myself, it was three days before Christmas. I found myself at the hospital, in a room with no windows and a locked door. Sometime well after midnight, a social worker came in. She asked me questions about my history of mental health, my family, friends, work, bowel movements, hopes, aspirations – you name it. For some reason she took an interest in the fact I make comics. I explained that I was having trouble managing it all, and was currently in a blinding, all consuming depression.
“You know,” she said “Robin Williams has had his share of hardships with mental illness, and he found a way to do things and work. Have you seen Good Will Hunting?”
“Yeah” I said.
“Have you seen Dead Poets Society?”
“So he found a way to make them and balance work, family, and all those things. The scale of it might change over time, but he made it work.”
She took some more notes, we chatted, and she left, and I laid beneath the halogen lights thinking about Robin Williams. It must have been a lot of work to make that many movies, to do that many tours, to win that many awards, and to be that famous. Doing it all and still fighting personal demons.
I eventually got out of the hospital. Finding reasons to live every day was tough. I spent Christmas with my family, smoking unfiltered cigarettes in the sub zero weather with my brother. The days passed, and I spent more time with doctors, psychiatrists, therapists, anyone to keep me going. And I kept going.
Robin Williams stuck around in my mind.
To me, he was the ultimate success – someone who has personal demons, problems, and issues – and found a way to keep achieving things. I wanted to emulate him, from the standpoint of being extraordinarily talented and driven while dealing with your issues. And being genuinely funny along the way. Sometimes on tough days, I had to remind myself that he did all these things despite his personal setbacks, and it pushed me to move onward.
Mr. Williams, I hope you’re in a better place and doing alright. You’ve touched the lives of many, and you most definitely touched the life of a scared, depressed girl in the hospital last winter.
O captain, my captain
Terry Gross: Can I make a confession?
Robin Williams: Yes. You’re not wearing anything, but that’s OK. You’re in the radio studio, and if you’re wearing—if you’re in a thong, that’s wonderful. A thong in your heart, that’s OK. No, no, please, confess.
Gross: Well, before we did the interview, I had no idea what to expect. And I wasn’t sure you’d give me a straight answer to anything. And I just want to say thank you for actually having a talk.
Williams: You’re welcome. Well, it’s good to talk like that, you know?
Gross: And for being really funny at the same time.
Williams: Well, that’s probably what life is. You know, you can do both. You can talk and be funny. And you see it wasn’t that zany. It was just conversation.
Williams, speaking to Fresh Air in 2006.