Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Robin Williams: how we got it all wrong




Robin Williams: the terrorist in his brain

About all I can say about this piece of writing (click on link, above) is that it's extremely important.

When Robin Williams killed himself two years ago, he was, in essence, already dead. But by the time the true story came out (in the results of the autopsy, which took three months), everyone had moved on. When it happened, there were lots of editorials written about how he was a sad clown who killed himself because he secretly suffered from depression (as in "but doctor, I AM Pagliacci").  His suicide spawned a lot of fevered articles about how we really really have to stop stigmatizing mental illness because look what it can do, even to a rich and famous person (and it's REALLY not supposed to happen to them!). A few people claimed he was "selfish" and just moping over his career slowing down, throwing his life away to hurt his family. And I remember a lot of people flung up web sites and Facebook pages just to talk about their depression because they were sick and tired of being ashamed of it and hiding it, but those sites just kind of faded away after a while. At any rate, I don't see them any more.

Here is what really happened.





Williams died from the effects of a horrible disease called Lewy Body Dementia. It devoured him, mind and body, frighteningly quickly. Though the symptoms caused his doctors to believe it was Parkinson's, it wasn't. It was something so much worse that I can barely get my head around it. I have no idea why anyone should have to go through such a hell on earth, and I believe he ended it while he felt he still could. 

Because no one had heard of Lewy Body Dementia and because people preferred to just see him as a sad clown and a poster boy for Reducing The Stigma, and because they had lost interest anyway, the public missed it almost completely.

Robin Williams' widow wrote this eloquent piece, this cri du coeur about the hell they walked through together,  for a neurological journal. They probably would not normally publish a piece by a non-neurologist.  But this woman got a closer look at the ravages of Lewy Body than all of them put together. It is an incredible piece of writing, long, but it barely scratches the surface. It is almost unbearable to read because it brings home the fact that all our lives hang by a thread, all the time. It is a powerful truth, and it continues to be powerful whether we believe it or not.






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