Robin Williams was found dead of an apparent suicide Monday. He was 63 years old.
I was 21 years old when I was diagnosed as being on the bipolar spectrum and prescribed Wellbutrin. I didn't want to take the medication; I was convinced that if I did, it would mean that I hadn't fought hard enough, as some family members said, to "stop being so sad all the time." It would mean admitting defeat to the darkness that had consumed me for months. It would mean I was officially Crazy.
I remember sitting in my therapist's office about a week after the diagnosis, telling her that I didn't want to feel like I needed medication to stop being Crazy. She told me to stop calling myself that word. I was not crazy; I was ill and I needed help to get better. She said many creative people are on the bipolar spectrum, that they shared "one little spark of madness" that could either inspire a work of art or drive someone over the edge. I asked her to give me examples, expecting her to rattle off a list of long-dead artists.
"Robin Williams is the most famous one," she replied. I was actually shocked, but I tried to hide it. She told me he was closer to the manic end of the spectrum, but that meant his depressive episodes are that much more severe. There were times when he could only work during a manic episode, then he would crash and burn for months afterward and spiral into drugs and alcohol. When he started taking medication every day, he seemed to be doing better.
I'm not sure where my therapist got her information, or if it was all true, but somehow it made me feel better. I had loved Robin Williams in Mork and Mindy when I was a kid, and cherished memories of watching the show with my family. It was corny, but "Nanu, nanu!" was comedy gold at my house when I was little. Sure, it was comforting to hear that Mork from Ork and I were the same brand of Crazy, but I still didn't want to take medication.
"Why don't we start with just every day this week?" I don't know if I just wanted my therapist off my back, or if warm childhood memories trumped my stubbornness, but I thought, "Mork from Ork is doing it, so I will just start with every day this week." And I did take that little purple pill every day that week, as well as the next, and the next, for almost 10 years. And I felt better and better every day. Good, even.
When Dusty and I decided to start a family, my doctor and I gradually weaned me off Wellbutrin, and I was a little worried about what would happen to me without it. I would read about Robin Williams's occasional stints in rehab, and I secretly wondered if he had gone off medication. But then after being absent from the scene for a while, and stumbling through a couple of duds, he would bounce back with Dead Poets Society or Good Will Hunting or Night at the Museum.
Robin Williams gave me hope. He gave me an example of someone living with his personal demons in the best way he could. He was proof that people with our brand of Crazy could wrestle with the darkness and sometimes win. Clearly, it was a great struggle for him, but I believed he fought for every day of his life. If he could continue to do it, then I could, too.
But then he stopped. I didn't realize how much his life and now his death meant to me until now. I am going to cry a little more and then go hug my kids and my husband.
Thank you, Robin Williams, for sharing your one little spark of madness with us. More importantly, thank you for being the catalyst when I took my first steps toward wellness. I hope you have finally found your peace.
Nanu, nanu, Mork from Ork.