Friday Night Think Tank: What Dreams May Come

Doc BrownIt’s Friday, Modern Philosophers.

I’ve chosen to take a more somber approach to this week’s Think Tank post because I want to open the conversation to a very serious topic.  While this is a Humor blog, it is also one about Philosophy.

I’ve always encouraged you to share your Deep Thoughts, and made it clear that the Think Tank is a safe place where any thought could be shared without fear of mockery, retribution, or ostracism.

When you join me in our weekly Philosophical Exercise, please keep in mind that this is a very sensitive topic and that I need you to be respectful of others… even if their Deep Thoughts do not mesh with yours.

Thank you.  I hope to see you all out there…

This week’s topic: Robin Williams’ suicide has opened up discussions about suicide, depression, coping skills, and the like.  I thought we could just open the Think Tank to chats on any of those topics, as well thoughts on Robin Williams, his movies and career.  Whatever you want to discuss…

I have always been a huge Robin Williams fan, and still remember his first appearance on “Happy Days” as Mork.  The man was a comic genius, as well as an Oscar winning actor.  Good Will Hunting and Dead Poet’s Society are definitely my favorites of his flicks, and the “O Captain! My Captain!” and “Sweaty-toothed madman…” lines from Poet’s have a permanent place in my brain, popping up at the oddest moments.

dreamsI even enjoyed his TV show “The Crazy Ones”, so that should prove I was a big fan.

I worked at a psychiatric hospital for five years.  While this by no means makes me an expert on depression or suicide, it did open my mind more on those topics, as well as anything involving mental health issues.

Part of my job was taking phone calls from people in crisis, and trying to ensure that they were safe or could use a coping skill until someone could get to them and help them better deal with their crisis.

I have met psychiatric patients at the door of the hospital, done their admission paperwork with them, worked with them up on the units when the hospital was shorthanded, and also responded to codes when patients tried to harm themselves or others.

I’ve done the intake from doctors and crisis workers who wanted to get their patients admitted to the hospital.  I have heard the symptoms, listed the medications, recorded previous mental health admissions.

I know that every person has different mental health issues, and that everyone deals with those issues in a completely different manner.  So I just find it hard to judge or make a broad statement about any person who chooses to take his life.

I know I am very sad that Robin Williams made this choice, though.

When I worked at the psych hospital, my boss committed suicide.  It was nearly impossible for me to wrap my brain around that at the time.  She was a licensed mental health professional who helped patients with their mental health issues on a daily basis.  She was surrounded by other mental health professionals, and had more access than the average person to mental health services simply by the nature of her job and the people she knew.

And yet, she still chose to take her life.

Even all these years later, I still cannot make sense of it.  She was the nicest person, always the first to help someone in need, and in every memory I have of her, she’s smiling.

I so infrequently understand why I do the things I do, so I suppose it’s irrational of me to think I could ever make sense of the choices others make.

Rest in Peace, Robin.  I will certainly miss the way you made me laugh and think…

About Austin

Native New Yorker who's fled to the quiet life in Maine. I write movies, root for the Yankees, and shovel lots of snow.
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43 Responses to Friday Night Think Tank: What Dreams May Come

  1. floridaborne says:

    The poem “Richard Cory” sounds a lot like your boss. It’s said that depression is anger turned inward. Instead of letting it out, it becomes an invisible cancer that eats away your will to live.

    I applaud you for working in mental health at one time in your life. My experiences with people who have minds that society doesn’t consider normal is enlightening. People say, “They’re weak minded.” I have to say that there is no stronger mind than one that finds a way to live each day in spite of debilitation.

    Also consider the fact that some of our greatest composers, writers, thinkers and scientists would have been considered depressed, manic, schizophrenic, endowed with a mild form of Autism called Asberger’s Syndrome, or something else now called “mental illness.”

    • Austin says:

      Working at the hospital definitely opened my eyes and my mind. I will never think the same about mental health again.

      Parts of The Retirement Party are even set at the hospital. I needed to honor the place in my writing…

  2. penelopevon says:

    In the past three years, I’ve lost 3 individuals to suicide. 3 people you would NEVER suspect of having issues, or of being unhappy or in the throes of depression. Yet, they are gone. I’ve experienced some pretty dark hours and I personally can’t imagine committing suicide. However… I can understand HOW someone would or could feel hopeless and driven to suicide. It breaks my heart. I wish that someone, anyone could have reached out and made the difference to all of the 3 friends I’ve lost. I wish I could have made a difference, or touched just one of them!! The what if’s and the maybes will always stay with me and their family members. My heart aches for these three beautiful individuals and for anyone else suffering.. For those who feel alone, and desperate and dark.. Please remember.. Reach out.. You are not alone. It breaks my heart that Robin Williams is dead. He was one of the funniest men ever. He will be missed and he will be loved.

  3. It breaks my heart that a human being can get so low that the only way out is suicide. I could never commit the act, I don’t have the strength..
    R.I.P. Robin. You are missed already.

  4. ksbeth says:

    yes, he was certainly a fellow modern philosopher, ad this hit me hard too. it is frequently the person that helps so many others who cannot help themselves in the same way. the mechanic who does not fix his car….
    it is hard to understand what goes through a person’s mind and heart, even with all the experience and knowledge in the world, and i just know that i feel a loss with his passing.

    • Austin says:

      Very well put, Beth. There definitely is a sadness in all this. I see his picture on the cover of the Entertainment Weekly on my living room table. All week long, the local radio station has been playing clips of his comedy albums. There will be far less laughter in the world now…

  5. Carl says:

    I experienced a mild form of depression for nearly 17 years. I was told all sorts of things, about what I had, why this, and why that. It wasn’t until about four years ago that I gained enough knowledge and clarity of myself, and the way it was when I was younger, that I was able to move along from most of it.

    Sure, sadness comes back and forth, but not in as severe a way as it did before. One of the things that helped me out of it was cognitive therapy – a form of psychotherapy that involves aligning your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. It was developed by Aaron T. Beck; I suggest a read into for anyone suffering from depression.

    There were times I wanted to commit suicide; even now and then I have passing thoughts of it, but remind myself that I don’t need to go there. It was often associated with my inability to be admired by others; they didn’t give me attention. (As a child, I often felt unheard, ignored, and thought of as naive and stupid.)

    A lot of people who have deep emotional struggles are also really good at hiding it. They can willingly go from one way of behaving to another. Perhaps the environment matters; perhaps a feeling of contributing helps, too. I know I feel at my best when I’m creative and giving. I feel at my worst when I am lazy, insecure, and running negative thoughts through my head.

    I don’t feel that people who want to take their life have something “wrong” with them; something that must be corrected. I think a better approach is that they are allowed to express themselves in a place and way that’s comfortable for them, so that their existence is validated. There are those of us who can be happy alone, and those of us who cannot, for whatever reason we may have. And whatever that reason is, to pursue your happiness, it’s a valid one, and should be accepted first by yourself.

    • Austin says:

      Carl, thank you for being so open with the group and sharing such personal information. That was very brave of you and I think you’ve given us an entirely new perspective on things.

      I hope your words can give others strength and courage…

  6. I remember way back in college, one of my friend’s mothers took her own life. It affected my friend in very profound way, and yet, after she got past the sadness then the anger, she learned quite a bit about the upside of choice.

  7. grannyK says:

    Depression isn’t as uncommon as you might think. Not just the normal sadness or frustration that is expected in life, I mean honest to goodness depression. I have struggled with this and OCD for as long as I can remember. If you were to ask anyone I work for, or hang out with, they would say I’m a pretty positive and upbeat person who likes to kid around and tries to make kids smile. I learned early on how to “put on my game face” as I call it. I find that working with children actually does help me a lot, because they are so happy and we do have fun. I still have times I feel hopeless and don’t want to even get out of bed, but somehow I do and life goes on. My therapy is reading many wonderful blogs and dabbling with writing short stories (which I NEVER share with anyone).

  8. I have met several people who attempted suicide and failed. I asked them what used them to want to die. I got the same answer from all of them—“I was just so tired.”
    One man told me about his experience in Vietnam. He said they were killing people all day, every day….and then coming back to their own area at night, drinking beer and telling jokes. He said the whole thing felt so wrong, and finally he couldn’t take it anymore. So tired. One night, he sat down on the floor, took a hand grenade out of his pack, closed his eyes, and pulled the pin. He wanted life to be over; he wanted rest, he wanted to escape the craziness. BUT, that particular hand grenade turned out to be a dud and absolutely nothing happened. He waited, but there was no explosion, no ending. He ended up laughing at the absurdity of it all and the moment passed. Life went on.

  9. “caused” not “used”….don’t know what happened to the “ca..” at the beginning of the word. It apparently decided to walk away.

  10. I’ve been thinking over suicide, depression and the sanctity of life for several months now (not from a personal perspective, as much as a philosophical one). Sigh. It’s not an easy thing to think about. I think I will try to write on it soon. It’s been in my head for long enough, time to get it out on the page.

    I’m really sorry about your colleague. That must have been such a blow to everyone who knew her.

  11. markbialczak says:

    The news that Robin was diagnosed with Parkinson’s makes me understand just a little more, Austin, because I’m sure he watched Michael J. Fox cope with that disease all these years and deal with the depression from it, too. I’m just so sad that life overwhelmed him to the ultimate point when to the rest of us, it would appear that he had everything. I’m sorry for Robin Williams’ family and friends the most, but for the rest of the world, too, because his talent was so great and far-reaching, we all felt like we knew him. But we didn’t. And that’s what this awful week taught me, again, Austin.

  12. Everyone has internal battles–real, imagined, molehills made into mountains. Not all of these struggles are verbalized. Longer ago than I care to admit, I worked in an emergency room environment. There were quite a few attempted and successful suicides. Some mentally ill patients bragged that someday they’d end their lives. My associates and myself, worked our butts off, to save some of the same people, again and again.

    This was in a military environment. Some cynical, crusty old veterans, advised patients in the proper way to cut one’s wrists. In other words, “Your wasting our time soldier–next time do it right.” Hopefully things have gotten better since the Vietnam era.

    At what point does one decide–“the world would be a better place if I weren’t here.” Even if the right environment is provided–there’s no guarantee the suicide prone will talk. My saddest ambulance run involved a young woman who’d successfully ended her life. She was a familiar face with a history of mental health issues.

    • Austin says:

      I do remember one of the more difficult aspects of the job was seeing the “frequent flyers”, patients who returned again and again and never seemed to be getting any better.

      It is very unsettling to hear a person speak so casually about the plan to end his life. Perhaps sometimes, the verbalization of the plan was the coping mechanism.

      Thank you for sharing your insights and experiences…

  13. drishism says:

    I was surprised by the response on my Facebook and twitter accounts from the death of Robin Williams. Not that other celebrity deaths aren’t sad moments. But Robin Williams seemed to have impacted all of my friends, both young and old (elderly) ones. Robin was truly a unique talent, and he clearly impacted people of all ages.

    I think my favorite movies with him are Aladdin, Good Will Hunting, and Dead Poet’s Society.

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