Bleeders in a world of sharp edges
My grandfather used to compare me to a cartoon character named Nippy, who was always mischievous and often wrong. Today we found out that many in the media who rushed to judgment about the cause of Robin Williams’ depression and suicide being attributable to relapsed substance abuse got it wrong.
In a statement released Thursday, his widow Susan said:
“Robin’s sobriety was intact and he was brave as he struggled with his own battles of depression, anxiety as well as early stages of Parkinson’s Disease, which he was not yet ready to share publicly.”
Behavioral specialists who deal with the illness of depression and suicidal ideation will tell you that suicide has deep roots and multiple triggers. Certainly a physical illness as serious as Parkinson’s would be one of those.
I watch MSBNC and CNN. The former is for the editorials and the anchors, the latter for breaking news. Even though MSNBC would be considered to have a liberal slant, what I like about the hosts of the individual shows is their devotion, which I take to be utterly sincere, to accuracy in reporting and facts above hearsay and opinion. They also seem like smart, nice, decent people who would be interesting and enjoyable to have as friends.
Every day, I also read an e-mailed devotional message from Dr. Charles Stanley — a curious thing for a somewhat fallen-away Catholic to do. But, despite the evangelical background, founded in the Southern Baptist tradition, I think Dr. Stanley is a genuine spiritual teacher, someone who truly understands the human condition and is a kind, caring human being. There is no angry, accusatory God in Dr. Stanley’s cosmology. He simply has human understanding and compassion. Every day, one way or another, he reminds us to be good to ourselves and equally to one another, no matter who we or they are. This morning’s passage quoted to illustrate Dr. Stanley’s message was this:
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:31-32
Fully four-fifths of this country profess to be followers of Christ. Why are we all so hard on ourselves and one another then? Why is there so much hatred, violence, venom, spite, bigotry, racism, rejection and worst of all, unforgiveness then?
We live in a world that is full of sharp edges, to quote Barry Levinson who said this, this week when asked about Robin Williams. If you read that short tribute, you will see words that should give us all pause: too intelligent, delicate, fragile, sensitive, hurt — trying to make sense of the madness of this world and frankly, I would add, the anger of other people.
This is no longer about Robin Williams, exclusively. It is about all of us human beings and what kinds of people we are in the 21st century. It is about people like you and me. Are we similar? I wonder sometimes.
I have spent my entire adult life trying to understand selfish, callous, exclusionary people. I want to know how a Christian country can turn its back on the poor and marginalized, the disenfranchised (usually through no fault of their own), the handicapped, elderly, single mothers, children, groups of color, up to and especially including those with what we mistakenly term craziness or “mental” illness, as if it is all in the mind, and you can just think it away, if you are strong — the list goes on. What philosophy, what type of mind and heart enables someone to be so harsh or hard?
I don’t understand hard people. Not that I count myself in his league, but I am very like Robin Williams in one particular trait: I feel deeply for others, both human and otherwise. This is not weakness. This is intelligence and openness to life. I literally feel pain when I think of the way children are misunderstood and entrusted to ignorant, thoughtless, unconscious adults, parents or otherwise. It is almost intolerable for me to witness cruelty and suffering.
I once accompanied Geoffrey to a project that involved retrofitting and restoration of a nursing home in Downtown LA. The people there were so desolate, drugged to keep them from taking up too much of the staff’s time up with requests. It was heartbreaking — as if, like the Eskimos, we simply exile the elderly to ice floes when they are no longer materially vital to our economy. When I saw Sarah Palin stand in front of a machine into which were fed live birds — turkeys — to be ground up for some unimaginable “food” product, I almost wept. It was also remarkable to me how she stood there oblivious, unconcerned. People who inflict suffering are turning their fear and anger outward. People who commit suicide turn it inward, perhaps after years of witnessing barbarity like this.
When I see a parent mistreating a child, it is almost impossible to bear without acting or at least saying something. Truly, I want to understand: who are these people? What manner of obtuseness or numbness leads people to be so tough? Is it better to be so closed, walled off to other living beings? This callousness and inhumanity are taught, modelled by unthinking adults. Children are born naturally empathic and vulnerable. Indifference comes from mistreatment and indoctrination, make no mistake.
Any child psychologist will tell you that the signs of a damaged personality are evident very early on. These include hurting others, especially other children, small animals and even parents. It almost always signals serious parenting failures.
I am sorry to tell you, toughness is not strength and almost all anger is self-generated and while it may serve to spur action, it almost always causes more trouble. Caring people, sensitive, intelligent, heart-centered people turn their anger inward, unfortunately, not outward. If you hear me criticize the tea party, it is because to me they appear to be a group of angry white people who just don’t want to share their good fortune (and luck!) nor responsibility for the well-being of the community that surrounds and supports them. In lashing out at others publicly they are demonstrating childish, immature and at worst destructive behavior in their self-centeredness. It is a sweeping portrait of a type of person and one we need to retrain to feel their humanity and oneness with other life, not retrench in their privileged corners and fight off everyone else. Their anger is outer directed, when the problem lies within them.
Just a couple of nights ago Geoff and I watched Paul Muni in the 1959 film classic, The Last Angry Man. The central character of what was a novel, then a play and finally this exceptional movie is an aging physician who gives of himself his entire life and whom no one understands. His anger was born of despair at the inhumanity of man to his fellows.
We have a broad segment of our population who are downright ignorant of the severity, etiology, and treatability of psychiatric disorders and diseases. These are illnesses no different from diabetes or cancer or heart defects. Such backward people imply that the sufferer of these very physiologically based pathologies caused the problem and therefore could simply suck it up, so to speak, and correct it. That kind of willful stupidity is appalling to me.
Just one example, Fox News has faced a furious backlash after it branded Robin Williams a “coward” following his suicide. “A petition calling on the right wing news channel to fire its anchor Shep Smith and immediately educate staff about mental illness and suicide has already received more than 100,000 signatures in less than 24 hours. Fox has been accused of ‘perpetuating dangerous and completely wrongheaded views of mental illness,’ after Smith called Williams a ‘coward’ live on air.” Rush Limbaugh, a wily huckster who makes money inciting gullible people to anger and violence, while he rakes in millions spewing bile, had the nerve to accuse Williams of being “angry”. Anyone who has listened to Limbaugh and his ilk of snake-oil salesmen can see that this is calculated and hypocritical. A man addicted to controlled substances, ridiculing someone with addictions, who as far as everyone knows, never lashed out at others. What irony.
Michelle Cornette, director of the American Association of Suicidology said that William’s taking his own life, after a severe episode of depression, may actually have been a final act of kindness, trying to spare his family the continual roller coaster ride that is characteristic of the disease.
And then this New York Times article caught my eye.
“Peering through his camera at Robin Williams in 2012, the cinematographer John Bailey thought he glimpsed something not previously evident in the comedian’s work. They were shooting the independent film “The Angriest Man in Brooklyn,” and Mr. Williams was playing a New York lawyer who, facing death, goes on a rant against the injustice and banality of life.”
Why continually blame the bleeders? Why not run interference against sharp edges?
When you get a minute, you might want to listen to this podcast when Mark Maron interviewed Robin Williams in 2010.
My husband and I decided to make a run to the Hollywood Boulevard memorial at Robin William’s Star on the Walk of Fame. This was a spur of the moment decision. I shared some of the many photographs we took on Flickr and another handful here. It helped us get past our sadness to see the outpouring of love the day after Robin Williams died. One thing that struck us as touching was the effect of many arms and hands held high in the air for various reasons. The overall effect was one of a silent prayer being sent up high above the crowd, or possibly people reaching up for Robin, as if each single hand was clapping silently, one more time.
Images: Beth Byrnes archives. Click to enlarge them if you care to.
A wonderful post Beth for Robin… such a talented, kind and no-nonsense man… He will be remembered for making life that bit more liveable and laughable… At first I was a little disappointed that he choose the easy way out, but maybe he just had no more to give and needed to give to himself now… a little bit of peace. Life is crazy, we are crazy. Human life is all about ‘gathering experience of love… and I believe we all know now what feels good and loving and what not. So why do we continue to support and engage in the human game and not decide to step out of it? Surely we can now allow the wisdom that we have gathered to propel us beyond… beyond the mind, beyond the limitations and what is physical seen and known…. Take care, Barbara x
I agree with you Barbara. I was disappointed and shocked. I hadn’t thought too much about Robin Williams recently because he seemed to be working steadily and putting out more mature movies suited to his development as an actor. Then this happens and all of a sudden I realized that I took his being around, for granted. I regret that and not telling him how much I appreciated him.
As for his choice. I think he had years to prepare for this, unfortunately and may have done some dry runs. It takes a lot to overcome our natural self-preservation instincts and go through with such an extreme act. He likely built up to it to the point that it was not a foreign or dire step in his mind. I also think it was a thing of the moment. A handy pen knife, a belt — this indicates spontaneity. A very dark moment and ad hoc decision that was fatal, ultimately. Per my previous post this week on this, if someone had insisted on being with him, or had he an audio monitor in his room, it might have been intervented.
People have said that the Parkinson’s was the last straw. He had been struggling with his other issues for so long that the Parkinson’s seemed like too much to bear. He needs to be physical in his comedy routines and the thought that he could not be, or that he couldn’t ride his bike to let off steam, was probably unbearable. I wish he could have talked to Michael J. Fox, who has found a way to work despite his advanced condition.
Sad, all around.
Thank you for reading and commenting Barbara. ❤
Beth- so wonderful. And so resonant on so many fronts. The willful ignorance is epidemic- and the reality is that there are so many venues of opportunity where the willfully ignorant are able to spew and spread their venom that it beggars the belief.
Trying to strike the balance between engagement (because we, as humans, have an ingrained need for community and support) and maintain some sort of existential equilibrium while constantly bombarded with hatred and spite and daily demonstrations of our inhumanity is a daily struggle for so many of us.
All signs point to the reality that Robin was an incredibly sensitive and human person- and internalizing that sensitivity for a lifetime while keeping the rest of us so entertained and inspired must have been a supreme struggle.
I will always be grateful, both personally and as a runner in this human race, that we had him for the time we did- and that we are left with the remnants of the wonder he contributed to the world. xo
You know, Cole, before I read about the Parkinsons, I was wracking my brain to try and think about the news this past week, as in, was there something so upsetting that pushed him over the edge? I know I get crazy listening to the deterioration in the ME, the shootings on a daily basis of young A-A men, the hatred of some politicians for our first black President, the foundering economy, — I even thought for a moment, could it be that the sane people are about to lose the Senate here to the geniuses that tanked our economy and got us embroiled in disastrous wars — could that have upset him? Probably it was his own physical struggles with disease that caused this final act. He was exhausted. And as you say, all this while he put out ten lifetimes worth of material, comedic and dramatic. It would have killed an ordinary person far sooner.
Thank you for your insightful observations and for reading, Cole.
Wonderful post. Fox was terribly uneducated in respect to the comment regarding Robin Williams.
In respect to why adults mistreat their children, I feel it stems from lack of caring. Unfortunately there are no requirements for having children. You need a license to fish. You have to have training to cut hair. All you need to have children is an urge.
Ignorance, poor upbringing, for any adults who neglect or abuse kids, parents or otherwise. I agree. I am for a much more stringent policy. Let’s have the Republicans worry less about birth control and more about anger and indifference control. Thank you Rebecca!
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You would like the BBC news and Channel 4 more balance.
You are probably right. I should watch BBC news more often! Thank you for that excellent idea, Charlotte. 🙂
Most of the response I’ve seen has been very kind and compassionate. As tempting as it is to despair over the fact that the ‘sharp edge’ types are taking over, it’s important to remember that they are actually pretty small in number. They’re just very very loud – which counts, because noise wields power – but the reality still exists, which is that most people do NOT think and act out of extreme selfishness and anger all the time. Those that don’t (the majority) are quietly living their lives, helping each other along the way. Do you follow Humans of New York anywhere on the web? One great example of all the complex individuals who make up this world, and all the goodness within them.
I hear you. Naturally it seems here like I am focusing on Robin Williams and the pictures do emphasize his passing. I am talking about sensitive people mostly, people like me. If the noisy ones were truly in the minority, we would not have the House and Senate (soon, possibly) in the hands of the ‘you’re on your own’ party. Apparently that small, noisy minority gets their way in this country, if not elsewhere. No, haven’t heard of that group, but I grew up in NYC and it is a humanitarian town despite its many features that would seem to point to the contrary. But when I look at the map of the US, those islands are fewer and farther between. When I was growing up, no one was teaching Creationism alongside or instead of science. Something has taken hold that concerns me we are headed for rougher times, progress-wise, for a good long period. I know there are good people, but they are being drowned out, for the moment and for people like me — possibly over-sensitive, it is discouraging. Thank you for the zoomed out perspective. 😀
Hmmm, well I think we have that representation in government because of big business, which is what really owns it, and not because there are a massive amount of humans living in the country who also function from the same selfish greedy outlook. I haven’t believed our government represents the people who live in the US for decades, so I still don’t see it as representative of who we are. And as much ugliness we may be seeing on a daily basis right now, there are also loads of people crying out against it, and I see a lot of hope there too.
(Remember that the Tea Party was never a grassroots movement – it was always funded by big money. 😉 )
Oh yeah, definitely. And the gerrymandering has also contributed to what is happening in the House. I know and I do hope you are right. That you are optimistic is encouraging. Every so often, I get sick of these people hijacking the airwaves. That is why we often just watch old movies — to get away from it. I am living in the midst of it too, both with family and neighbors so I am feeling a bit besieged. Heading to the obligatory birthday brunch at the beach now. Bleh.
Great post Beth! I can read again, yahoo! One comment I disagree with is from Michelle Cornette saying it might have been a final act of kindness on Robin’s part. There is no kindness in suicide. I can’t imagine that statement brings any solace to the family that has lost a father and husband.
“Matthew 18:3 … and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” carries great meaning for our society. I think about how forgiving my children have been for my bad parenting mistakes and how quick to love children are by nature. How humble and willing to submit and learn. It sure would be nice if that rolled up hill to adults. I wonder if politicians ever reflect on being kind, forgiving, unselfish and losing their pride?
Sorry you had to go to the beach to frolic and tan eating fancy food and having frilly drinks while I sit here wallowing in my misery 🙂
Glad your vision is back — ouch!
I agree that the family must be devastated. But, keep in mind that a person in a deeply depressed frame of mind is not reasoning well. The illness dominates their thinking and they focus on the despair and exhaustion they feel, attributing those same feelings to those around them. He must have felt badly that he was such a “burden”, especially projecting ahead to the debility of Parkinson’s. I felt so sorry for his daughter when she quote The Little Prince. It was poignant.
Children are very forgiving, if they had the solid foundation early on, as I am sure yours did. My dad manages to be a decent father when his parents were awful to him. He loved his mother even though she was very harsh. Children can be resilient, I agree, especially smart ones.
Politics is all about ego. The same kids who had to be in charge in HS, are now in Congress.
I am going to write a post about the b’day celeb and share the pictures I took with a pocket camera, on the down low. The place was overpriced but very nice. And for once Geoff’s family didn’t find a way to insult me. 🙂
My sentiments exactly:
“Rush Limbaugh, a wily huckster who makes money inciting gullible people to anger and violence, while he rakes in millions spewing bile”
“Why continually blame the bleeders? Why not run interference against sharp edges?”
Beautiful and sensitive post. That, and the comments of your readership, inspired me to “follow” you. I’m sure there will be more here that will resonate with me. Thanks for blogging.
(Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
– ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder –
“It takes a village to transform a world!”
Madelyn, thank you for stopping to read and comment. Very kind and generous words. I appreciate your following me and hope whatever I post, I can tie it to something larger and more useful than just myself and my little corner of the world. Welcome! 🙂
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Thanks. Reading here it seems that you don’t have to “hope” – the larger perspective seems to be in your DNA.
Thank you Madelyn! 🙂
PS – thanks for following ADDandSoMuchMore, btw.
We learn from each other. I am interested in knowing more about ADD, too.
My pleasure! Spreading what I’ve discovered in 25-plus years as a pro in the field is the reason for my blog.
EXECUTIVE FUNCTIONING glitches are the true source of the problem. *Attentional* “deficits” are manifestations.
What’s really going on is SO misreported and misunderstood – no wonder its made fun of so often (even by people who darn well “should” know better, like the supposed learning “expert” Sir Ken Richardson)
Imagine the hue & cry if people made fun of schizophrenia or polio in a supposedly “professional” environment!! Yet ADD seems to remain fair game – and it is devastating to the lives of sufferers and their families (look at the abuse stats, for example).
From most people’s limited or inaccurate understanding, it seems that “attentional disorders” are a relatively “trivial” problem that has been “medicalized” and hyperbolized (and can be overcome by good parenting ::groan::)
NOT SO. Best prognosis is early dx and (when appropriate and [frequently] necessary), medication. THEN habits get built (& built upon) that compensate.
Next best prognosis is an ADD/EFD friendly lifestyle and a supportive, understanding partner willing to “stay for the whole show.”
Sho-biz, btw (my own first career) is chock full of ADDers. Good career choice for us – except for the admin & follow-thru required to keep our names in front of the decision makers (which is where agents & managers really earn their 10-15%).
Oops – too long already! Appreciate your interest.
No, not at all — say as much as you want here. I appreciate it and that is how I learn from you, too. 🙂
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My limited experience taught me what you said about the depressed individual not reasoning well. Good point. I laughed out loud at the fact your in-laws didn’t insult you! What a great event 🙂 Get busy posting because photos on the DL are always fun to view!
Thanks as always for the positivity, Rick. It will be up tomorrow but I left out the pictures of the family so I don’t have to password-protect the thing. Geoff’s siblings go looking for pictures of themselves … 😉