The death of Robin Williams generated (rightfully) a tsunami of solidarity with people who suffer from chronic depression,. Because so many people with this health condition isolate themselves, the matter of personal responsibility to seek professional help has to be addressed as well.
If I were to dedicate a song in his memory, it would have to be Vai Vedrai, whose lyrics
Vai Vedrai che un sorriso
Nasconde spesso un gran’ dolore
translate as “Oh child, you’ll see that a smile often hides a great sorrow“. There’s an important lesson in the fact that one of the great comedians of our generation was himself going through hell. We ought to look around us and find our friends, and make sure (regardless of how jolly they seem) that they’re taking care of their existential health.
Some of the people I’ve known who are always smiling or who laugh at everything have been people who suffer from chronic depression. In a recent conversation with my mother, I even learned that my cousin (who died in 2009) suffered from depression for many years. Prior to this conversation, I had believed that she was one of the happiest people I had known. She always found the funny side of everything. It had all been a front.
I had another cousin who also laughed whenever she was nervous or confused, perhaps not sure how else to react; and once knew someone who smiled constantly, and had come to admire this, only to realize that it is not normal for a person to smile constantly. Confusion and dishonesty oftentimes lurk beneath habitual laughter and smile.
I’ve learned that people oftentimes hide their profound suffering behind masks of cheerfulness.
Comedy can be a great coping mechanism. It helps the release of endorphins, helps with pain management, and it’s even used in laughter yoga to treat cancer and other physical and mental conditions. But comedy should not be used to evade life, reality and real issues that require attention.
Robin, than you for the gift of your art, and for laughter. Vai Vedrai, Robin Williams.