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Home » Stories, True and Otherwise

All The Crazy Ones

Submitted by on August 12, 2014 – 3:52 PM58 Comments

2014-08-12-robin-williams

One of the strange things about my life in writing about TV, if by "strange" you mean "eminently predictable by anyone who finished Psych 101," is that my parents allowed me to watch almost no television as a child.

Saturday-morning cartoons, PBS fare like Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, and Mork & Mindy — and until my brother got old enough for an effective double-team, that was it, so I watched M&M dutifully despite not really liking it. It was that TV or no TV, so I soldiered on, but something about the show made me uncomfortable. Not just that foolishness with Jonathan Winters, although that too; kids know things, even when they don't have names for them, and Robin Williams's mania, its relentlessness, the barrage of high-voiced capital-F Fun Or Else in rainbow suspenders, the invisible shadow that it tried to outrun, I suppose we could call "cocaine," with the benefit of hindsight.

Or "Sarah D. Bunting."

I was a strange little kid, a frowning know-it-all, high-strung, afraid of loud noises. In my games I played with my stuffed animals, someone was always about to drown. The accusations that I read the dictionary began early and had merit. After a time, I skipped a grade, at which time I formally did not belong wherever I was instead of merely suspecting that I did not, and in order to distract everyone from my ineptitude, weakness, and certain doom, I learned to tell jokes. I told funny stories and I made funny sounds. I took requests. I wrote customized fairy tales. I did this so I wouldn't be killed. I did this so I could stay. Please let me stay. While you chuckle, I will work on being less wrong, which I don't know how to do but I swear I can learn. I don't even need a chair. Don't make me leave. Don't make me disappear.

This is pretty much every funny person you know, and most of the writers. The actors, too, a lot of them, and the people who sing, and the late-night Al-Anon meeting. What if nobody is laughing or humming along? What if we try even harder? What if I drink this thing, and it still hurts but I don't care as much, so I'll drink and drink and drink it, do something human, and remember: I am a shame. A terrified, frantic, desperate, annoying, ugly, boring shame, unique in my unsuitability for love.

Robin Williams, the lot of us. And we're exhausted, man.

I made fun of Robin Williams a lot. I stand by most of it — I saw Cadillac Man in the theater, and I resent it to this day — on the by-now-familiar grounds of "too much" and "hard to take" and "always on." But when he could go quiet for a few minutes? He has a moment in his guest shot on SVU when Merritt Rook is screaming at Stabler about the death of his (Rook's) wife, and the genuine anguish Williams summons, big enough to turn him inside out, is wonderful, and so sad, and not quite acting. The weariness, the sadness, the rage — that I "enjoyed" those parts of Williams's repertoire is not accurate. The hectic hilarity of the other parts, though…the man spent his life trying to outrun himself wearing a pair of flappy clown shoes, and the thing is, he could go pretty fast. He got pretty far before he caught a toe and went down.

I don't want to speak for everyone else who's done that squeaky sprint and thought, "It's a bottle of seltzer. It's all air! Why is it so heavy! Why are there so many days and pounds! Why is it so quiet! Why am I everything that's bad! I want someone with a sweet voice to come and tell me it's okay to stop. What if no one comes." But I know how tired he must have been. I know how tired I've been with it. I wish this weren't the only way he could find to rest. I hope he does rest; I hope all you other Robin Williamses out there know that someone will come. We'll get to you somehow. Please stay.

(Everyone who's ever come for me: thank you.)

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58 Comments »

  • grandefille says:

    Thank you, dear one. Thank you so very, very much.

  • Kris Troske says:

    That was beautifully said. If anything good could be said to come of such a tragedy, it might be in the writings of you and of others who have suffered from depression, doing your best to explain it on behalf of those of us who can't explain it to others. So I thank you for that.

    He also had a wonderful role in Homicide: Life on the Street, playing a tourist whose wife was randomly killed as they were walking down a street in Baltimore.

    This is the end of the episode, showing him and Melissa Leo talking after his wife's killer has been found guilty.

    And now, for something to make you smile: "https://twitter.com/darth/status/499210072526843905"a dog wearing a tomato hat!

  • Keckler says:

    GodDAMMIT, Bunting! I just want grade school/middle school me to go back and hug grade school/middle school you and tell you how we're going to have so much fun together if we can just survive this shit.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    hee/aw. But would we have believed us? I hope so.

  • Bo says:

    Thank you, Sars. And thank you to everyone who has come for me, and held me here, or made it possible for me to hold me here.

    It has been a hard 24 hours. Because this wasn't an "accidental" overdose. It wasn't a "slip." It was a disease so many of us struggle with taking hold and lying its lies and taking a beloved father and friend to so many out of the world because he could not find another way to stop the unrelenting pain. And we who fight those lies every day feel more vulnerable today than we often do.

  • Anna says:

    Thank you. As someone who is so, so tired of fighting a depression that never really seems to go away, I've been struggling all day because the massive news coverage of William's suicide has really triggered my own sadness and desperation and overwhelming feeling of hopelessness. Your words about Williams and his illness are the first one that didn't made me despair. You made me feel a little better, a little more hopeful instead. Thank you Sarah.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    It really is tiring, no? Sometimes I look back at how hard I had to fight to be in my own life at certain times in the past and the lack of medals/parade is rather mystifying.

    Glad I could help a little, Anna.

  • Mingles' Mommy says:

    People (not people here on TN, but people we all encounter) seem to believe that suicide is the height of selfishness.

    What they don't realize is that a person reaches that point when their own pain is so overwhelming that all they want is to make it stop. They are no longer thinking clearly; the pain is everything, all-consuming and overwhelming. They believe they're doing what's right for everyone.

    In life a person suffering this way needs a hand to grab on to and compassion. In death, they still deserve compassion. And to the people they leave behind, support and the constant reminder – it wasn't your fault.

    In the case of Robin Williams, it's nice to read how many good things friends and family had to say about him. It seems he was a kind and loyal friend and colleague. I am so sorry for his family's loss. I loved his humor.

  • Beanie says:

    I lost my beloved niece, the daughter of my childless heart, to suicide a little over a year ago. She was 22. Thank you, Sars, for helping me to understand, if only just a little. The note she left me said in part, "I'm sorry, I tried, I really did. There's just nothing left."

    GOD, I miss that girl.

  • Omar G. says:

    Me at the Thundercloud Subs, tears streaming down my face and probably into my Nada Chicken Parm.

    This was beautiful and true and the best thing I've read about this whole horrible day.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Not the chicken parm!!

    …hee. Thanks, friend.

  • Kate says:

    I've avoided a lot of the coverage because it made me too sad for a variety of reasons, but this is both lovely and poignant.

    I started reading Tomato Nation when I was sixteen and in a very dark place in my life – your personal writing about your neuroses and difficult times really resonated with me. Sort of a "it gets better" long before that movement started.

    I'm thirty now, with a good life and am a lot more stable than in my difficult younger years thanks to counseling and other things. Your writing still resonates. Thank you for being one of the places I could go in a dark time to see that the future was not quite so dark and that people like myself could get through it.

  • Kitty says:

    I've read this through (and cried) about 11 times now, and it's more beautiful and more powerful each time. Thank you so much for sharing your gift(s).

  • Yoshi says:

    Oh god, those days that never seemed to end, when the biggest thing I could hope to achieve was to get out of bed, and the only thing that kept me going was the thought of the dreamless temazepam-assisted sleep waiting for me at the other end. When the minutes passed so, so slowly and blurred into days and weeks and months that I just don't remember at all, even now. When other people's words were the only thing that had even a sliver of a chance of quieting my thoughts, so I gobbled podcasts and recaps and learned every word of the 'Girls' Bike Club' CD *by heart*.

    I reckon you've helped a lot of us, Sars. I'm glad you found a way to hang on; I'm glad now that I did too. And for anyone who's feeling that lost, that exhausted in body and mind and heart, please know you're not alone.

  • Jenn says:

    Thanks, Sars. You hit the nail on the head and described so eloquently "what it's like" to battle depression. I'm grateful to read this and know someone else–obviously lots of someones, from the comments ahead of mine–has been there too.

  • I've read quite a bit about Robin Williams's passing today, but this was the piece that made me cry. DAMN IT.

    It does just make you so, so tired. And you wonder when someone who loves you will tell you that it's all OK, you can take a break just for today. Of course, the only person who can tell you that and mean it is you yourself, but it's so fucking hard to do.

    I hope Robin is getting some peace, wherever he is now. Like you say, he was trying to outrun his shadow for so many years.

  • mel says:

    I actually enjoyed Mork and Mindy most of the time, but even back in the Mork days, I never felt like he was acting. His mania was too real, and his anguish was too real. Ever see the one where Mork becomes a baby so Mindy can see what it's like to be a mother? I haven't seen it in decades, and I still get goosebumps when I think of it. His acting was always so spot on that it was scary. So convincing that I coould never be convinced that it was acting.

  • David says:

    Thanks x 1000 for writing this.

  • Kari says:

    Just wrenching. I'm familiar with the deep desire to just *rest* along with the fear of what that rest might entail. May we all find — if not rest — ease and validation in this life.

  • Ruthie says:

    YES. I never did like his acting very much… I could always feel the desperation and try-hard-ness in the background, and it was too much for me, always. I felt a bit guilty about that today, reading all the tributes and adulation. But lots of people I love (LOVE) struggle with depression, so this is a tragedy that hits close to home. Thank you, Sars, for articulating it so very well, as always.

  • Lizard says:

    This makes me think of my brother, who abused alcohol for years and years because it made him funny, and if he was funny he wasn't nothing. I also think of telling a friend in high school that our teacher thought I was depressed and she said, "but you're laughing, not crying! I was always crying when I was depressed." So I thought: suck it up, you're not doing enough. Only 15 years later did that become false.
    Thanks for this.

  • attica says:

    There was, you're right, a ton of Williams's stuff that was just too much. But I'm still mad that of the two actors in Awakenings to score an Oscar nod, it was DeNiro and not Williams. I could swear I was watching Oliver Sachs himself (the dude on which RW's character was based), while RDN was just twitching. Mad! Not to mention the cameos in Dead Again and Hamlet: just perfect.

    As a kid with a large sibling quotient, we had Assigned Roles. It was my brother who was The Funny One, not me. I still remember the shock I felt when people laughed at my jokes as I reached adulthood: wait, how can that be, I'm not The Funny One! I'm only now starting to appreciate what a blessing that was, to not have felt that weight as a kid. The brother who was the Funny One has had a much rougher go of his life. Not so funny anymore.

    Hugs to you.

  • Jude says:

    Thank you.

  • Vixless says:

    I have been fortunate enough that my depression has never lead me towards those thoughts, but I can see the side streets from the road I'm on.

    My ex has suicidal tendancies. I worry about him now that we're not together and there's no one around him to ask him to sit through the darkness, to wait for morning.

    I can't help him because he is very much no good for me.

    "Please stay." That knocked me off my feet.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Thanks, everyone. Take care of yourselves.

  • Angie says:

    People don't realize how heavy that mask is. I spent a lot of time in therapy, years, keeping it on. Because people love you when they're laughing. So I'll just keep making you laugh, and maybe you won't realize I'm defective right away, or maybe you'll think it's charming and you won't want me to go. I just want to sit at the edge of the crowd, I won't take up much space, and I can make the funniest faces if you just don't make me go.

  • Angie says:

    And in the end, aren't we all just puppies in the window, hoping we're cute enough that someone will adopt us?

  • Angie says:

    Oh, and also, thanks, Sars, for staying. You have made my life better for a long time, and I'll probably never even meet you. I guess if we all strike matches at the same time, the room's brighter, at least for a second.

  • Missicat says:

    I am also the "funny one" in the family. And the one who wakes up almost every day wondering if this will be the day I give in.

  • Kristin says:

    That description of the… limbo you're in, when you don't fit but are dancing SO hard there's got to be room in the kickline SOMEWHERE…
    Eloquence, thy name is Sars. Thank you. For all of us.
    And thanks, everyone, for staying.

  • c8h10n4o2 says:

    I think that one of the reasons that Death to Smoochy is one of my favorite movies of his is that we see the rage that's behind it all. The rage is what really wears you down. Having a bad month, and this is not helping. PLUS Lauren Bacall this morning? Mother Fucker.

  • Miss Banshee says:

    I've been posting on FB for days that he must have been so, so tired. I know that exhaustion. Nine psych hospitalizations, three rehabs, countless nights alone in the dark. That point when your smile is a cut up grin ala the Joker. Just make people laugh. Make them laugh as your heart dies. Just make them laugh. That makes you useful. But as weird as it sounds, I keep playing Tom Waits (not exactly the most cheerful musician) over and over. "Hold on, hold on, you gotta hold on" I'm so glad you held on, Sarah. I'm trying.

  • Tempest says:

    Thank you for this, Sars. It's good to hear your viewpoint on this terrible thing.
    And I completely understand the voices here who didn't find his work funny or palatable. From the opposite point of view, there are those of us who viewed him as our leader, someone who made it okay to be ourselves.

    As someone who has spent her entire life either as a performer – always on, always trying to make an audience laugh (or cry), always fine tuning, always on, always, always on –
    or as a writer – every day purging myself of the images, the racing imagination, the ideas that come rapid-fire, the unending need to get rid of it all the time just to keep our balance – I particularly blown away by this suicide.
    Robin Williams was proof that a rampant imagination was not a bad thing, no matter what our teachers, our parents, our mean classmates said. It was sometimes a blessing (getting us out of tight spots, providing an income) and a curse (a loneliness at times that was so deep). But here was this man/child who burst onto the scene, imperfect but constantly moving forward and trying new things. I found his dramatic performances as moving as his comedic. When he entered rehab to quell demons, I was among those who nodded and thought, "Well, yes, sometimes the cure you take, takes you too far. Time to balance."
    I know how deep Depression (with a capital D) can take someone. Yes, there is help, and there are medications. But the side effects of those meds are often as bad as the Depression. And the aloneness doesn't completely disappear no matter what the medication. Sometimes you can't shovel the 'stuff' fast enough out of your head. You just…can't. I assume that might be what happened with Mr. Williams. Those of us who teeter in that zone understand this, and we work hard to avoid the cliffside.
    Let's not call him names or consider him selfish for his actions. This choice must have been agonizing for him. I hope he finds only peace in the ether. I hope that right now he's surrounded by our ancestors, and they're laughing themselves silly.

    For me, this death hurts and will hurt for a long time.

  • Sarah says:

    All of you are making me cry today. Sars and other members of TN. You are all loved, and I'm glad you're here.

    I realized today that I've been avoiding most conversations/media coverage about this because it makes me so, so angry. Angry at everyone who has apparently never know the dark, horrible hole that is depression or known someone who struggled with it. The sad part is they undoubtedly have known someone and never have cared enough to ask or reach out.

    So here is a virtual hug to all of the Nation, saying I'm glad we have each other, and thank you for sharing.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Hang in there, everyone. I know how hard it is; I admire you for doing it. Put a movie on, fall asleep in front of it, wake up and it's tomorrow. Sometimes that works.

    You guys are great.

  • Lore says:

    The metaphor of trying to outrun yourself in clown shoes is really a perfect capsule–even if "clown" isn't your own particular mode of hiding and covering, that idea holds, of simultaneously trying to hide beneath some veneer of "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" and desperately wishing for that curtain to be pulled. So hard.

  • year of the cat says:

    My therapist once asked me why I refused to do the deep breathing exercises she gave me for my anxiety. "If you can tell me to breathe, then… you can tell me to stop breathing." (you know you are in trouble when you make your therapist cry.)I sing the song Breathe loud on the radio, still. I couldn't stop crying, some days I still do. But I have a hundred people who are in Ireland that wish me Happy Birthday now, and they were put there because of Wing and Sars and Dawson and Glark. And maybe Robin wasn't the Sun, but I can honestly believe he gave us more than he took. And I will always be grateful for that. And you. Breathe. Just Breathe.

  • sarawr says:

    You did this exactly right.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    …Let's not tell Glark that Dawson placed ahead of him on this list. hee hee hee.

    (aw.)

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    If it makes anybody feel better, I'm throwing you a parade inside my heart.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    *I* dig it.

  • sal says:

    Wow. How you packed so much into this short-ish post…I don't even know. I've been reading your stuff here and there for over 15 years now, and your writing never ever fails to impress. I'm so glad you stayed.

  • Sarah says:

    Thank you.

  • Cyd says:

    Sars, I've never been suicidal, but there were months and even years when I went to bed every night praying I wouldn't wake up–just from the sheer exhaustion of being in pain and pretending not to be and not having any frame of reference that there might be a different way to feel. Thanks for giving such eloquent voice to what that's like. I've been far better for a long time, but I never take the life I have now for granted. Hang on, people. As a Christian, I believe that the hand of providence guided to me to an effective medication and the ideal professional for me in quicker order than seems conceivable to have happened by sheer chance. But anyone is free to scoff at my world view. Just please believe that it's possible to live again. Don't give up.

  • Cheryl says:

    Wasn't aware how much I needed to read that until I got here.

    Thanks Sars.

  • […] och främst Sars på Tomato Nation: All The Crazy Ones. En stark, berörande personlig text. Kommentarerna på den tråden gör mig också tårögd. Läs. […]

  • Rill says:

    Eloquent and beautiful writing as always, Sars.

    The line "the man spent his life trying to outrun himself wearing a pair of flappy clown shoes, and the thing is, he could go pretty fast. He got pretty far before he caught a toe and went down." took my breath away.

    Outside of Robin's celebrity, I think his greatest legacy will be to really bring mental wellness into the light. I have spoken to more people about depression and my own struggles with it more in the last 72 hours than I have in a year.

    I was a weird, quirky, dictionary-reading child myself growing up, as and a teen and an adult, always the jokester, Little Miss One Liner with a pun or double entendre always at the ready to make 'em laugh…but the truth was I was so so sad and never felt like I was good enough, doing enough, being enough.
    About 10 years ago, I went through a 4-month depression spiral and came up for air on the other side into a social wasteland, all my close friends (some of 25 years) disappeared without so much as a phone call or email to find out why I had essentially dropped off the face of the earth. To this day it hurts more than I can even express. I was always the Life of the Party but suddenly there were no more parties to go to.

    Group hug, Nation!

  • Kat From Jersey says:

    You don't understand… you've always come for us!

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    I JUST dusted in here, what the hell.

  • Katie L. says:

    Thank you so much, Sars.

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