Dream (?)

One of the few rewards of being a terrible sleeper is that I dream a lot. Twenty years ago I was even featured in Janet Sonenberg’s book Dreamwork for Actors, but mostly I experience hours of wandering NYC or some tropical paradise and can’t find a way to the subway/airport. Every once in a while, though, something breaks that mold.

A few weeks ago I met Robin Williams. He showed up in the middle of the night in my unconscious and lectured me. Not Good Will Hunting Robin Williams or Dead Poets’ Robin Williams but dead, ghost-ish Robin Williams. I have realized in the weeks that followed that it was recently his seventieth birthday (and soon, the anniversary of his death) from which I can infer that a Twitter comment may have stuck in my craw. Day residue, we can call it, or not.

The crux was this, paraphrased or reconstituted, or whatever.

“Most people,” said Robin. “Live life looking over their shoulder. They’re constantly turning back, watching for Death sneaking up on them. Don’t do that.”

“Run toward Death. It’s where you’re headed anyway. Don’t try to avoid it, live in fear of it, cower and shuffle away from it. Accept it and sprint whatever distance you get.” Do it consciously, he seemed to be saying, as hard and as fast and as intentionally as you can. Do not live recklessly, do not hasten the end, but don’t let fear ruin the race.

Other stuff happened. I think Michael Douglas showed up and gave a rendition of his Greed is Good speech from Wall Street. By that time Robin was gone back whence he came.

I awoke with that idea seared into my brain: Run toward Death.

There are generally two interpretations. The scientific side that accepts this as a projective narrative on neuronal impulses firing in some yet-to-be-fully-understood manner, or that my sleeping brain channelled wisdom from beyond the grave.

This time, I don’t know that it matters. From wherever the direction originated, it seems I have some running to do.

On the topic of suicide…

So Robin Williams killed himself. That is so deeply upsetting, I can barely address it.

I’ve been amazed and shocked by the overall response. As someone who lives daily in the world of people so distraught, dissatisfied, alone, sad, miserable, and/or hate-filled that suicide is the rational solution, I am shocked by the apparent shock/disgust with which the world has responded.

Suicide is outcome of many different types of mental distress combined with many different types of problem solving. I won’t address that kind of simplistic math any further. Needless to say, there are interventions for a wide variety of conditions–pharmacological, psychotherapeutic, and just plain, human.

The idea, either that this was a) a purely selfish act, or alternatively b) a failure to reach out for help, is very simplistic. Between a) and b) are many people who reach out for help and don’t find enough relief and many who (mistakenly) believe they are reducing the net suffering of the world by removing their variable from the equation.

There is something definitive that is yet to be written about the nihilism of the intelligent, empathic male. It is a category subsumed in the narratives of Hemingways and Giraldos, or Belushis and Hoffmans, and now Williamses. The man who is insightful and empathic and who struggles with the conflict this engenders.

As a psychiatrist, I think we can talk about the entity of “depression” all we want, but in truth, there are dozens of sub-types; this is one worth exploring further.

For me, Robin Williams will forever be the permissive father. The teacher/therapist who inspired creativity and rebellion, who showed a different path than the rigidity of male aggression or money or dominance.

It breaks my heart that it was only a performance.