Millions of people worldwide were shocked and saddened to hear of the passing of actor and comedian, Robin Williams this past week. It was even more heartbreaking to many to  learn the cause of his death. How could someone so seemingly full of life be filled with enough sorrow to cause him to end his own?

But that’s just it. We didn’t know him.

Per Robin Williams himself “People think they know you. They expect you to be literally like you are on TV or in the movies, bouncing off the walls. A woman in an airport once said to me, “Be zany!” People always want zany, goofy s**t from me. It takes a lot of energy to do that. If you do that all the time, you’ll burnout”

photo of Robin Williams at the Los Angeles premiere of "License To Wed". When I learned from the statement by Robin’s widow, Susan Schneider, that he had been diagnosed with early stages of Parkinson’s Disease, it made a bit more sense.

The diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease  added context to the diagnosis of depression and suicide.

Parkinson’s Disease is a degenerative disorder that affects the central nervous system. It’s a progressive disease and has no cure.

Parkinson’s Disease arises from decreased dopamine production in the brain. This lack of dopamine makes it hard for the brain to coordinate muscle movements. Its absence also contributes to mood and cognitive disturbances as the disease progresses.** The National Parkinson’s Foundation says that more than 50% of those who have the disease suffer from clinical depression and as many of you know, a significant number of those with Parkinson’s Disease will also develop dementia.

Although we still don’t know the exact cause of the disease,  factors such as genetic predisposition, illness, environmental toxins, and other events may play a role.  Complications from Parkinson’s Disease is the 14th leading cause of death in the United States.*

A diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease would be devastating to anyone, but to a person who is constantly on stage and expected to be zany all the time, it might  be even worse. Michael J. Fox has seemingly (there’s that word again) handled it with grace, but might that have  added more pressure to Robin to handle it just as well? Or was it just the depression speaking?

Having been a nurse for many years, I think I look at life a bit differently. I’ve seen wonderful miracles but on the other hand, I’ve seen so much suffering. I’ve watched the relentless pursuit of “saving lives” despite the level of functioning that we leave the person and I have sometimes wondered  ‘Why?’.

Perhaps in the weeks ahead, we will learn more about the reason behind Robin’s decision to end his life.  But for now, I am just thankful that his light shone upon us as long as it did.

“But only in their dreams can men be truly free. It was always thus and always thus will be.” –Dead Poets Society

References: *Forbes **Johns HopkinsMedicine.org

Photo credit:  DepositPhotos.com




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