This week, Robin Williams sadly passed away. I think every member of my generation — really, everybody under 25 — can relate to the loss we feel. Robin Williams was with us throughout much of our childhood. For some of my friends, his role in Mrs. Doubtfire alone was enough to make them want Mr. Williams as a surrogate father in their own lives, when they were living in similarly fractured homes. He was a brilliant actor, a wonderful comedian, and an inspiration for so many of us. For me, his performance in Good Will Hunting taught me more about what real love looked like than any traditional romance film.
What shocked me the most about his death wasn’t just the manner of it. What shocked me was how alone he was. In the days since his death, we’ve learned his wife slept in another bedroom the night before he died. I don’t know if she did this every night, or if it’s even true, but its implication astounds me: we all crave intimacy.
I struggled with depression a lot in my youth. In university, I had a serious drinking problem. In hindsight, I can admit these things, but when I was going through them, it was easier to pretend the issues didn’t exist. I had neither intimacy nor a real sense of community in my life. Both are necessary to fluorish.
When I found community and started building real and loving friendships, my entire life began to change. My outlook is wildly more positive, my faith is a real priority, and I have a healthy romantic relationship for the first time in my life. Community changes everything.
There’s this sad myth that creative people do their best work when they’re alone. People believe that depression and isolation breed creativity. The myth exists because we believe Hemingway wrote alone. It exists because we think Steve Jobs was a rebel who did his best work when he rejected every societal standards and treated other people poorly. This myth exists because we think Tolkien was a hermit, or that Picasso’s art existed because of his fractured relationships with his mistresses. It’s simply not true.
Hemingway and Picasso hung out in the same cafés and went to the same parties. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were close friends, confidantes, and creative allies. Steve Jobs did his best work when he was surrounded by a team who made him better. The best art anybody has ever made was made in community.
And the best life anybody ever lived was in community.
You need to know three things if you want to do good creative work. First of all, you can do it. Seond of all, you are worth it. Thirdly, you have value. When I was depressed, I didn’t know these things. I drank because I didn’t know these things. The only way to learn them is by surrounding yourself with a community of people who want to tell you.
If you’re struggling, know that you’re not alone. Get help. Trust me, it’s not a sign of weakness. Talk to me if you think it will help. I don’t even have to reply if you don’t want me to, but I’ll keep you in my thoughts and prayers. The only way to get somebody to pull you up is to reach out.
We need more people like Robin Williams. We need them to make us laugh. To show us things about ourselves that we’re too blind to see. To inspire us when things are bad, and to remind us that a child-like sense of creativity is always a beautiful thing. But most of all, we need these people to know their worth. Because the stigma surrounding creativity and mental illness is worthless.
You have value. You are worth it. You can do anything. Now go make the world better.