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I’d been ruminating rather relentlessly on how loneliness and isolation has become an epidemic in the U.S. as we increasingly lead lives that don’t nurture support communities when, in the middle of my meditations, came news about Robin Williams. Beloved Robin Williams who was known by so many to be kind and gracious in addition to being hilarious. Mork and Mindy was one of my favorite shows and certainly many of his movies – Mrs. Doubtfire, The Bird Cage to name a few – I’ve watched at least a hundred times. While most news pundits are talking about his depression, most psychologists are talking about his despair, which is the complete lack of hope and is the most life threatening part of depression.
When I think about social isolation, loneliness and despair, it all feels like a “what came first, the chicken or the egg” kind of riddle. Does one cause the other? Is one the effect of the other? What’s the source? What’s the result?
Does it even matter?
The thing is, isolation, loneliness and despair involve feeling utterly hopeless (not sure there’s a future worth living), worthless (having no real value), useless (that nothing we’ve done has helped the world), helpless (deprived of strength or power), meaningless (like nothing we’ve done matters). I have coached many singles who suffered from these feelings. I can see their pain.
And I can see how our feelings can escalate and perpetuate. In the case of Robin Williams, I can see how most of us, who don’t know how dark and deep depression can be, would find it hard to believe that he could feel any of the above. And according to many psychologists, that’s precisely what causes a person to feel alone in their pain.
One of the biggest takeaways I’ve gotten from my ruminations is that suffering is feeling utterly alone in pain. While most people can endure pain, few can endure prolonged unrelenting suffering. However when someone is able to make it through and breakthrough our “iron walls” that keeps all help and hope out and keeps us locked up inside, suffering you can’t live with becomes pain that you can.
How does this all tie in together? What’s the greater lesson? When we allow ourselves to seek help, allow ourselves to let people in and become vulnerable, we eliminate suffering. And my heart breaks to think that Robin Williams was suffering so much.