Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Everything Looks Perfect from Far Away

Last night I heard the very sad news that Robin Williams died.  "What does that have to do with sailing?" you ask.  Nothing.  His death has nothing to do with sailing.   But his death has struck me harder than I could have ever imagined. This blog has deviated from the boating life for a while now and, believe it or not, the untimely death of Robin Williams is, in fact, relevant to this blog in that it has touched on a subject that I have been wanting to write about for quite some time, but never seemed to find the way.

As soon as the news of the alleged suicide hit the internet, people have been expressing their collective grief. The reactions run the gamut: it's tragic, it's a waste, so sad, huge loss, etc.  But the overwhelming emotion bubbling to the top of the chatter is the absolute shock the majority of the world feels. "Robin Williams, master of laughs, depressed!?"  "Robin Williams, successful movie star and comedian, taking his own life?!" Of course 99.9% of the people chiming in (me included) didn't know Mr. Williams personally, but we all "knew" him based on what he shared with the world.  Namely: a lot of laughs.  According to what we could see, he was a happy, manic, goof ball, hell-bent on making people smile.  But we obviously only saw part of the picture.

And this is what I think is wrong with today.
(And here is where I am going to deviate and get a little abstract...)

We live in a world of over-sharing.  Facebook, Twitter, Snap-chat, Instagram, Tumblr and, of course, blogging all fall under the umbrella of "social media" which, by definition, is: websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking.  The word "network" implies connection.  Most of us partake in this charade at some level; you must have either incredible resolve or be completely technically incompetent to avoid it - but it's important to remember what it is: a charade.  The assumption is that this type of networking "connects" all of us and makes us feel like we are not alone, yet for so many this could not be farther from the truth.  Most of us share only the best and bury the rest which leads to a bunch of people seeing our "ideal" lives and feeling inadequate or insecure, or worse - making those of us who suffer feel tremendously alone in our pain.  The selfies are picture perfect, the meals are organic and ornate, the outfits flawless and fitting.  The relationships are happy and effortless, the friendships deep and meaningful, the families close and loving.  No one bitches about their marriages, complains about the dosage of their anti-depressant, or admits the fact that they think they might be dropping the ball on the whole "parenthood" thing.  Nope.  The world according to social media is perfect and it is total bull-crap.  "This is your life.  This is your life according to Facebook."

I am not saying that we need to start airing our dirty laundry on the internet or spewing all that is wrong in our lives on the web to solve this problem.  I don't know what the answer is.  I do, however, think that people need to stop assuming that what they read and see is the whole picture, because more often than not, it isn't.  It's easy to project a certain image from behind the pages of a magazine, book, profile or blog but the vast majority of us live lives of "quiet desperation" and yet we see very little of that.  I am not even going to pretend I know what it feels like to suffer from clinical depression or to feel so desperate that I would consider taking my own life.  But what I do know from being the author of this blog is that there are a lot of assumptions and misconceptions about me, our life, and our family that are just dead wrong.  It's not easy to be 100% honest with each other because in order to do so we must expose something and become vulnerable.  "Vulnerable" has a negative connotation in our society and it's very difficult to open up and expose our weaknesses to others, particularly if those around you assume you have it all.  Yet sharing vulnerability is precisely what takes us beyond the superficial and connects us more deeply than anything.  Therein lies the catch 22.

I think there are some important lessons and conversations to be had as a result of the passing of one of the greatest comedic geniuses of all time.  No one is perfect.  No one has it all and unless you truly "know" a person, you never really know them and their struggles or their pain.  Depression is a very real, very insidious disease that knows no boundaries and I believe that the lack of real connection between human beings today is part of why this disease runs so rampant in our society.  We compare ourselves constantly against false measures; whether it be the models in magazines, the characters in movies, or our very own Facebook news feeds. Everything looks perfect from far away, and the internet - specifically social media - is like a backwards telescope.
"We all have a great need for acceptance, but you must trust that your beliefs are unique, your own, even though others may think them odd or unpopular, even though the herd may go “that’s baaaaad.” Robert Frost said, "Two roads diverged in the wood and I, I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference." - Dead Poets Society
While I obviously place a high value on marching to the beat of your own drum and living "outside the box," I think it is so important to remember that even as individuals we are all in this together and that, no matter what, we are never alone.

Rest in Peace, Robin Williams.  Thank you for making all of us laugh.  Thank you for creating beauty. Thank you for making this world a better place with your gift.

No matter what anyone tells you, words and ideas can change the world.
-Robin Williams


Mary Lou said...

Very well said! It's something I have considered but never gave voice to.
Facebook is interesting and useful but I realize it is a charade...one that can make others think that everything in my life is as perfect as the pictures I post ...that couldn't be further from the truth. So to combat that I just don't post much.
People seem to have less and less real contact with people they call friends (and those who have collected hundreds of facebook "friends" can't possible be maintaining a real relationship with even a small fraction of them.
Real-life human contact and interactions could become a thing of the past and that's a frightening thought.

Anonymous said...

Britt. You are spot on that we only see the cleaned up side of life. I remember when Clara Hughes, a Canadian Olympic medal winner did her cycling across Canada to raise awareness for depression. I posted a photo of her saying that she was the face of depression and I also said that I am the face of depression. For the most part I was treated with respect and love but I was told by others that my post was to informative and I should keep things like that private. I was so shocked by that as I was treated as if I had done something wrong. I have suffered from depression and PTSD my entire life and I was so surprised that even my supportive husband admitted that he had no idea what I was dealing with til something happened to him and he was depressed on a different level.
People treat depression as something that we can get out of by thought alone. I truly wish it was that easy. As for what goes on in the mind of a person who is thinking about suicide. They honestly aren't thinking about anything except that the pain must stop. They hurt so bad that that's all they can see. A black hole of dispair. I know as I tried 2x . Thank God I didn't die but some people are not so fortunate.
Robin will be forever missed but I hope people remember the wonderful man who made us laugh not how he died.
Colleen Charlton

Carolyn - The Boat Galley said...

Beautiful piece. I understand the thin line that bloggers walk; I want to be honest and real but also keep a certain amount of privacy.

I truly canNOT imagine what the life of a major celebrity is like but the lack of privacy has to be overwhelming and thus make it even tougher when struggling with a problem.

Anonymous said...

This ties in quite nicely with your point.
Man goes to doctor. Says he's depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says, "Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up." Man bursts into tears. Says, "But doctor...I am Pagliacci.” Never been so poignant.

Bec said...

What you have written has resonated with me a lot. It is a thin line with social media and what you put out to the world you no longer own. And I agree that people generally only put out the best of themselves as the not so good stuff often doesn't get as many 'likes' which has a negative impact as people take this personally even though its a very impersonal interaction. I have been very conflicted with my use of social media over the years but never quite did delete the fb account :( ; and even more so recently since starting a website of our own which then requires more "connection" such as twitter & FB pages etc. to promote it so it does seem to be a win loose situation.

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