Screenwriting : Robin Williams: Comedic Creativity and Dramatic Depth from Severe Depression? by Dr. Skip Worden

Dr. Skip Worden

Robin Williams: Comedic Creativity and Dramatic Depth from Severe Depression?

A month or two before Robin Williams' untimely and unfortunate suicide, I read a piece whose author posited the possibility that much of the best writing has been penned by authors struggling with the disease known as major depression. I suppose the explanation would be that creativity is a way to break out of the dullness of the ordinary, to stimulate the mind out of its malaise. It is as if the suffering are reaching upwards, as if out of a sense of desperation known only to the unconscious. At the same time, the tendency of depression to dive deep within, to find or sink to a more meaningful, subterranean basis can easily translate into providing a narrative with depth. The combination of creativity and depth may be the hallmark of excellent story-telling, as well as the ravaging disease to which Robin Williams succumbed. In his acting, he was incredibly creative in his comedy even as he was fully capable of deep emotions in dramatic roles. In fact, behind the creative comedic façade may lie just such emotions, and in the dramatic we might catch the edges of a quick smirk that says, "Hey, don't take all this so seriously, even though I do. I can't help it."

Michael Khamis

This is well said.

Dr. Skip Worden

Thanks for the comments.

Danny Manus

This was my blog post this morning on the 4 Types of Depression.. www.nobullscript.net/?p=958

Cherie Grant

Love the original post. and I do agree.

Cherie Grant

danny I have suffered from the third type most of my life. As for comments that suicides are cowards (not here, but elsewhere) it makes my blood boil. the mment someone suicides some other dick chimes up about what they think of that person's character. I have seen this posted and bandied about by so many people (read arseholes) who think they understand something they've never experienced. And what makes me even angrier about such accusations is that while we're all trying to make mental illness less of a taboo so people can talk about it and get help some arsewipes out there call people with severe suicidal depression cowards. yeah that's gonna get people to talk about it.

Lynn P. H. Adrian

The mind is a gift. And in depression, the gift is squeezed directly out of the suffering. I sat in an inpatient treatment center for trauma and dissociation in Denver. And they told me to "Go home." The real work was in the pen. And I am not Shakespeare nor Robin. I am Lynn. Fame has not been my curse, and writing keeps me on the planet. And the haters are going to hate, and judge, and finger point. Leaders use pens. Write.

F. Aaron Franklin

On one hand, clinical depression is a disease. While Robin Williams had everything most of us could only dream of, none of it is any more a remedy for clinical depression than it is for cancer. But why I few that creatives tend to go off the deep end is the fear that they've reached their pinnacle and have nothing else to offer. As a creative mind, regardless of what you've given, the thought of having nothing left in the tank is simply maddening, if not terrifying. Courtney Love stated that this is along the lines of what happened to Kurt Cobain (yes, we're all aware that every drug imaginable played a roll as well.) But it was said that he felt as though he reached a point in his career that he'd given his best. While his creative well hadn't run dry, he's reached his pinnacle in terms of his music, and everything else he'd write didn't come close.

Lynn P. H. Adrian

Wow, Ronnie. Cudos.

Anthony Mouasso

I always wonder if Civilization is not to blame as a all. I am almost sure depression, PTSD, and bi-polar syndrom are sometimes more consequences than causes. An internal response triggering some kind of stress. Civilization can put so much pressure on individuals, that those who surrender to it (and don't fight back) can feel hollow in the end. Hypersensitivity is too often depicted as a curse or a disorder more than a blessing in our world. For me that's the real problem. Accepting and embracing your oddities, who you are, is at least to my point of view more valuable than any judgement, finite statement, the society will try to put on your shoulders. Unless of course you don't respect the others, but that's another story entirely... http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius

Jeff Guenther

Perceptive comments, Skip. I suppose the ability to create a perfect world is a healthy distraction for those who are suffering in one way or another. There is also a lot to be said for angst and experience in terms of not just distraction, but emotional depth and understanding the human condition. Drugs of various sorts are the unhealthy distraction, and, because they alter perception, can make things worse over time and put an end to a creative life via overdose, accidents, or insanity. If our minds are our creative engines, we need to treat them with care. Would you pour whiskey into the engine of your Porsche, instead of oil, and expect better performance?

Anthony Mouasso

The perfect world on screen would be soooo boring. On the contrary, in this day and age, we should explore each and every Orwellian twist presenting itself at every corner. I know it would sound perfect to some, certainly not for me. :)

Beth Fox Heisinger

Emily, please DO talk to someone, okay sweetie? A parent perhaps? Or a teacher? I suspect you've been through some difficult things. Being bullied is never okay. Never. You should not have to put up with it. Please involve an adult, okay?

Laurie Ashbourne

Emily, I must say from what I have seen of you on Stage 32, you are an awesome inspiration. You are young and forging into a difficult business because it is your passion and you recognize that. That in and of itself is something to hold your head high about. Most people who are up to their knees in facets of this industry took way longer to realize their passion, so in that regard you've got a leg up. And you know what? Being an artist of any kind takes thick skin so the sooner you stake that claim in recognition the sooner your hide toughens -- again you have a leg up. Now, there is no doubt that sometimes creativity and the expression of character(s) that it fosters can cause conflict in our own sense of self - in performers it is most acute - how do you turn off all of those personalities -- especially when fans demand more and it's your life blood? Writers such as yourself, Emily, dig into their holes and peck away at pages -- performance artists add more characters to their act, much like the Robin Williams. That was his genius and no one can or would dare deny that. No matter what boiled inside of him -- he was a good soul -- I can tell you first hand. And no matter what boils inside of you, dear girl, you have a massive community right hear to help you understand it. Stay strong. I know you can.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Kathryn, Alle, Cherie and others, thank you so much for sharing your personal experiences. Talking openly about depression and mental illness helps so many others who may be suffering. Open discussion also combats the stigma surrounding these diseases. My mother suffered from paranoid schizophrenia for over 40 years and attempted suicide so many times I lost count. The first time I found her I was seven years old. She was lost to us and to herself. She was in and out of mental institutions so often we were constantly fighting the horrible mental health system. We were victimized. The suffering of these diseases extends far beyond those afflicted. It affects healthy family members profoundly. With that said, my heart goes out to Robin Williams' family. I know they have suffered right along with him and will continue to.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Good Emily, yes, do talk to your mother. Please try to tell her everything, okay sweetie? She's your mother. She WILL love you no matter what. :)

Beth Fox Heisinger

Thanks Kathryn. :) I'm doing great, honest. I'm a survivor much like yourself. Your courage is as inspirational as it is vast. It's wonderful to see you kickin' creative butt and sticking to your dreams. Best to you, dear!

Beth Fox Heisinger

For those who may not be aware of it... Glenn Close started a cause to fight the stigma and discrimination of mental illness; Bring Change 2 Mind. She has family members who suffer from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Ron Howard directed a wonderful PSA for the cause. Please visit: http://bringchange2mind.org/

CJ Walley

The sad truth is that while most of us feel the successes in Robin's life are a contradiction to his suicide, some of us feel it's a cause. While many will see his life a gift and death a tragedy some will see it the other way round. Some days some of us just want to cut our faces off but can't bring ourselves to ruin a good set of knives. There is a lesson in Robin's death and proof in this thread that the things we perceive make us happy are often wrong and what really brings solace is often beside us. And we're all beside you right now, Emily.

Dillon Mcpheresome

Hey I have depression. I drink like fish and do all kinds of drugs especially the ones from the doctor. Does that mean I could be a success? I could be a contender?

Cherie Grant

I sing in japanese too. "I think we're turning japanese I think we're turning japanese I really think so".

Michael L. Burris

Perhaps depression is just happenstance with no resolve for some. Awareness of it's existence is good but even Robin Williams himself was aware and apparently talked about it until blue in the face. Wait maybe not good wording there. Anyway I admired his extremely high creativeness even among creatives. Perhaps he just figured death the only and ultimate stage left to conquer. We will all get our chance someday. By the way they also said he had a progressive disease of Parkinson's. I went to the Dr. the other day and she told me I also have a progressive disease. So I said, I know it's the women in my life. LOL! Not really women are wonderful I just can't match with them all. Keep on keepin' on Emily the other choice seems to grim in reality and he was 63 before he even thought of conquering death if that is even what he thought. Keep talking Emily you can't let your emotions go cold in reality. Peace out all.

Dillon Mcpheresome

867-5309 You know that song is about masturbation right? I don't want to sound dismissive or unsympathetic to to Robin Williams death though. He was my comedic idol. I love Williams and he got to go out on his own terms. I only hope I get to do half the things he did before I leave. One thing I don't want is to lie in a bed hardly able to breathe like my mother did. Sometimes it is better to leave before the third act. And like at the end of King Kong when he fell off the Empire state building. What did Ms. Darrow do? She ran to the arms of another lover, a screenwriter. Ipso facto

Jeff Guenther

Yes, there is a lot more bad stuff. It's almost like there's a Gresham's Law of literature: Bad books drive good books out of circulation. Not by the same mechanism, of course, but the books that thrive won't be the best books, they'll be the ones written by celebrities (or bearing their name, at least.) I've recently read works by well-known authors that were more poorly written than anything I've seen before 1990.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Yes, please do stop psychoanalysing. Most people truly have no idea what they are even talking about. Stop the false notions. Stop perpetuating myths. Research and study about these afflictions are noteworthy, but having to experience them firsthand is something entirely different and without comparison. 1 in 6 adults lives with brain-related illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD and schizophrenia. These illnesses are far more common than you may think. So, please, get the REAL facts. And, please show some respect. :)

Anthony Mouasso

I don't have the impression somebody undermined those illnesses, on the contrary. I think it is a great concern for all of us. And Beth, I do empathize with people who had to experience those emotional states of mind first hand or had to witness them. Let's just say, that sometimes analysing comes as a solution to understand... again, to empathize...

Beth Fox Heisinger

Appreciate that Anthony. Very kind of you. :) My comment was meant as a blanket statement, not to anyone in particular. I know what you meant by "emotional states of mind," but again, and with respect, brain-related illnesses are far more than that. Much more. Analysis is great, however most draw false conclusions and spread falsities. Again, my statement comes from a lifetime of dealing with stigma. Best to you, sir!

Anthony Mouasso

I read your comments Beth, I understand or may be not... :/

Beth Fox Heisinger

Hey Anthony, thank you so much for your understanding! Even with my experience with my mother's illness, I would never presume that I know and understand everything. Never. These illnesses have such complexities and personal variables. Anyway, please do seek out the facts. Only knowledge can bring deeper understanding. Best wishes to you!

Anthony Mouasso

Likewise Beth, all the Best to you as well! :)

Michael L. Burris

I've lived every ailment known to man just about so I think. I have been on both sides of the issue both as provider/caregiver to the one that needs help in many ailments and conditions. My co-dependent personality and stubbornness both make me both extremely empathic and have a can conquer all attitude. Here's the thing from experience it is never something that should be labeled other than something is wrong. The reason why I say this is that mental conditions are extremely subjective and no matter how objective and empathetic you may look at a condition or situation there is no way you can truly pierce the window of the subjective ailment, condition, feeling that that person is experiencing or going through. So beyond all the B.S. talking to other human beings truly is the best medicine. Some say validating is the way to go but it can also work in reverse because if the subjective feeling turns the validation into condescending feelings it can perhaps make them regress. Some say distraction is the best way to go but this can actually make someone even subconsciously feel suppressed. I could go on for ever and ever but from my experience for me it is just recognition something is wrong and talking to other human beings. In my opinion drugs and alcohol are a blast unless your a slave to them. The perception of others however can make a true non-addict and user into feeling like a bad and evil person. A lot of that is usually a deep-rooted problem the one making the judgment experienced in their own lives. Then again they could be right too. A lot of mental illnesses are mental misconceptions and miscommunications but not always. This is from experience. People should really try to match with people of the same belief systems as far as personal relationships of any kind go. In reality people just cannot match themselves with all belief systems and this in a sense I truly think is what the best creatives try to do or at least experience or experiment with. Peace out all.

Anthony Mouasso

Oooh Thank you Oriel, that short was beautifully crafted. Now I'd go make some relaxation after that, but I can't! ;)

Anthony Mouasso

I also want to put this link back again. Whether you like her work or not, she has a point I think. http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius

Lynn P. H. Adrian

Nice youtube link, Oriel--I posted it on facebook. Oneida families call it "the good mind." It's not always at one's disposal. Thank you/Yaw^ko.

Dr. Skip Worden

Wow. I had no idea when I posted a few remarks on creativity and depression that such a rich discussion would ensue. After writing my essay, I came across a newspaper article citing studies of creativity after depression. I have been meaning to revise my essay; perhaps now I should, given the amazing discussion-thread here. In perusing it (which means going through it carefully, rather than skimming through it), two things stood out. First, I was a bit uncomfortable with all the assumed expertise. In my own research, which does not include psychology or medicine, one thing I am intrigued by is the claiming itself of knowledge out of what someone might have heard or believes. We see this in religion a lot, do we not? "God is X." "No, that's not God." The claiming itself...the assertions...stood out for me in reading many of the comments. I am glad that the value of leaving the expert opinions to the experts became transparent in the discussion. Secondly, my heart goes out to the broad-based effort to help and support Emily. Suggesting that she go for help is not to presume to have expertise, so I am glad to see the encouragement. I was particularly impressed with the person who had looked over Emily's contributions on this site and could thus point to her strengths. Bravo! In my opinion, such an effort represents the best of Stage32. I am so glad that writing a essay on my site and posting this discussion occasioned the discussion above. Thanks to all of you. Caritas naturalis seu benevolentia universalis

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