Did you ever wake up with a smile on your lips, greeting the new day with a longing to explore it? Did you also once or twice wake up with dread, feeling fear of what the day ahead holds? Or feeling like you have nothing left to live for?
This morning I woke up to the news that Robin Williams has died – committed suicide after bouts of depression and addiction. I wasn’t surprised, but I was shocked. I had heard of his problems, so it didn’t surprise me. It still shocked me. He made so many people laugh. I was laughing at his latest series just the other day. I grew up holding onto Dead Poets Society with an iron fist. I wanted to become a director you see. A film director. And it wasn’t a popular career choice amongst family and relatives. The movie gave me hope. Allowed me to allow myself to live for my passion.
I didn’t have an easy childhood though and that’s why stories – books and films – meant so much to me. Often I still face ghosts when going home to Sweden. Not usually the literal kind of ghosts, although I believe this house hosts them too. TVs are known to turn themselves on and off here, amongst other peculiar occurrences, and it took me some time to make peace with those ghosts too (read: not freak out). Coming back this year was no different. Or maybe it was – I was more determined than ever to face my ghosts, both the real and the imaginary.
You see, life is what we make up about it. There are as many theories about life and what you should be doing with yours as there are people walking this planet. Yet, we are brought up with ideas about the goals we should achieve, what is deemed as success and what isn’t. Hollywood, more so than any other place I’ve ever been, is filled with people trying to be “successful.” And on top of that: trying to be more successful than most. It isn’t about finding a good job, it’s about finding one of about 3,000 jobs that lead to worldwide fame. It’s not an easy thing to try to live up to. To topple it off it’s all about self-promotion and presenting the perfect face to casting directors and the world. Me, me, me. Perfect me. As if that wasn’t enough, many actors fancy themselves method actors and choose to time and time again relive the difficulties in their own lives when acting a character. I find it insanity, acting is acting – thinking the thoughts of another character and thereby feeling their feelings – not reliving your own worst and best memories. Those have nothing to do with the character. Also, acting is acting for another reason – you are, as mentioned, thinking the thoughts of the character and thereby feeling their feelings, you aren’t the character. You have to understand the thoughts that make up the character. You don’t, on the other hand, need to take crystal meth to act someone who did (each person who does have an individual experience anyway). You don’t have to become gay, bi or straight to act either one of those. Then it’s not acting. Then it’s becoming. (I remember reading a book by Strasberg, or about Strasberg, where he says that the audience won’t know if you are crying because of a memory, or because the character’s dog just died, but I believe they do. Weirdly enough, as it’s contradictory, the very same guy advocated “living in the shoes of the character” which is why method actors go off and live as homeless when acting someone homeless.)
Funnily and tragically enough actors are often those who, whilst they can act someone else on the silver screen, can’t step into seeing the world from a different perspective when at home. They are trapped in their own emotions. They feel the acting is a veneer and their true selves are a flop. Many artists have these thoughts. As do many successful people, because so-called success and praise for your talents has nothing to do with your insides in many cases. What’s more, many get caught in the “wanting to be better, having to reach perfectionism” state of being. They can never just be happy with what they have accomplished – they are obsessed with achieving even more success or paranoid they will lose the success they have. Especially in Hollywood where you are only as good as your latest film and where good looks and popularity account for many a paycheck. People forget that they are something beyond talents and work. That their looks, paycheck, age, popularity and talents are just that – beyond that they have a heart and soul. A heart and soul that are happy to just be and experience life, learning from it, rather than having to achieve something. They may want to express themselves artistically, as well as meet kindred people who appreciate them for who they are, but that’s different from wanting others to love their art and being popular. Very different.
I did not understand this growing up. My mom’s death and my perception she rejected me on her deathbed, my step-mom’s rejection, the kids’ rejection in school and my grandparents comments that it was difficult to look after us because they were so old, combined with my dad’s obsession that I do well and hone my skills, led to me believing love was a measurement for success. That you had to be perfect to be loved and that there was some fault with me as the bullies and my step-mom did not seem to like me. I was obsessed with finding the fault and curing it. Not surprisingly I suffered from both ambition and self-hatred.
I also suffered from depression – first when I was seventeen, which I came out of within less than a year thanks to therapy, and later when I was twenty-seven. Again, I cured myself within less than a year, but I felt really frail. And the gray days were there from when I was seventeen till I was thirty. Even if I was only really depressed twice (and those that have been depressed know the difference between feeling down for a while and being clinically depressed) there were many gray days in between and a wavering sense of self-confidence that often made me think I was mad because I was obsessed with, or petrified of, what others thought of me. I would walk into places thinking I didn’t know how to communicate with people, didn’t know how to socialize, didn’t know if people would really like me. I thought any time spent alone in a group was a failure; a sign I was unlikable. Likewise, there was nothing worse than being alone on a Friday night, reliving the feeling of being thirteen and not having many friends. Yet, I always made great friends as soon as I got out of the village I was raised in (i.e. away from my own reputation as a geek). I was always loved. But I didn’t feel it. I remember thinking I had a gazillion friends and still I couldn’t feel it. Couldn’t feel I was loved, or good enough to be so. It scared me.
I know what it is like to wake up and see no meaning to life. I don’t know what it’s like to want to die, but I know what it’s like to feel nothing for life. I was clear-headed enough to know my feelings where chemical reactions and that they would pass – at least the second time round. The first time round I had no clue what was happening to me. I soon learnt thoughts can lie; perceptions can lie. I knew I had big scars from my childhood. I knew I just had to find out whatever thoughts were out of whack and turn them right; whatever unconscious and conscious patterns that were wracking havoc (but that can feel rather petrifying as it’s like swimming in an ocean looking for that one wave that carries the truth, having no roadmap to find it). I knew all of that, but still…depression is terrible. So if you only feel that dreadful feeling that there is no meaning to life for ten minutes, go numb for only ten minutes, it’s the worst ten minutes. I lived in fear of myself. Fear the depression would come back. Fear I would never truly conquer it.
I finally did conquer it. In South Africa. I am a determined person. A childhood where you are taught to fight to do well may scar you, but it also gave me one hell of a determined mind. I was taught to fight. So I read personal development books. I took courses. I never touched drugs for depression, nor drugs in general. I never stopped searching for an understanding of love. I never let my mind fool me to think that some of its thoughts were real. I could see the misunderstandings in my childhood – see how I went from happy and popular to an outcast and why it happened. I could see the thoughts I created then were simple misunderstandings – how I came to believe I was unlovable and started hiding, shying away from people and thereby becoming disliked and filled with fearful thoughts about others. But by Jove it took time to conquer it all – when I was fourteen I said I was going to cure my shyness (i.e. lack of confidence), today, at thirty-two, I feel like I probably did. And still, only the other week confronting someone who owed me money, and still does, frightened me. I was scared a person I have known for so long, cares so little for me that they don’t pay what they agreed to pay for my work. They didn’t pay, but I finally realized it was them that had a problem, not I.
I don’t have gray days anymore. I still have scars and days that are difficult though, everyone does and that’s different from what I call a gray day. Since I came back to Sweden I’ve had a few weird days as I was facing my ghosts; my fears. My fear of settling down as I fear I won’t be welcome in a place, which I, in turn, fear will break my confidence. My fear of having a relationship with someone, as I fear they will break my confidence if they don’t love me enough to be happy with me. My fear of never amounting to something professionally, because I fear releasing my creativity to the world (and hence don’t). There’s two sides to this though – the yin and yang. On the one hand I fear failure as it would upset my ego, so I keep avoiding doing certain things. On the other I fear success as I don’t consider myself good enough to receive it, which is also why I avoid doing the very same things. I’m always obsessing with fixing myself, of being better and doing better and I always leave a little room for failure so I can think I didn’t do enough. That I’m not worthy something and if shit comes I deserve it.
I need to learn to stand up for myself and demand of people to treat me as they should. Stop being afraid of what they will think of me if I do. I also have to put my own work out there and stand up for that. I have to stop hiding away from both conflict and love. It’s my life. I have the right to live it as I choose so long as I’m not harming others.
And that, ladies and gentlemen is what I’ve been battling and embracing since being home in Sweden, whilst soaking up the gorgeous countryside landscape, working hard and seeing friends and family. For the first time in my life I’m starting to get the feeling I own my own life. That it’s really my life and I don’t have to defend myself for the choices I make – they are mine to make. It feels precious. Very precious.
I hope that if someone else reads this they will be strong enough to fight their depression and know it’s nothing to be ashamed of – life happens to us and sometimes we misunderstand it and thereby create scars that affect us psychologically. Even if your thoughts are running amok it doesn’t mean you can’t learn to control them. Even if you hit someone yesterday, it doesn’t mean you will do it today. You can take control over your life with a bit of practice. You are a heart and soul, never forget that. The core of your being is great, no matter what your past. And that’s what I wish to tell the whole damn world.
You can read my tribute to Robin Williams and some of his best quotes, here: http://costory.com/story/wdrwx-robin-williams—quotes-we-remember-him-for
Image source: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/507780926709019206/