August 25, 2014


By Michael Patwell

A RELATIVE of mine, a fairly mature man, posted a message on Facebook, reacting to the unfortunate suicide of the actor, Robin Williams. I have to confess I was very taken with what he wrote and came to the conclusion that it was worth sharing with those outside Facebook.

This is what my friend wrote: I feel compelled to express my deep regret and sadness at the sad and tragic passing of a wonderful entertainer, Robin Williams. He was at the top of my list of favourite actors,personalities and human beings.

Without doubt the film 'Dead Poets Society' is well up on my own list of great films. I have watched it three or four times and every time it leaves an impression on me.

Ever since I saw him many years ago in 'Mork And Mindy' I have enjoyed him on screen, though back then I just thought how funny and absolutely nuts he was. Just to name a couple, his great films like 'GoodMorning Vietnam' and 'Mrs Doubtfire' will be watched over and over again. I believe that though comica lhis carry on was, there was always a message or moral in the story. He seemed to have a great empathy with people who were being put down or being kept down and their dreams extinguished.

How often in the past have we seen great comedians and performers,whose talent was at genius level,suffer from depression and die by their own hand? It's as if they eventually could not live a day without an audience. As we know,depression claims victims every day.

With some we know it was a factor in their going; for many we do not even realise how much they were suffering or had suffered.

I know what it is like. Somehow I manage to come out the other side; I have the support of a loving wife and family; no pressure and they are totally non-judgmental. I told my doctor about it a long time ago and he actually thanked me for coming and admitting it to him. That alone helped at that time to make me feel better about myself.

I don't know why it happens or the day or the hour it will happen. I don't live in fear of it but I always know it is about to descend. Often I let it reside just for a short time. Then I fight it becoming deeper by busying myself or telling the person closest to me,usually my wife, how I am feeling. By that alone it's like opening the gate and letting it out. I read some favourite poetry, which expresses how one feels about the people one misses or about one's personal sense of hopelessness about the suffering in our own country and the world around us. I care but feel so inadequate to help when I see little children suffering or torn from their families.

There are dark days when there appears to be no light. Then I think of the people who I love and who love me and I always know that I could never do anything to hurt or harm them.

That sustains me until the clouds part.

Funnily enough I actually am an optimist the majority of the time. I like talking to people, I love music of all kinds, I enjoy reading, films now and again, getting out and just maintaining our own place. I love getting away,even for a day, driving, because I love to drive.

When I hear of people like Robin Williams, who had the talent to make you laugh when you feel rotten, taking the ultimate form of release I am saddened that for him he felt there was no hope. I feel the same when I hear of people just like you and me taking a similar path. I cannot feel their pain, only imagine it.

I am lucky in that I have support;that I still have the strength to get up and go and thankfully, most of the time, l am my self and loving life. I will think about Robin Williams, not just in the next few days but hopefully regularly down through the years. No doubt he will make me laugh from time to time, when I watch his movies,just as he will make many thousands of others laugh.

Not a bad legacy. NANO! NANO! "NANO NANO", (or for some"Nanu Nanu" or "Na-Nu Na-Nu") for those young enough not to remember the television sitcom Mork & Mindy,is a phrase widely used by Williams in that programme. As far as I can remember it meant "hello" in the language of Ork but no doubt it had even a deeper meaning, though if it had I never got to it.

It was broadcast from 1978 until 1982 on ABC in the United States and picked up by many TV channels around the world, including RTE. It starred Robin Williams as Mork, an extraterrestrial alien who
came to Earth from the planet Ork in a small,one-man spaceship. Mindy McConnell, (played by Pam Dawber) was his human friend and roommate.

Mork had been sent to Earth to study human behaviour and each day he reported back to his home planet. The series was brilliantly written and picked up on some of the strange things that we humans do,some of our habits and practices but especially some of the strange things we do in the course of social interaction.

Even though children loved it,probably because of the whacky humour it contained, it had a deep meaning and provided much food for thought.

The series was Williams' first major acting role and became famous for his manic improvisational comedic talent. Williams would make up so many jokes during filming that eventually the script-writers left specific gaps where he was allowed to improvise freely. It is said that in many scenes his co-star,Dawber, had to bite her lip to avoid laughing and ruining the take.

It isn't too many years ago since my friend wouldn't have openly discussed his fight with the 'blackdog' – a euphemism for the harsher word, 'depression'. It would have been hidden and was a totally taboo subject.

Depression was accompanied by both guilt and shame; feelings that actually exacerbated the intensity of the condition and caused the unfortunate sufferer to sink even deeper into the condition.

Often, the depression results from some other physical condition. In Williams's case we have been told that he had been battling various addictions for years but was now successfully dealing with them. Then he was hit quite recently with a diagnosis of Parkinsons Disease.

There are very many well-known cases of people who to all intents and purposes are hugely successful and hugely popular but are dogged (no pun intended) by depression.

Comedians especially seem to be very prone to it and amongst them are the late Tommy Cooper and Spike Milligan.

Fifi Geldof, the elder sister of the late Peaches Geldof and daughter of Sir Bob, said in the last few days that the suicide of Williams has encouraged her to be more open about her own battle with depression. She is reported to have said, "I think this has prompted me to want to speak out publicly about my own depression which I've suffered from for years… just in a feeble attempt to bring some more awareness and understanding to something that oughtn't be surrounded by such stigma." "I wear a permanent mask", she continued, "so I won't be judged for feeling how I actually feel. You can't escape it – it just simmers under the surface when it's not hitting you full whack. Which, for obvious reasons, it has done for me in the last few months – people wouldn't have the first clue." Ms Geldof has done nothing more than my own friend has done and they are not alone. All around us there are people, maybe some of them close family members, who are battling that terrible illness on their own.

More than 100 years ago, Oscar Wilde dubbed his homosexuality "the love that dare not speak its name".

That is no longer the case now for a few decades but we would be quite justified in adapting that phrase to "the disease that dare not speak its name" when we were referring to depression.

Now, after Robin Williams and the deluge of people, some famous and some not well known, who are now 'coming out' and admitting they suffer from depression, we won't be ashamed to speak the word 'depression' either.

The most important thing to remember is that there is help there for those who seek it.

My friend, whose Facebook posting I quoted above, tells me that but for medication he doesn't know whether he'd even be alive now. As he is, he enjoys life, has great relationships and is himself a huge support to those around him.

It can be thus for so many people who are fighting the lonely fight if they turn to their friends and families for support.

• You can contact Michael at It isn't too many years ago since my friend wouldn't have openly discussed his fight with the 'black dog' – a euphemism for 'depression'.

First published: Evening Echo, August 19th.