Robin Williams, the world adored him; his family and friends loved him, and those who have experienced the darkness of mental illness and/or addiction found much comfort in his openness and truth about his personal struggles with his demons. Compassion and love were his legacy and his gift to the world; the likes of which we are not likely to see again.
As an advocate for Mental Health, whose life’s work is to change how we see and treat mental illness, all films with the potential to change our perspectives on mental illness are of interest to me. As someone whose love for and personal connection to Robin Williams runs deep, I could not bear to wait for the film to air on HBO in the fall. I had to see the World Premiere at Sundance Film Festival 2018. I knew I had to be in the energy of hundreds of others who also felt connected to Robin Williams to experience the collective healing that his performances filled us with and to relive the magic that he was and will always be.
I left Toronto bound for Sundance with the sole purpose of seeing the World Premiere Screening of the Robin Williams Documentary, Come Inside My Mind. I had no ticket to the sold out screening so I surrendered to the power of intention to manifest a ticket. And I got one! The journey to manifesting this ticket to the sold out screening of the film was an experience of complete alignment; fully supported and validated by a series of synchronicities.
Emmy Award Winning Director Marina Zenovich magnificently curated a tribute to his extraordinary life and captured the essence and grandeur of Robin Williams in this documentary, Come Inside My Mind. Robin Williams, a comic genius and a beloved man struggled with his own worthiness, yet never ceased to spread laughter, light and love wherever he went. I know first-hand that it is in accepting and moving through the struggle that our greatness comes to heal and serve us and others. Greatness is not in spite of the pain it is in fact because of the pain. The pain is necessary to reveal the greatness and the greatness is the purpose for the pain. His purpose was to bring light to the world and to himself. He did so by performing and entertaining us.
Zenovich strung together unforgettable moments, never before seen behind-the-scenes footage and candid interviews with Robin Williams’ family and dear, lifelong friends like Billy Crystal, David Letterman and Bobcat Goldthwaite. The interviews were conducted with the utmost sensitivity and respect.
At the Q & A session of the World Premiere Screening at Sundance, Zenovich shared with us her experience of the interviews and confirmed, as we might imagine, the elephant in the room in most of them was Robin Williams’ suicide. It was only 3 years ago and understandably a factor in the more absent than present family members in the making of this documentary. His oldest son, Zachary Williams, recalled his father’s struggles as “a symptom of the underlying why”. He reflected on the core of what his father valued most; “he wanted to entertain and please and if he couldn’t do that he felt worthless”.
Worthlessness, was the “why” that kept Robin Williams performing and entertaining; seeking external comfort in entertaining us as a distraction from the internal struggle that plagued him for a lifetime. What Robin Williams offered us was unbounding energy, authenticity, vulnerability and a perspective that brought levity to any topic or situation. But no matter the magnitude of his success or the infinite strings of accolades Robin Williams gained, it wasn’t enough to soothe the internal struggle of unworthiness that darkened his existence.
Keeping the deep pain and angst of his worthlessness at bay created the insatiable need for Robin Williams to perform and entertain us. The ginormous energy of his performances required a level of intensity and vigor that left only a spent and exhausted Robin Williams for his family. Home is where he quietly recouped from the exasperating effects of what was required to be Robin Williams, the entertainer. Zach Williams recalls how much he longed to see more of his father and the pain of his father’s availability to his audiences and not to his children and family.
In my experience, unworthiness weaves a complex web of psycho-emotional pain from the traumatic experiences of life. Ignoring trauma keeps us wounded and renders us passengers in a life of unconscious behaviours that we cannot change. Acknowledging, understanding and then moving through trauma allows the healing of our wounds and puts us in the driver’s seat of a conscious life where we have tools to change our behaviours and more choices emerge. A peaceful, harmonious, joy filled life cannot be created without integrating the shadow of trauma.
The Q & A time with Zenovich allowed me to ask her “what is the one thing that you learned about Robin Williams that stayed with you?” She shared that it was his profound needy-ness to perform, entertain and get attention. She had not realized until she worked on this film just how deep and intense that need was for Robin Williams and she felt sad for his all -consuming dependency to it.
There’s a clip in the film where Robin Williams is asked what he fears. He replied that he fears “becoming a rock”. How hauntingly ironic that he utters these words years before his Parkinsons Diagnosis. Robin Williams’ friend Bobcat Goldthwaite recalled the effects of the Parkinsons on Williams as "his brain was giving him misinformation." Robin Williams had changed from an energetic, vibrant person to a quiet, timid and almost wax like figure according to his closest friends. I can only imagine that to him this must have felt like his fear coming true.
My personal connection to Robin Williams is how much he reminds me of my late father. His resemblance; physically, energetically and in demeanor is uncanny. Robin Williams and my father also share the experience of leaving the world by choice. And the film pointed out another surprising similarity, that they both played the harmonica. I was so overcome with emotion, I could not see the screen through the tears.
The film gave insight into Robin Williams’ lonely childhood; raised by maids as an only child until uniting with 2 half- brothers in his teens. It informed us as to his upbringing and reveals where his exposure and love of comedy came from. (I’m not spoiling that one for you – you’ll have to see it for yourself!) It was a joy to relive the many unforgettable moments of Robin Williams’ career and such a gift to see never-before-seen footage of out-takes and on-set antics. Its content is rich and full. It left me wanting to see it again and again to relive the magic of the man named Robin Williams and to comfort that little girl in me with the warm feelings she gets when she sees a man she never met, who resembles her father in such un-canny ways.
Come Inside My Mind did more than amuse and entertain us; it painted a picture of the kinds of childhood and upbringing experiences that contribute to a life of struggle.
Mi Vision is that the role of unresolved trauma in mental illness is understood and excavated. That Mental illness treatment protocols include understanding the patient’s history of unresolved traumas and that we see Mental illness sufferers as people who have experienced unthinkable things without the tools to process them.
My emotions keep flowing as I recall the film and feel for the many people in his personal life that he left behind. The despair and grief in those that suicide leaves behind ... I know it well.