Success is so overrated in a world where mere survival is a great gift. Robin Williams’ recent suicide proves once again that just success is not enough to keep us all afloat and yet we celebrate success more than the courage it takes for ordinary people to keep going regardless of the hardships life throws at them.
What if we did not pit people against each other and did not expect ourselves to rise to every provocation, every challenge thrown at us? What we set our own benchmarks? What if we allowed ourselves to feel enough? And what if nothing we did was enough because of a fissure within?
On October 11, 2013, Josh Marks, the runners up of Master Chef USA-Season 3, ended his life after a promising run at the show. He was a 7-foot tall giant with a baby face. And hugely popular with the audience, co-contestants and the judges. And there was hope that once in the public gaze, he would also find a way out of the job he had taken up with the Army Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Yet when he died, he just had eight bucks in his pocket.
From the high of being on a top rated show, he had to deal with the reality of a bi-polar disorder and then the damning diagnosis that he was suffering from schizophrenia. He had been battling panic attacks for a while, had been involved in an accident and in retrospect, dormant strains of a mental illness could have been activated by the gruelling shoot and its aftermath. His single mother could not afford a long and extensive treatment and in the absence of a health insurance, she was running from one hospital to the other, trying to book a bed where Josh could be accommodated for while. How ironical that Christine Ha, the eventual winner despite a visual impairment found the holy grail of the American dream while Josh fell to pieces even though on the surface, everything was going for him. Or so it seemed till he fell sick and despite being a quasi celebrity, found no help from any quarter.
His family has initiated the Josh R. Marks Memorial Fund to raise awareness about his struggles and of others like him. Robin Williams too had bipolar disorder and suspected schizophrenia. Many other celebrities like Charlie Chaplin kept their struggle with depression private. It is hard to say just how many individuals around us too battle depression everyday without seeking help or even knowing that they need help.
There are societal stigmas attached to ‘dysfunctional’ individuals but hardly anyone realises that success alone does not make anyone a happy, well-adjusted human-being. We need networks of empathy and support to make the going easier for each other. And we need to confront our demons and seek help.Williams once said, “Do I get sad? Oh yeah. No clinical depression, no. I get bummed, like I think a lot of us do at certain times.”
And so do we all and maybe the goal should be to find joy in everyday moments and not just in great achievements that leave us feeling empty and wrung out at the end of the day. Like Bryant McGill says, “The number one skill in life is not giving up.”