Robin Williams, Yo! MTG Taps! and the Disease of Depression

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Magic Culture

I’ve been dreading writing my latest article for the past few days, partially because my head has been wrapped up in Hearthstone for the past week. Anyone who has been curious as to what all the hype is about would be wise to give it a spin. The game is free to play, but I’ve definitely found myself throwing a little money into buying packs in order to be more competitive. I look forward to doing an in-depth comparison of this game and MTGO with Stephen in the near future on Yo! MTG Taps!

This week, my article was supposed to be “Dreck Tech – 15 Brews for M15, Part 2: The Bad,” where I was to discuss “bad” decks for Standard post-M15, but pre-rotation. For those of us who are done playing competitive Standard until the fall and want to get all those silly ideas out of our systems before needing to buckle down and begin testing for post-Khans of Tarkir Standard, this article will be the perfect starting point.

This is not that article.

Sunday night I sat down to write my article, and the motivation wasn’t there. I kept stopping and starting, stopping and starting. Erase and start over. “Let’s take a break and try playing some Hearthstone.” Start. Stop. Erase. Hearthstone. I still believe in the subject of the next Dreck Tech article and think it will be loads of fun to delve into. I just had this nagging feeling that, this week, I wanted to talk about something more significant than Waste Not or Necromancer’s Stockpile.

Then, this afternoon, Robin Williams committed suicide.

I’m not going to hyperbolically pretend that I’m a devotee to the man’s entire body of work. Sure, we all loved him in Mrs. Doubtfire, Hook, and Aladdin as children. I definitely remember watching Mork and Mindy when I was very young, but I don’t remember anything about that show since it has been at least 25 years since I last viewed it. He also showed his outstanding range by being able to excel in dramatic roles like John Keating in Dead Poets Society. None of that does it for me, though.

For me, as an actor, a podcaster, and a man who loves comedy with every breath in my body, nothing in this world compares to his 2002 performance Robin Williams LIVE on Broadway.

(apologies if youtube takes this video down, the Greek subtitles, and DEFINITELY NSFW language)

There is no single piece of media that I’ve studied more. Everything I aspire to as a performer is to create something as pure, as hilarious, as relentless, as momentous, as unapologetic as this performance. This man knew how to take complete control of a room and make the audience want to follow him no matter how dicey the material. Few comedians these days are able to touch upon some of the topics Robin broached without facing backlash from the infinitely sensitive keyboard activists our lives are now seemingly full of.

Obviously, his performance was scripted. Unlike most televised stand-up specials, however, the entire performance was presented uncut, giving the show a sense of improvisation and urgency that will never has been and never will be matched. My favorite moments as a performer have been when I’ve been able to even come close to poorly emulating the vibe I get from this special. I always talk about abstract concepts like our “vibe” and the “flow of the show” when I talk to Stephen about what I want our show to feel like. These things are far more important to me than content. I’ve never been able to think of a reference point to guide him to until now. The essence of the special Robin Williams LIVE on Broadway is precisely what I mean. I know we’ll never get there. No one will. The pursuit of perfection is what leads us to our finest work. One man somehow achieved it.

And now that man is gone.

Depression is no joke. Depression is a disease. No one would tell a friend to “man up” if they had AIDS. No one would call a person with terminal cancer an attention-seeker. These are real diseases, diseases that require extensive treatment, both chemical and psychological. Sometimes people succumb to the disease they’re stricken by. These people are not cowards or weaklings. Someone who loses his or her life to depression should not be the target of mockery or ridicule. Conversely, the strength of those winning the fight against depression should be applauded. To someone who doesn’t have the disease, winning the fight against depression can mistakenly look like just living life normally. This is a horribly short-sighted view of the constant battle within the depressed person.

I’ve never been diagnosed with depression, but I’ve certainly had bouts throughout my life that have allowed me a glimpse of what people who suffer from the disease every day go through.

In 2009, around the time when Joey and I recorded the first episode of Yo! MTG Taps! I was months without a job, and forced to move back into my mother’s attic. This is not a situation any 27 year old wants to see themselves in. For most people this would be a bummer, sure, but many people have fairly stable families that provide a support system for family members who need one while they get back on their feet. My mother is not such a person. My mother is diagnosed with acute paranoia and severe schizophrenia, on top of being an alcoholic. I’d hate to seemingly contradict myself here and appear unsympathetic to my mother’s ailments, but I’ve made every effort to convince my mother to seek treatment. I’m not a doctor, so my abilities are limited. She has refused treatment at every juncture, and every injunction has only provided a temporary respite for our family. At the time that I moved back in with her, we were not on speaking terms. There was no door on the bathroom. There were bugs everywhere in the house. My entire life fit into 2 carloads. My mother constantly calling for me from the bottom of the stairs. Constantly. I’d ignore it until I finally would cave and confront her, at which point she’d explain to me that we had to go to the bank, because the lady was going to come out back and give her the money that was in the Santa Claus lawn ornament that she mistakenly sold to a neighbor at a yard sale. $100,000. I considered blowing my goddamn brains out, and if it wasn’t for my grandmother providing my only sense of comfort and familial normalcy at the time, I may have found a way.

This stupid game saved me. A network of friends completed the table that my grandmother could only provide a leg of. I was lucky enough to begin running Magic tournaments at Amazing Spiral Comics in Baltimore to provide me with $40 a week to just barely scrape by. Joey and I were a gang of 2. Our passion for Magic took us as far as our ambition would allow, and our ambition seemed to flow like a river. With each milestone we crossed, my symptoms lessened. I managed to wrangle a modest but steady stream of income from various Magic-related sources, an eventual job at Barnes and Noble, and, after roughly 15 months in these conditions, a new place to live.

I’m not bragging. I genuinely dodged a bullet here. My symptoms went away, but the disease still lays dormant in me. Where most people rightly seek the help of medical professionals, I was lucky enough to have this game and my acquaintances within to provide the necessary therapy my nonexistent insurance couldn’t. Unfortunately, I was also self-medicating with alcohol and marijuana habitually until 6/26/12 when my wife and I both became straight edge. Those things are a crutch that many people use when they are afraid to face the underlying problems of depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. I’ve written at great length about my sobriety here and won’t go into it any further in this article. (NSFW language)

At home, our struggle continues. My wife suffers from major depression, which is why Robin William’s death has especially hit home for us. She’s fighting back hard, and I’m extremely proud of the progress she’s made. Her family has been amazing throughout this journey, and I hope that my support has been sufficient as well. There are really no days off from this battle, but it is one we expect to win.

One thing everyone needs to realize is that the only instant cure for depression is the one that puts the sufferer on the losing end of the battle. Recovery occurs at a glacial pace, and as such small victories need to be recognized and rewarded. On the other hand, while major tragedies can quickly bring on obvious depression symptoms, most people suffering from depression fall into that state so gradually that even those closest to him or her might not even notice the subtle clues until it is too late.

If someone you love, or even a Facebook acquaintance starts showing signs of depression, do not hesitate to express your concern for him or her. Do not dismiss these signs as a cry for attention or a personal weakness. Often, just showing a willingness to listen can be enough to turn someone’s day around. If that person needs someone to talk to, talk to them. Show them that you care. If they tell you they are depressed or suicidal, do everything in your power to get them the professional help they need. You might just save someone’s life.

bigheadjoe

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-8255

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