The Other Side of ‘Poor Robin Williams’

Robin WilliamsSome part of this is probably gonna make you uncomfortable, but I’m gonna just toss it out here anyway:

Robin Williams died today, of an apparent suicide. It’s strange how much it affects me. Years back when I was on vacation and Stephen Jay Gould died, I called home crying. That guy MATTERED to me. He was one of my people, a smart man and a scientist. The world was a colder, dumber, less interesting place when he died.

And now Robin Williams is gone.

On Facebook, a lot of people are posting and talking about this, and most of them are saying how great he was — as a comedian, a dramatic actor, a humanitarian, so much more.

But I’m also seeing a number of posts about depression and mental illness, along the lines of “Anyone can suffer from depression, etc.” About how terrible it is. About how none of us really understands what people with depression and mental illness are going through.

And yes, I agree with that. Hey, I had it. There was a year, back in about 1985, when I got so far down I felt … nothing. No feelings at all. I didn’t even feel suicidal, because that would have taken effort, and I just didn’t have the juice.

There is a depression beyond anything normal people know about. It’s like a black beyond black, a whole new spectrum of darkness that opens up once you get past all the colors and the light goes out. It’s the depression of no energy, no emotions, a place where even pasting an expression on your face is something like lifting heavy weights.

I was there for most of a year.

And then I got better. Part of it was getting a dog, something I had to rouse myself to care for. Another part, a big part, was I had my supportive, patient Cowboy Dad. (If you don’t know who that was, it’s a whole other story.)

But another part of the healing, I’m pretty well convinced, was because I got out of the family situation, and home culture, that put me there. Honestly, I haven’t felt a day of depression since then. I’ve long since concluded I wasn’t the type of person who simply has unworkable brain chemistry or whatever. I was depressed BECAUSE OF STUFF THAT WAS DONE TO ME. And once I got away from it, I started, and continued, to get better. There were definite lasting effects of the whole mess, but whatever problems I have today, depression isn’t one of them.

Anyway, here’s what I want to talk about:

I’d characterize Robin Williams as a certifiable genius. I don’t mean “genius” in the general fluff way, or as some sort of pun on his role of Genie in the Aladdin movie. I mean GENIUS. Fantastically, unbelievably brilliant. A 200-watt creative intellect in a world of 100-watt (and below) standard human duffers. A guy so energetic of mind and body he gave off HEAT when he entered a room, and everybody turned to see.

It’s genius I want to talk about. Because I don’t know anybody else’s experience, I’ll have to talk about mine:

I am NOT a genius. But my IQ is pretty high. Though I’ve dropped out now, I was a Mensa member for five years or so. Mensa is the worldwide high-IQ society, and I qualified from the time I was in the 6th grade. I didn’t actually join until decades later, but my IQ score was, as my 6th grade teacher told me, the highest he’d ever seen. (Ha! Bear in mind this was Houston.)

Guess what that’s like.

On the plus side, the journey of my life has been a very cool one. I feel that I’ve gotten to see things most of my friends and family didn’t see, couldn’t see, gotten to understand things they could never understand. Of course, I also got to make some rare mistakes, mistakes they never would have made, doing things in ways that never would have occurred to them. (And sadly, some of the things you see – things that other people blithely miss – are scary and depressing.)

On the minus side … Growing up in Texas, my closest friends were rodeo cowboys, and we lived in a backwatery country culture that prized cleverness but not intelligence. Hell, I had people on my back all the time because I read BOOKS.

Here’s my stepfather from when I was 15 and on: “Yuh ort to git yer nose outta them books, Boy. Quit that goddam school and go git chu a job.”

Yes, this is me saying it, but the fact is, I was a LOT smarter than every one of my close friends. But I expended a great deal of energy at masking it. Every once in a while, I’d slip up by using a big word, or by expressing an unapproved interest or an unusual viewpoint. I would forget where I was and just be myself for a moment. I would think about stuff and then tell people what I’d thought. Or they’d catch me writing – WRITING!! – in my Journal. And damn, if your home culture doesn’t value intelligence and thoughtfulness, or sensitivity, or writing (!!), you don’t want to do any of that.

Which means exactly this: It was lonely. And boring. (There was a price on that last bit: Because I almost never needed to study, I ended up developing very bad study habits that would cost me dearly in later years.)

I must have thought a thousand times over the years, “Where are the classes that would be exciting and challenging? Where’s the school that I’d fit in? Where are MY people, the people who think about things? Where’s MY world?”

In every school I attended, there were special programs and classes for the slow and mentally handicapped, but nothing for the gifted. It goes without saying that any normal class you were in usually moved at the speed of the slowest kids in the room. The speed of glaciers, it seemed to me. Some of my teachers would even stop calling on me, so the other kids could have a chance to answer questions or go the board and work problems. I took to sitting in the back of some of my classrooms, sneaking in novels to read. By my senior year in high school, I was skipping an average of one day a week, forging notes from my mom that said, literally, “Please excuse Hank for missing class Friday as he did not feel like coming to school.”

[ All those teachers that covered for me, if you’re still out there, thank you soooo much. You rock.]

The obvious assumption by the people who plan classes and academic help is that the bright kids don’t need anything, that with limited time and money, it’s the slow kids who should get the help.

Outside school, there were social things that happened. I learned that boy, oh boy, you definitely didn’t want to toot your own horn in the field of brain. If the subject of your musical ability came up in conversation, people would chime in with compliments. If it was your athletic ability, people would gush about it, with admiring comments and even envy. Your artistic or performing gifts – rave reviews.

But your INTELLIGENCE … no. Nothing. You didn’t even dare bring it up. You might brag about your other gifts, but damn, you did NOT want to say anything about your intelligence. Because while some of the guys might be jealous about your athletic ability, they didn’t dare be too critical, for fear of turning the spotlight back on their clumsy, wimpy selves. But one and all, they could – and did – make fun of your brains. “You dumbass! For somebody so smart, you sure are stupid.”

It got to where I was hiding everything I could, never letting on that my friend’s interests and topics of conversation bored the hell out of me (Race cars? Shooting pool? Soupin’ up your truck? Coon huntin’? Coon huntin’ DOGS? Gah.)  I liked THEM, but not a lot of what they did or said.

So: Lonely. Boring. For years and year and years.

The best thing I ever did was when I was 22, I lit out for California, settling in a little ski resort town, where I made new friends, found a whole new world of interests and activities, and met my Cowboy Dad.

Witness the fact of the Tea Party here in the U.S., as a data point for the argument that intelligence is not much prized. Even among some fairly bright people, talking about your intelligence is not something you do. Again, you might actually brag about being a great tennis player, or an accomplished cyclist, or even just play up your handsome/beautiful looks, and people will agree with you. People will admire you. But if you say anything about your brain, much less your GENIUS, it’s embarrassing to everyone in earshot.

You simply DON’T talk about your own intelligence. Not at any time, not in any place. Instead you make jokes. You self-deprecate. You act goofy. You distract from the subject. You laugh at yourself. In a way that you never would with any other gift.


So here we are talking about Robin Williams. And yes, some of us are talking about his genius. But at least as many are talking about his depression, his Mental Illness.

Poor Robin Williams was MENTALLY ILL. We should do more for the MENTALLY ILL. We should be more sensitive to the needs of the MENTALLY ILL. Oh god, most of us have no idea what the MENTALLY ILL are going through.

And I’m all for that sort of discussion, every bit of it.

But I’m going to suggest that there’s this other thing we might think about, talk about, at the same time.

Let’s talk about the needs of the MENTALLY GIFTED.

Let’s notice the kids with extraordinary gifts. Notice the young adults of quiet intelligence, and do something for THEM. See if they need anything. Set up programs to feed them, nurture them, value them, challenge them. Value the bright adults in your life. Tell them, show them, that they matter to you, and that they matter because of their gifts.

Because some of those brilliant people who suffer depression, maybe they don’t suffer depression because hey, those creative types are always on the edge of suicide, aren’t they bro? Maybe they suffer depression because, to them, they live in Bizarro World, a place that runs a half speed too slow, that delivers a constant stream of depressingly dumb social and cultural whitewash, a place that can never value them, can never give them the same sort of welcome it gives the average and the less than average, a place that forces them, as the price of acceptance, to make jokes about their own best attribute.

Maybe they suffer depression because there is no place for them here, and they know it isn’t going to get any better. Because we’ve never built a place for them, and indeed, can’t even talk about them without qualifying every sentence with “Well, you know, INTELLIGENCE ISN’T EVERYTHING. And besides, IQ IS JUST A NUMBER.”

Maybe people like Robin Williams aren’t mentally ill. Maybe they’re so good, so bright, so creative, so sensitive – all of this in a world that can’t give them what they really need, a sense of being SEEN, of being VISIBLE (and no, being on screen is not, or may not, be that), of being known and loved for being their brilliant true selves, and by people whose opinions they value – that they eventually run out of steam and just … die.

  • Jo Jerome

    At 15, I was officially diagnosed as “Unusually high IQ; bored to tears in traditional school setting.” 20+ years later that would be shortened to “Asperger’s,” but you bring up a good point: “Bored,” “Not being challenged in the right way,” was, is, a real component of that. For all that we say we prize intelligence, in the American workplace, intelligence is also something that makes others feel threatened.

    It is said of Aspies; we are the smartest people flipping burgers.

    Or roving the campground as park rangers as it were. 😉

    Thanks for this Hank.

    • estraven

      “Bored to tears in traditional school setting” summed up my spouse’s experience for sure! I married a high school dropout, hah.

    • capcom

      Aspergers has nothing to do with IQ and intelligence. Just as ADHD has nothing to do with it either. There are as many average intelligence (IQ) among aspergers, as in neurotypical individuals. You are not allowed to be diagnosed with aspegers syndrome below 85-100 (average IQ), so you won’t find anyone under average for that very reason.

  • Good thoughts, Hank – especially the idea of looking out for the gifted kids.

  • I was searchi g online for a thoughtful article on William’s battle with depression. Nice words regarding Mr.Williams and the underlying causes of depression. But sir, I am in the tea party, in fact I founded one. And my activist friends are all very intelligent and college educated. I am not sure what it is that people who are so bright and observant like you are so easily misinformed about a group of people who are trying g to preserve our constitution and liberty. Quite irritating. Our movement is not about social issues it is about the foundation of our great and free country.

    • Hank Fox

      This is a discussion for another place and time.

      • GinaRD

        Yes, it is. Which makes me wonder why you brought the issue up in the middle of an otherwise strongly written, thoughtful, moving post. Just to score a cheap political jab? Frankly, that should have been beneath a man of your intelligence.

        • Hank Fox

          Ha. Very meta. “Frankly, this should have been beneath a man of your intelligence.” —Ridicule about intelligence in a post regarding ridicule about intelligence.

          • GinaRD

            That wasn’t meant to be ridicule, just a simple statement of fact. As a writer and editor myself, I believe an intelligent writer should weave a piece into a coherent whole in which every sentence supports his point and contributes something relevant to his argument, not a mostly coherent whole with one little break to take an irrelevant shot at a political group he doesn’t like. Such habits, which have become far too common nowadays, can weaken the work of an otherwise gifted writer.

            (Since you believe that intelligent people should be free to talk about their intelligence, I’ll add that I’ve always tested very well on IQ tests, had the good fortune of being able to go to a gifted class, graduated from college with honors and went on to get my master’s degree in English, AND am generally supportive of the aims of the Tea Party. There’s a Venn diagram for you. 😉 )

      • Colleen Brooks – Charlotte NC

        Thank you Hank. Indeed it is.

  • estraven

    Both of my kids are gifted. My daughter was fortunate to be in a school program for gifted kids. By the time my son was old enough for that, the program had been done away with. The loss of that took a toll on my son. I eventually took him out of school and for his last year of schooling he self-taught and attended community college classes (which the college fought me on, but, you know, moms win!). My son attempted suicide once and I’m afraid he will try again. He’s sensitive, creative, a dreamer–all the things this society discourages. It is definitely difficult to be part of a culture that really doesn’t value certain attributes. There are two people in my life that I know are at least as intelligent as I am–thank goodness one is my spouse! But for a lot of my life, I too felt lonely. And I was diagnosed with clinical depression. It is maybe not coincidence.

  • Kimberley Debus

    Thank you for this contemplation. I think there’s a lot that rings true; while Williams did apparently suffer from bipolar disorder, there’s a lot to be said for the effects of genius on mental illness. I resonate with much of your post – I was blessed with a family that prized intelligence, and there was a mechanism for gifted students, but there was not a lot of room for the spiritually and artistically gifted (me) in those science-heavy programs. And so I too was close to suicide, fighting off debilitating depressions, until I found an outlet for my artistic and sensitive intelligence – ministry.

    Thank you for this.

    • teachergriff

      There’s quite a bit of evidence that the smarter you are, the more likely you are to have a mental illness. Smart people don’t have the protection of the Vaseline on the lens; we see the world as it really is, and friend, the world as it really is is depressing and banal. It’s no wonder smart people go crazy more often; it’s the only defense we have.

  • Raji Maji

    Scroll down to article on Robin. Truth needs to be told sometimes.

    • estraven

      That was horrible and the person who posted it is scum. As were some of the commenters. Too bad people refuse to educate themselves about mental illness. “Truth”? Far cry from that.

    • Pixie5

      Hatred of the mentally ill IS NOT TRUTH. I would suggest that you do some research before you post anymore comments!

  • MNb

    By definition there are more average people than of your own level. If you have to interact with them it is very handy to have at least one common interest. In The Netherlands that’s typical football (what you American call soccer). As a boy I picked a favourite team and I have always remained loyal. Of course I too have lived in environments without any interest; largely or at least partly my own interest waned as well. But any time when necessary I can brush it up. I know the history, some famous players of the past, have memories. Moreover sports has one huge advantage: there is no need to be logical or consistent. My favourites (deliberately) are not the best in The Netherlands. Still I am very good at bringing up stupid arguments, logical fallacies and all kind of other nonsense to argue why nobody tops my favourites. Of course nobody buys it, but it can provide a lot of fun. It takes intelligence to say something stupid in such a way that everybody gets its stupidity, but has a hard time to figure out why exactly. When I do – during chit chat – people invariably react positively.
    My son is a lot more intelligent than me, even if I belong to the 2% most intelligent Dutch people. He began to ask questions about physics and maths that belong to universitary level at the age of 13. I always stimulated him to read and study (yup, internet is handy) more than school required.
    Point is: if you are smart you figure out how to use your intelligence on ordinary subjects as well. My son has learned it too. Sports doesn’t interest him, but there is other mundane stuff that does.
    So pick something. Anything. In many cases it will help you to avoid social awkwardness. Plus it can be fun. Last World Championship in Brazil I saw all matches of the Dutch team – with half an eye. Still I saw all the good moments.

    • estraven

      This isn’t bad advice, but some people can’t seem to do it. I’m thinking of someone in my life whose relationship to me I’m not going to mention just in case . . . Now my spouse is the kind of guy who can talk about SOMEthing to ANYbody and enjoy the conversation. He’s versatile that way. Not everyone is, and some don’t want to be. They seem to sort of look down on people who can’t converse on their level. Or what they consider their level. Hubby has a PhD but was once a car mechanic and before that a farmer. He’s interested in all things mechanical and agricultural, among other things (not sports, though!). Still, I think he’d be somewhat lonely without me and one or two others in his life.

      • MNb

        Well, I would be lonely without a couple of very important people in my life as well. The consequence of not learning to chit chat is indeed

        “They seem to sort of look down on people who can’t converse on their level.”
        If that’s OK there is no reason to try. But Hank obviously doesn’t look down on average people.

        • estraven

          Well of course he doesn’t.

  • lorimakesquilts

    Sounds like we had the same childhood. Highest ACT scores the school had seen, etc., blah, blah, blah. I did get put in smart kid classes in 7th and 8th grades, but by that time it was too late, depression/anxiety already had me. Mostly I just remember being bored senseless, doing homework in class, doing just enough to get grades good enough to be left alone.

    I agree that geniuses are completely under served and are no less deserving than any other child. When, I see the news reports of another kid inventing something amazing and I feel envious that I never got that kind of support and sad knowing that most still don’t. We’re still wasting our most important resource.

    • SquirrelySue

      School was horribly boring to me. I knew how to read before I went to kindergarten and I was one of the youngest in the class. Most of my high school people are 60 now, I am 59 until January. So when it came to Dick and Jane I was unimpressed. I can’t believe I stayed in school for all those years when I was not so painfully boring when I sent my mind to soar. It was uncomfortable when the teacher called on me when I was out in the universe somewhere.

  • Ellie

    Thank you for your comments. We- and I’m owning it- intelligent have lost a kindred spirit- Robins Williams was genius, creative, sensitive beyond the usual. We receive no more love, nurturing, and understanding than those in the fringes on the opposite end of the norm, and maybe less. I acknowledge you, your intelligence, creativity, sensitivity and that of others on the upper fringes. I know we are not intended to be a majority, thus it is our lot that our path is lonelier. We are blessed with intent and focus, and that ability to create, to make that path more bearable.

  • Adolf Verloc

    I’m sorry, but taking great pride in your intelligence is as ridiculous as taking great pride in your height. It is an attribute, not an accomplishment. You have a right to be proud of things you accomplish with your intelligence, just as you have a right to be proud of being a superior basketball player partially because of your height.

    • Hank Fox

      I searched both the post and comments and didn’t find the words “pride” or “proud” in them. But now you bring it up …

      Ahem. You may not be looking at this the right way. If you’ve been stepped on for the attribute in question — your race, for instance, sexual orientation or, hell, just being short — pride IS a useful response.

      Some large part of what I said here is that bright people DO get stepped on, socially and culturally. Since we don’t have a Bright Pride movement to remedy that, individuals taking pride in their own positive attributes seems like a good thing.

      • MNb

        I suppose AV was thinking of this part:

        “you might actually brag about being a great tennis player, or an accomplished cyclist, or even just play up your handsome/beautiful looks, and people will agree with you. People will admire you.”
        This suggests that you think people should admire you for your intelligence as well.

        • estraven

          I don’t know. I think it’s more of a statement about how it’s seen to be vain to appreciate your own intelligence, while people find it perfectly normal for others to bask in their own athletic prowess or whatever.

          • Ellie

            We try to hide it around most people so that we fit in, can connect and communicate with most people and it takes added effort to function generally. When a person is so different for any reason, that he is viewed as being different, reacted to differently, then he is handicapped in some way. Giftedness is inherited, often like the brain chemistry of depression. I once was the tallest girl in the school and longed to be shorter, and now that is not a concern. In other words, there are some attributes that may change, such as athletic ability, and some that will not, which we will always deal with such as sex, race, in some cases obesity, deafness, and so on. The way one thinks is one of those attributes that won’t change, and along with the higher level, abstract thinking often comes a novel way of seeing the world that is more sensitive. When in the company of others like us we often soar because we have found our natural “fit”. Otherwise we make effort to “fit”. There is a reason why there are those outside the norm- we have the potential to do good for society in novel ways, so our differentness is intentional by nature, and also to perpetuate higher intelligence for the future. So do the things that you are inspired to do, and for those of you who have kids, well, you are fulfilling that natural intent for the future to continue to have “out of the box” thinkers. You are special, and many like myself, were likely not only nurtured but ridiculed for what we were just born with.

          • MNb

            I agree – I don’t think the suggestion is correct given the rest of the article. I just try to point out where AV comes from.

        • teachergriff

          That’s because they should. AV’s response is typical of flyover country’s devaluation of intelligence. It is also an opinion not worth further consideration.

          • MNb

            No, I disagree. What should be admired (or not) is what you do with your intelligence. The same applies to sports and looking good.
            Albert Speer was also a genius (especially regarding logistics). But I don’t think him admirable. Sure, it’s an enormous accomplishment that he enabled the Third Reich to prolongue the war for another six months. I’d still rather wish he hadn’t – that might have saved a lot of suffering.

  • Shayna2

    Check out the Roeper School. It is a school for the gifted & talented. Their philosophy has been the basis for many advances in education & programs for the gifted across the country. If your school uses the concept of the open classroom and supports the idea that each child should work at his/her own pace – thank Roeper!

    • estraven

      I have friends whose kids went to Roeper. They are awesome! We couldn’t afford it nor do the commute.

  • estraven

    So I commented on the blog post Raji Maji recommended (below), and was told that I should go and kill myself for having been diagnosed with clinical depression and having talked about depression as a disease and indicating that the blogger there had no knowledge of depression or mental illness generally. “Stop whining, depressed people!” was the message. “Go kill yourself.” Seriously.

    • Pixie5

      Yep I checked it out myself. I will never go there again! This person seems to have mental problems himself!

  • Machintelligence

    I hope you won’t object to a shameless plug for a program that works with bright school age children: Destination Imagination (and to be fair, Odyssey of the Mind, which is a competing program.) These are team based creative problem solving competitions and reward many aspects of brilliance. Teams of up to 7 students work for months to solve long term problems in the following areas:






    In addition, at the tournament they are given less than 10 minutes to solve an “Instant Challenge” which could be anything from writing rap lyrics to building a tower out of newspaper and duct tape.

    Because of the structure of the challenge, the team needs diversity of brilliance including technical know-how, mechanical ability, story telling (and dreaming up stories),acting, artistic ability, and generally thinking on your feet. Creativity is the name of the game.

    Colorado is a relative hotbed of activity for DI, with over 800 teams around the state. We held 10 regional tournaments and a state tournament, and sent 60 teams to the global final tournament in Knoxville TN.

    Here is a link to the DI website:

    Also a short video about a local team that didn’t make it to globals, but did win an award for outstanding creativity.

    I have been with the program for more than 20 years. How time flies (time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana) — DI joke. I wish there had been something like this when I was a student. I did Science Fair, but it was not nearly as much fun.

  • Edward Colcord

    We’re lucky he chose to stay as long as he did. Gassho

  • Eduan Steenkamp

    So people bet depressed cause they are to smart and not stimulated enough?

  • the standard IQ test is flawed. We all know scary bright when we see it, whether its the woman who can do aquatic equations in her head or the man who writes perfect sonnets, effortlessly. What the IQ test will tell you about those people is “average”.
    The mathematical genius may score perfectly on the math test, but cannot deal with english lit. The sonneteer writes sonnets, but he can’t even begin to understand spatial relationships. So he gets marked down to an average well below his actual intelligence, as does the math lady. I was a precocious reader, loved words, puzzles, all of that. Hand me a math problem (and who really cares about those speeding trains, right) and I would stare at it in horror. So what I do best is undervalued, because what I do worst is added to the mix.
    My husband and I are about equal in IQ, he is math and numbers, I am words. Ive become his thesaurus and spell checker, he does the fancy math if i want to venture beyond cubic inches. Our real talents are hidden under the bushel basket of ‘average” and thats the way every teacher viewed us. Thats where the flaw is. painters, musicians, design geniuses, all get left out of the mix totally, unless they have very determined mentors and parents.

    And as Mr. Fox said, when you’re bright, you learn to hide it. The first time I said “ain’t” in my mother’s presence she nearly took to her bed. You learn to camouflage yourself in poor speech, in sloppy test scores, anything to be accepted into the only peer group you have.

    Highly intelligent people are as deserving of special needs as those of below “average” intelligence. They need to be taught how to function socially, emotionally, how to use what they have productively. No wonder they disappear. Intelligence costs, doesnt it. And like so many creative people in every field, they almost always end up with bipolar problems, depression, or suicide. It seems to be part of the mix.

    • Pixie5

      I am no genius and have never been IQ tested, but I am with you as far as the flaws in IQ tests as they are biased towards math abilities. Actually that is why I decided not to be tested. I would not do well on that. I always thought I was stupid because I didn’t understand math and like you, I found it incredibly boring and I did not see the relevance. But at the age of 50 I am starting to value my other abilities such as writing. I don’t want 1+1 to equal 2! That is too boring! Good writing is always more than the sum of its parts.

  • mark novak

    Thanx. After a tragedy I always enjoy reading about how brilliant some stringer or columnist is. Nice photo of you too. You are so cool. 😛

  • lady_black

    Robin Williams was both genius AND mentally ill. The two conditions have nothing to do with each other. Many of the very best and brightest also suffer from depression and bipolar depression. I also read somewhere that his wife is claiming he was in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease. That’s a death sentence. Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological disorder that always kills it’s victims (providing they don’t die of other causes first) and it’s incurable. It also robs functioning but retains intellect. It’s a terrible way to go out, and I can’t rule out that I myself wouldn’t end my life on my own terms if I received that diagnosis.

    • Richard-judy Magee

      Your post is insightful. But there is a connection between bi-polar disorder and creative genius. For people who harbor a creative potential, a manic or hypomanic episode can spark creativity. Kay Redfield Jamison elaborates on this in her book, Touched with Fire. The typical misunderstanding is that genius and mental illness are per see connected, which, as you note, is entirely false. I always sensed the sadness in Robin Williams and felt it was what let him see into the inner world of his fellow human beings. His death and possible diagnosis of parkinson’s broke my heart.

  • Susan

    Thoughtful article. I know where your people are, as I found them last month. A salvation for every gifted adult and those raising a gifted child. I didn’t realize how starved I was until I was surrounded by a conference full of people just like me. Jump in.

    I think that depression and loneliness come with being highly gifted — the toxin and the antidote constantly struggling for position. Robin was a perfect example, except that he found a way to use his gifts as a communication tool. How exhausting to feel you have to be ‘on’ all the time to fit in. I can only imagine how fearful he might have felt at the thought of not being able to communicate, the thought of no longer fitting in if his ‘gift’ was gone. (My Dad has Parkinson’s, so I understand the future he was facing, especially if it caused him to hallucinate.)

    I have known so many gifted kids and adults who did not know how to sociaIize or communicate outside a handful of people. It’s an incredibly lonely existence. I made a point to actively put my daughter in diverse social situations when she was young, which has greatly helped. I believe it is much harder for kids today to find their true peers due to privacy laws and mainstreaming in schools. And, schools have no money or resources for those exceeding the norms. No child left behind, except if you are high performing, but below your abilities. Kids don’t realize what they are missing unless they reach out online. When I was young, we were all grouped together and we knew who are peers were and I loved it. But even then, I think most still felt alone, different, and depressed at times.

    To Shayna, I used to attend a parent support group at AnnMarie Roeper’s home before she passed. Such a wonderful, caring human being. The school is a wonderful legacy, and I highly recommend everyone watch the film profiling her family’s struggles and of how the school came to be.

  • Chaiah

    Thank you for writing that so eloquently. Growing up, I was one of those brilliant children and then raised one, myself. You did an incredibly good job of explaining what it’s like. Oh, and I cried when Stephen J. Gould died, too. His book “The Mismeasure of Man” is the best book I’ve ever read.

  • Erick Girouard

    It seems a lot of comedians have alcohol or depression problems. And it seems to me that it’s mostly the ones that do observation of life comedy. I don’t have data for this, but it’s the impression I get. And I think the connection is the ability to see life more clearly than most of us. By making us see past the blinders, they turn a mirror on us, and create that typical misdirection/reveal that many say is at the heart of comedy. The misdirection is already there, and it’s their ability to see past it that makes the difference.
    But damn, seeing life that clearly is depressing.

    • I can think of three that touched me deeply: Jonathan Winters (who was Robin Williams’ hero), had his own problems with depression and a whole host of other difficulties, and Freddie Prinze, way back in the 70’s I believe, who was one of the funniest sweetest young men on TV. His rise was incredible, and I think eventually it was too much, and he possibly committed suicide. I wept when he died.

      If you watch this kind of frenetic comedian, there is a sadness behind all of the joking and the voices, the silly stuff and the rough. Watch their eyes. Jackie Gleason was another. There is a depth of sadness in these performers that you don’t see in Alan King, in Jay Leno, in Danny Thomas, in Jack Benny. They perform, they rely on timing, on the language, on delivery. Robin Williams and Freddie Prinze never performed, they enveloped you in a huge bear hug.
      it always reminded me of someone whistling in the dark. The louder the whistle, the less afraid I can pretend to be.

  • Melinda

    This post is excellent and right on.
    I’ve never read such a true recount of all my experiences with my own gifted intelligence. Your emotional and perceptive intelligence is right beyond right and very healing
    Thank you for this deep expression on intelligence and how we can conquer even depression and I did as u and left the family who devalidated my gifts and caused serious loneliness in me.

  • windar

    poorly written. and you bragged about your iq. and mensa is not smart society.

    • Hank Fox

      Poorly written … says the guy who can’t be bothered with capitalization and complete sentences.

      What? I bragged about my IQ? Did you not notice the point I made about the social reaction to discussions of intelligence vs. athletic or musical ability — that if you even MENTION your above-average intelligence as a fact, people accuse you of bragging?

      Case in point: Your comment is about nothing BUT that. You wrote three sentence fragments that have no other object than to diss intelligence, and mention of same.

  • SquirrelySue

    I was born in 1955, the first child, female. Second child came along, male and he was the golden child. Nobody paid much attention to me. Nobody even heard of bipolar back then. It took 49 years for me to be diagnosed. Lucky I wasn’t diagnosed because I was told that females do not go to college, they get married and have babies. So I didn’t like being married, especially to a husband that shifted between religious fanatic to beating me and my son. Fast forward, I went to learn to be a programmer. Didn’t understand anything, but I got every thing right on tests. When we got to the programming languages I did the project in the back of the book instead of beginning in the front and learning something I could already do. They made me a tutor and gave me a degree because they could not teach me anything. I was not a good tutor or boss for that matter, nobody understood this stuff like I did. Nobody could “see” it in their brain like I could. I was only a regular programmer for a few years. I broke out into a specialist programmer that they paid lots of money. I got to the place that paid for me, and if they wanted an entire system written I could see it in my mind and told them I would do it for them but I worked alone, in a room by myself that I could lock. You see, I don’t play well with others. And I don’t work well with others either. If they brought me in to find problems I zeroed in on them right away. I wondered if one day they would ask for all the money back because I was a fraud, I had no idea how this stuff got from somewhere in my brain into the computers, bypassing my consciousness. When I was 49 I was diagnosed with the family disease…lupus. We have a long tradition of lupus in my mom’s family, one we cannot trace as my grandmother was an immigrant. My aunt died from lupus when I was 9 months old. It has now spread to our children, well not mine but some of my cousins and I worry for my niece. The psychologist I saw when I was doing pain management sent me to a psychiatrist and he knew me, even the bottle of water in my hand let him know I was bipolar. With all my other problems I could not, and would not, take meds for lupus or bipolar. I do take a lot of controlled substances now. Effexor for depression. Clonapin to sleep, Xanax when needed, there has to be another one. I was walking around the store with three scrips in my hand that had a street value enough to kill for. Oh yea, vicoden. That started after my triple bypass, horrible pain in my legs. What I really wanted to say is that bipolar and genius in my case, I like to call it straddling the line between genius and insanity. I can’t even remember why I commented. The brain is turning to mush because I don’t use it enough anymore except to contemplate eternity flying around nebulae, skirting black holes, taking care of blind squirrels and too small chipmunks. Living with Loki of Asgard, my beautiful white cat with a black tail. And trying to deal with live in a world out of control. By the way, I always thought I was an alien too.

    • we spend a fortune on children with learning disabllities, insist that they be educated when many of them are barely educable. Kids that have no right to graduate with their peers are shoveled along and handed a real diploma and enter college and a remedial reading program the same day…and yet we let these amazing minds, like yours, Sue, go wandering in the wilderness.
      From what Ive seen in my own travels, and in here, the geniuses among us are as much special needs people as the retarded kids at the other end of the spectrum.
      What I hope to live long enough to see, and probably won’t, is a recognition that just because you’re ‘smart’ doesnt mean you dont have problems that you can solve yourself. We seem to think that terribly intelligent people are also terribly stable, terribly healthy, and that their intelligence allows them to self heal.
      And kids like this need to be recognized and taught how to deal with those brains. Our loss, all the way.

      I wish you well. Truly.

      • SquirrelySue

        Thank you Judy. You might have helped me change from the mood that wanted me to sleep all day to feeling happy. You understand.

        • ive lost a few friends along the way, both physically and emotionally, because they got lost. yeah, I get it. even the moderately intelligent tend to get moved to one side, partly because they make less gifted people nervous. We dumb ourselves down, like racehorses who need to run but dont quite dare. Take care, sue. if anything helps you feel a bit better, that pleases me no end.

          • SquirrelySue

            Judy, I feel like you understand me. We can talk on email if you would like. I am

  • SquirrelySue

    Just remembered something that has not been said since I stopped working. People that got close enough to me always said I should do stand up. They didn’t know that being funny was a tool I used to handle being around other people. I don’t know where it came from, again it bypassed my consciousness. Even when I was working as the programmer who worked alone, I still had to interact with the people (those who wore masks) that I was working for or much better, the people that would be using what I was writing. Despite my social awkwardness, I did try to make my systems easier for the people who used it. They had source documents in those days, technology has passed me by, but I tried to make the entry programs look like their source documents. I last worked at programming in 1999. In 1996, before I got a job that I could stay home to do, I was going to kill myself. I was all ready but since my dad had just died I had to make sure mom could handle not having anyone to drive her anywhere and being lonely in the big house. My brother was in California then, but in a few years he would come home and change our lives forever. But I went off on another subject again, but during this time I was waiting until mom was stable enough, a squirrel saved my life. Ralphi turned out to be female but I didn’t find that out until she had her first litter of pups. When I first met Ralphi she made me laugh, a brand new juvenile squirrel spinning around in my gazebo bird feeder. Soon my feeders were squirrel feeders instead of birds. Chipmunks too. I became a squirrel whisperer, lol. No really, within two weeks Ralphi was sitting on my lap. Looking in the window for me, and when I was upstairs she would climb up to the roof to look down on me from the skylight. That is why I am alive today. An animal that most people think are vermin, are very intelligent and they can establish relationships with humans. I think that is kind of what your dog did for you. I’m just weird enough to want disabled squirrels and chipmunks for pets. But I do have a cat and would love a dog, golden retriever or something smaller. My last dog was so strong she put her head through my car window (plastic as I have a Tracker soft top), and she actually pulled me and slammed me into the side of my car. She was a rescue, terribly afraid of UPS trucks. There must have been a story there.

  • ShannonDee

    I don’t think Robin was a simple case of being too brilliant for the world and living amidst the boring dull background of “everyone else”. From every account I have read, Robin loved people and he found color and wonderment in everything. If he didn’t see such beauty in the world, he couldn’t have created such beauty himself.
    He also may have seen and felt more darkness as well, but I really doubt it had anything to do with being bored amidst a bunch of slow moving minds and lacking in challenge. If anything relates to “us” my guess is that he felt too much and cared too deeply.

    I am sorry your community and schools did not support your intelligence and developmental needs. Not every school or community is like yours. I was lucky enough to grow up somewhere that provided a true challenge for gifted students including classes and extracurriculars. However, even with that kind of support and peer group some of my most brilliant friends have succumbed to depression and other forms mental illness. Some feel they can never be good enough or smart enough. Some become overwhelmed. Some are bored even with the challenges. You could run the whole gambit of issues and situation with their demographic, just as easily as you can with average people. We all have the capacity to suffer regardless of intelligence and environment.

  • Quittingis Gaining

    Hank Fox…good try about Robin but you are wrong as is everything else I’ve seen penned about him since his death. His problem was not that he was too smart for this world, he was too “shy” and also too kind. Fatal combination. His smarts only aggravated everything. He wanted to be kinder and couldn’t and he wanted to be less shy but his public life only made those problems worse. He said himself in many interviews that he came into his own impersonating people and ideas for his mother. Being someone else was the way he materialized himself, as in creating his own self from the fragments of everybody else….and really there was nothing else BUT that. He had no center, he was literally NO ONE. All the “psychiatric” symptoms stemmed from that, the mania and the depression etc, as well as the drive to self-medicate. What literally killed him was the need to trust something that would intervene with the substance abuse and he went to the wrong place…obviously he got the wrong “legit” drug cocktail and the side effects drove him over the edge far enough this time to prevent him from coming back. Its happened to thousands of others. Some cure. The medical racket murdered him too.
    On the other hand if Americans had more true respect for the issue of BEING itself, and the cultural crisis of BEING itself, he might still be with us.
    It is a crisis our culture has created, possibly as a way of avoiding the issue itself. And this avoidance is killing people. Who the hell are we as a people? Why does it feel almost embarrassing to mention this idea at all?
    Well Robin got it and he surrendered to the love all around spite of it, and now he is dead.
    And I for one get it, and I for one will never forget what he was really trying to say through his art and underneath it all too….
    And I will never get over my grief as to why the world is so dammed lost, esp. we in America and this globalized monster we have created….
    Robin Williams “killed” me with his brilliant rapier humor.
    And the kind of truth underneath EVERYTHING he portrayed…seemed to need to be killed too.
    But if we never can get up the courage to confront our lostness in personal, cultural, historical and psychological ways, we’ll never understand what the challenges are for creating a truly kinder more humane and more intelligent world.
    There is just nothing else to do. There was apparently nothing else for that astonishing dude either.
    And we’ll never know his IQ because he wouldn’t allow it.

  • Brad Mayeux

    My IQ was 129 at 14. not astronomical, but high enough so i got bored easily.
    and that was my problem along with one or 2 other things. it caused me drop out of high school as a sophomore. i got my GED a year later and entered college early, but dropped out of that also.
    i eventually became a senior design engineer (non-degreed), then built a company flipping houses. So, i did OK, but it took me a long time to get there because i didnt have the challenge i needed to focus me

  • Reading your article felt like reading my life story. Aside from being a woman who grew up in Canada, there are so many parts of your life that run parallel to mine. I never skipped school, but the constant frustration that comes from seeing what you cannot share with anyone (because it’s flying right over their heads) has led me to wonder if I’m just an extreme narcissist. Loneliness is a problem and I too got a dog, who has helped me to get out into the world when I least feel like it.