The son of Robin Williams is speaking out about his father’s psychological struggles as well as his own in the wake of the legendary comedian’s death. Zak Williams, 38, sat down with writer and “The Genius Life” podcast host Max Lugavere for a long heart-to-heart, released Wednesday. Their candid conversation included their mutual struggles with depression, anxiety and the pain of watching a loved one be consumed by a debilitating neurodegenerative disease: dementia with Lewy bodies. Both Lugavere and Williams watched a parent suffer through the “frustrating” illness — the pain of which has left a lasting impact on both men. It was a poignant conversation to debut on the day that would have been Robin’s 70th birthday.“What I saw was frustration, ” said Williams of his father’s diagnosis — and misdiagnosis. About two years before his death by suicide in 2014, doctors told Williams he had Parkinson’s disease, a disorder of the central nervous system that affects movement, causing its signature tremors. But an autopsy would later reveal that Robin and his medical team had treated the wrong illness. “What he was going through didn’t match one to one [with] many Parkinson’s patients’ experience, ” said Robin’s eldest child, whose mother is Valerie Velardi, the comic’s first wife. Williams believes his father’s misdiagnosis likely exacerbated the emotional toll that dementia takes on patients. In the years Robin lived without knowing the full scope of his illness, his son observed his struggles to focus and the subsequent “challenges performing his craft, ” contributing to the actor’s anxiety and depression prior to his death.“Lightning-quick recall — that was his signature [onstage], ” Williams said, referring to what his father lost to dementia. Both dementia with Lewy bodies, or DLB, and Parkinson’s disease dementia, or PDD, are subtypes of dementia, marked by a buildup of proteins that clump together in neurons of the brain, inhibiting both the central and autonomic nervous systems. However, DLB distinguishes itself from the other subtype with symptoms including a notable decline in cognitive abilities and struggles with everyday mental activities such as planning, problem-solving, focusing and staying alert, according to the Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson’s. Hallucinations, sleepwalking, mood swings and physical rigidity are also characteristic of DLB. Furthermore, the development of PDD is not guaranteed in all Parkinson’s patients — adding to Robin’s confusion in the years prior to his death.“It was a period for him of intense searching and frustration, ” Williams said. “It’s just devastating. ”That devastation took its toll in the aftermath of his father’s passing — in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism and depression: “I was self-medicating through the trauma using alcohol. ”His waning health, which included bouts with psychosis, ultimately galvanized Williams to seek help — by helping others.
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