Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The Loneliness of the Long Term Depressed.

It's not often that I'm moved to tears by a celebrity's death. Yes, it's sad whenever a person you've admired dies and especially if it's under tragic circumstances or at a particularly young age, but I cannot abide grief tourists who jump on every celebrity death and act as if it is a personal bereavement. Firstly, I feel that it is disrespectful to the family and friends of the deceased who are genuinely grieving and secondly, it's not all about you FGS. But in the case of Robin Williams, it is about me. And it's also about you. And everyone you know. And everyone you don't know. It's about everyone. Because the one thing that his suicide proves is that depression can and does happen to anyone and that we really, really need to talk about it.
Robin Williams had the kind of career that most actors can only dream about, more money than he could ever have needed, a loving wife and children, and was pretty much universally adored by film fans all over the world. Yet in the end, none of that could save him from himself. Depression was something he struggled with for most of his life and although he had publicly stated this in interviews and spoken about his problems with addiction, few people would have known just how deep rooted these problems were for him. In fact, quite possibly, nobody knew except the man himself. Because one thing that anyone who has ever suffered with depression will tell you is that most of the time they will pretend that they are fine.
I've had bouts of severe depression on and off throughout most of my adult life. I've had suicidal thoughts. I once even stood on a bridge for thirty minutes contemplating throwing myself off. Most of the people who know me have no idea about any of this. Why? Because I was ashamed and scared. I was ashamed that I didn't know how to cope with life and I was scared that if I told anyone they would think I was crazy and idiotic and self-absorbed.
The day I stood on the bridge, I was tired. Tired of pretending that I was okay. Tired of putting on an act so I didn't worry my loved ones. Tired of "being strong" and battling the black dog of depression that had been following me for so long. I didn't really want to be dead, I just didn't want to feel all the things I was feeling any more. So what stopped me from going through with it? I could make up something dramatic and poetic about divine intervention or thoughts of my family and the like, but in all honesty, I don't really know why I couldn't go through with it. I think my overriding emotion was fear. At that moment, I was more afraid of dying than I was of living. And that really is the bottom line here. For some people with depression the prospect of carrying on with a life blighted by that kind of darkness is far worse than that of death.
In the last year, I've had a brush with death from DVT, watched my father fight for his life after pneumonia and a heart attack, and had my heart broken twice. All of these things have been hard to bear and the temptation to go back on the anti-depressants I have depended on in the past has been huge, although so far I have resisted. People tell me all the time how strong I am and how well I've handled things, but the truth is they know nothing about the real state of mind I've been in, because as usual, I've played down my despair and tried to hide it from them. I do not think I am a hero for doing this, I think I am a fool. Because if you don't ask for help, you probably won't get it.
I've lost a friend to suicide in the past and one of the things that struck me the most about his passing was how unexpected it was. Nobody seemed to have had any indication that he might be suicidal. Most of us weren't even aware he had been depressed, because he had kept it all to himself, and this is the fundamental lesson we must take from any suicide - if you are depressed, talk to someone. Likewise, if you think someone you know is depressed, talk to them. Talking is our only hope. Ignoring the problem and hoping it gets better just does not work, it only gives it room to grow. There is no magic fix and talking won't save everybody, but it does save some. It's what has saved me in the past, and continues to save me from sliding back into that dark place again.
We must all learn that depression is not something to be ashamed of, or locked away inside of the sufferer. The stigma surrounding mental health issues prevents many people from speaking out and it MUST STOP. The legacy of Robin Williams need not only be his film roles, lets try to make it one of love and start talking.