I am aware I haven’t blogged in a rather a long amount of weeks and I apologise for my absence, however the past couple of days has sent me crashing back to earth and given me a stark and saddening reminder that absence from talking about mental health issues is not acceptable.
Around the world people are mourning the shocking and terrible loss of the wonderful actor and comedian Robin Williams. On 11th August 2014 he committed suicide after suffering with severe depression which has stunned and devastated his many, many fans and admirers. I myself have been a huge Robin Williams fan ever since I was little girl; ever since I first saw him on TV in Mork and Mindy. The character of Mork and his portrayal by Robin Williams captivated and fascinated me and throughout my childhood and beyond, he has been a beloved person – always been one of my favourites and would make my face (like so many others) light up with laughter and sheer joy merely by his presence on screen. He will be sorely missed by so many people and I cannot bear to imagine the heartbreak his family must be feeling when I feel my own heart has cracked with the news of his untimely death.
Grief, sadness and wanting to leave a tribute to Robin Williams is not my only motivator for writing this post today, but also the tragic circumstances that no doubt instigated Robin Williams to take his own life, which is a horrible reminder of an awful reality that mental illnesses can be the culprit of such devastating consequences. And this consequence has shocked many which was brought both positive and negative consequences.
The most positive thing I have witnessed since the announcement of Robin Williams death – which I know sounds bad written down but bear with me – is that people are talking about mental illness and depression. Even though I eventually had to put a ban on myself from social media for most of yesterday because I kept welling up at all the beautiful quotes, tributes and pictures in his memory – a wonderful, remarkable thing was also happening: a force of supportive, empathic, open, honest energy was being spread on sites such as facebook and twitter; people raising their voices to let their kindness and understanding be known to others and in turn they are doing an incredible service to ending stigma and discrimination surrounding depression, mental illness and suicide. At one point depression and mental illness was trending on twitter which to me proves that barriers are being broken down and even though it has taken such a shocking, tragic event for this to occur, and no matter how much I wish and pine for Robin Williams to still with us in a happier, healthier form – he has created a strong, positive ripple in the world even with his passing.
Not only have people been far more vocal about their support and even of their own experiences of mental illness, but I have no doubts that many who are suffering in silence – or have been deliberating reaching out for help but just haven’t been able to quite make that step – will now hopefully feel that extra bit of courage to seek the help they need, even if it’s just admitting and accepting to themselves first of what they feel is happening to them. This event has reinforced the truth that we need to look out and look after ourselves and others.
However, on the other side of the coin, there has been some speculation and extremely unkind comments from a minority group of people about the tragic end of Robin William’s life. I would like to address those comments now in the hope of encouraging understanding over how a mental illness feels because regardless if it’s a small amount of people or not, these views just should not exist because they are untrue.
Now I’m not suggesting at all that I know the depths of the severity of the type of depression Robin Williams suffered or it how it must’ve felt, however, I do believe I have suffered from depression myself and I have experienced addiction through my eating disorders. You may have noticed that I carefully used the wording ‘believe I have suffered’ as I have never had an official diagnosis of depression. This is due to combination of a few things: I never quite understood what was happening to me and the changes within myself, I was too scared to seek help, and even when I did build up the courage to make an appointment with my GP at the time I had a very bad experience, they were unhelpful and dismissive which only made my problems worse. I will write about this incident in full next week because today I want to concentrate on the feelings and stigmas that surround depression and I think doubt is an appropriate place to start.
Personally, while I spent almost every day trying to figure what I felt was wrong with me, my mind was plagued with doubt. I can pinpoint exactly when my mood first began to drop which was in 2008 where this slowly increasing, sad, sinking feeling crept inside of me but I did not know what was wrong. Were these feelings inside of me depression? No it couldn’t be. Or could it? I didn’t know. I had heard accounts and witnessed other people with depression but I didn’t think my signs and symptoms compared with theirs. I doubted myself because I didn’t even think I was worthy enough of depression. Others were more entitled and justified because of their own difficult circumstances and what exactly was so bad about my life that qualified me to feel this way? I didn’t deserve to be depressed – and not in an egotistical, I’m too good for this kind of way – but because it would be insulting to others who had (in my mind) ‘earnt’ it. Therefore because I had no right, there must’ve been something else wrong.
This example proves how difficult it can be purely to even get a diagnosis of depression. You can’t see it, you can’t touch it, it’s hidden inside your head so, more often than not, generally there is doubt that it even exists and – with depression which can ruthlessly reduce your self-worth and self-esteem – this calls to question whether it is real and living within you or not. Certainly from my own experience I chastised myself for believing I was being melodramatic or self-obsessed for contemplating if I had this mental illness or not.
Therefore I can understand why there are people who find it hard to believe or understand what depression actually is. If I had a broken leg people could see the cast, if I had a cut you could tell how severe or minor it was or how painful it looked. From the outside you can’t always tell if someone is suffering from depression or how much pain they might actually be in which is how it can be masked or misjudged.
To those who are struggling to understand if Robin Williams probably took his own life due to depression, please understand that it is a torturous, painful, twisted illness that feeds on your darkest thoughts and berates you for being a worthless, useless failure sometimes continuously throughout your waking hours and haunts your dreams while you sleep. At my worst I felt despair waking up and knowing I had to be inside my own body, inside my own head with no escape. No escape from the hate and loathing I felt for myself.
To those who are struggling to understand why he took his own life when he appeared to have what many of us desire: a successful career, fame, fortune, talent – please understand that depression could not care less who you are and how much or how little you have. It does not discriminate. People get depression. People. Anyone. Not any particular group.
To those who may comment that surely the world isn’t that bad that you’d be that depressed enough to have to kill yourself, please understand that sometimes it is even worse when things are going well around you and you feel you have no right to be depressed. When you know you should be happy but are unable to, it is incredibly frustrating, confusing and upsetting and equally painful when things are going wrong in your life.
To those who are angry because he didn’t die due to a more comprehendible situation e.g. an accident, a battle with cancer etc., please understand this: Addiction and depression ARE illnesses and can be horrific ones at that. Robin Williams suffered a long, long battle with mental health and even though he may have died by his own hand, it was probably the illness that killed him by driving him into feeling he had no other option.
To those who have described his actions as ‘selfish’…how can I put this diplomatically…? You are a judgemental, small minded asshole. If you want to play the ‘selfish’ card then I can easily play devil’s advocate and argue that is it not also technically selfish to keep someone who is clearly in severe pain and torment kept alive? To continue their existence even if they are at their lowest and miserable and do not want to live because you fear the pain it will cause you? Now I am not advocating or condoning suicide but neither am I condemning it. As much I am upset about the death of Robin Williams and wish that he was still alive, I also have to accept that this was his choice and perhaps this choice meant freedom from the demons of depression and addiction. I know deep down we’d all like to believe that humans can overcome all mental illnesses and be ‘strong’ enough not to feel that suicide is the only option. However I do believe that any human – and I mean anyone, no one is immune from it just like depression – can be pushed to that point where they feel like taking their own life. I sincerely hope it doesn’t happen to anyone but I do believe everyone is capable of feeling that way whether they choose to act upon it or not. Therefore we cannot judge, look down upon or pass someone off as weak for committing suicide. For me, I view it as that person must’ve been in great pain, they deserve empathy and understanding, not some careless jibe that is an insult to their character.
Robin Williams was an incredibly talented, charismatic and well respected man. I’ve read many accounts from his peers and those lucky enough to work with him of his kind, generous and warm nature. He will be sorely missed and ironically people have turned to his movies to them help laugh and smile and be uplifted from the incredibly sad event of his death.
Good night Robin Williams. You’re now free. It’s not your fault