I’m not normally one for eulogising a celebrity death. I find it all a bit awkward, if I’m honest – so for fear of saying the wrong thing, I tend to stick to nothing. Robin Williams, though?
That damn near broke my heart. It’s rare to see such universal love and respect blooming in the wake of someone’s death – but what’s been particularly flooring about the circumstances around Robin Williams’ suicide has been the acknowledgement of depression as someone that can hit anyone, no matter who they are, or what they’ve got. There’s been an outpouring of stories of personal struggles with it – and as a result, I figured it’d be the right time to add mine to the chorus in the hope that it might nudge someone to speak out, or get help.
See, I like to think I’m a pretty funny person. I’m not exactly a stand-up comedian, but I’m good for the occasional giggle – and generally, I’d say I’m friendly, chatty, and all the things you don’t tend to think of when you’re describing someone who’s depressed.
Which, at the moment, and for a long time now, would be right. It’s been a while. Right now, I’m good.
When I was depressed, however, none of that changed.
My main experience of depression came shortly after (and arguably, not unrelated to) my decision to stop messing with painkillers, and – ironically – start getting my life together. Things were looking up.
For me, it was like suddenly realising I’d fallen out from under a mask. As though I was holding my outside self a good six inches from my face, and still trying to act with it. I was wearing a ridiculous, ill-fitting, heavy costume for a character I had no idea how to play. (Y’all know I struggle with metaphors – but you get my drift.)
When I was alone, my days and nights were interminably long, and filled with a kind of painful nothingness. At no point would I say I was sad, in the traditional sense. Hell no. I was just numb. Tired. Empty.
But as soon as I was with other people, the stage lights would come on, the curtains would open, and I’d be back to the act. Back to normal. And while the words ‘I need help,’ would be on the tip of my tongue, ‘I’m great! Want to get drunk?’ would come out, no matter how many times I resolved to talk to someone, or to ask for help. If anything, I’d be more bubbly, more outgoing, and more inclined towards black humour – I was my most fun self, because I was playing a part. I didn’t need to be me.
As a result, I’d pretty much managed to convince myself that it wasn’t real.
Because, y’know, if it were real, I wouldn’t be capable of reverting to my regular sunny disposition when other people were around.
In my mind, depressed people would sit there, catatonic, making it clear to everyone that they need help. To be really depressed, I figured, you’d have to be incapable of ‘faking it.’ You’d be in no doubt that you needed help, and you’d get it.
And anyway – I had no reason to be depressed. Objectively, life was pretty good.
So I didn’t get help. For a good two or three months, I’d go out, function entirely normally as I went about my day, and then lie awake at night with a bulk-bought packet of surgical blades and a bottle of aspirin in a jiffy bag under the bed.
Now, I never, ever planned on using them. I wouldn’t. They were almost like a comfort blanket – they were there, just in case things ever got darker than they were. Deep down, I knew I wouldn’t – not necessarily for me, but for the family and friends I knew would be left with my decision – but it was reassuring to know there was an option.
But the thing was – I still wasn’t sad.
I was still numb, tired, and empty. I didn’t feel a thing, other than that I was entirely disconnected from my own life. That there was nobody under the mask. I’d find the hours spent in company exhausting, being the ‘bubbly fat girl,’ and maintaining my reputation as fun, lively, outgoing – and then, I’d go home, relieved to be alone, but crushingly lonely, all at the same time.
In hindsight, I cringe. There were so many people I could’ve told, who would’ve helped me with every drop of kindness and generosity they had. But for me, the decision not to tell anyone was almost beyond control – I knew what I wanted to say, and I knew who I needed to speak to, but the mask was always in the way. In essence, I’d been acting for so long, I’d completely lost my voice.
Eventually, it passed.
The nights got shorter, and I seemed to slowly begin to find my life fit me again. Things got better, life got easier – and as they did, I got help. I sought out a doctor. I used the Samaritans email service – which, if you’re someone, like me, who forgets how to speak when trying to talk about this stuff, is an incredibly useful thing.
And in time, things got good. Y’all know nowadays I’m damn happy – even if I don’t write as much as I’d like, what with work and various other projects I’ve got going on.
But the shadows are still there, in their own way.
I live life probably a little too intensely, and I don’t deal well with doing nothing – partly thanks to an excess of energy, and partly because sometimes, I’m nervous to find out what will happen if I stop. But I’m workin’ on it, by meditating, and looking after myself – and that is more than enough.
My experience, though, is just that – mine.
The thing with depression is that, while it goes by one name, everyone’s experience of it is unique. The media can (and almost certainly will) spend days, weeks, maybe months going over the grim details of why Robin Williams reached such a point – but we need to listen to the hundreds of other stories coming out in response to his death, and realise that it’s not a ‘stupid,’ ‘selfish’ or ‘ridiculous’ decision for someone with ‘nothing to be sad about.’
In that moment, for that person, it’s the only answer to a problem that – to them – feels as though it’ll never go away.
We need to educate ourselves, and each other, on the steps we can take to make things better – to make getting help easier, and to make compassion come naturally. If it’s not something you’ve suffered, it’s almost impossible to understand – and the paradox of suicide is that it’s impossible for us to ever really know what a person was thinking as they reached that point – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t approach it with kindness and an open heart.
It’s part of the reason my whole schtick is about being nice to people.
There’s no way of knowing what’s going on in another person’s life, or what they feel when they’re completely alone – and as a result, it’s a sure-as-hell safer bet that being kind to everyone you meet is hella less likely to screw them up. By the same token, people with mental health issues can’t help that – and, to quote an appropriate source, it’s not your fault. Whether it’s happening to you, or someone you know – it’s not your fault.
But it can be helped.
There are a whole bunch of resources out there – a good list can be found here – to help you get the support you need. And while it may not seem that way at the time, it does pass. Time does heal. It does get better.
Just remember – it’s not your fault.