Written August 2014
A year ago, I wrote a piece called ‘The frustrations of depression.’ Now that I’m writing again, I wanted to write a follow-up about how things are now. I wasn’t going to do it today, but after the tragic loss of Robin Williams the internet seems to be full of pieces on depression and suicide, so it seems apt to add my own piece to the mix.
For those of you who know me, some of you will know about the depression, and some won’t. For those who didn’t, don’t worry J I’m okay! I am still not always sure if depression is the right word for me. The reason I left work can’t be summed up in the word ‘depression’ so well as it can in several words: a combination of utterly bollocks circumstances which left me desperately tired and weak as a kitten. I was on medication for a while but I didn’t like it, and I don’t think it helped, so I stopped. For me, I was low for good reasons, and talking about and tackling those reasons was far more helpful than pills which gave me weird and very vivid dreams, and also kept me shackled to a generally low ebb.
I still feel overwhelmed sometimes, but I have my ways of coping with it now and much of it seems to be to do with accepting who I am and what I need as an individual, and acting on those instincts. I am someone who often needs time alone. As an old driving instructor once said, I keep my emotions close to the surface. I am quick to laugh, quick to anger, and quick to cry. When I join a group of people, I’ll often be quiet and observe for a while rather than jumping in with a lot of talking. None of that adds up to me being depressed, but it can lead to me feeling depressed if I don’t trust what I want and end up pushing myself too far. If that happens, I tend to need to go and visit my dog in the peace of the country. But I have a lot of things and people in my life who make me very happy, not least dancing, which I will talk more about at another time.
Depression is such a difficult thing to talk about. It is an illness, and I don’t shy away now from thinking: “I feel ill” when I’m feeling low. It helps me to take care of myself better, like you do when you’re feeling unwell- you’re nice to yourself, and that’s what you need. I still have bad days, but it’s all about learning to cope with it. I am so dreadfully sad that Robin Williams couldn’t find a way to cope with his depression. It is, as so many have said, a great shame and a heartrending loss.
If depression is tough to talk about, suicide is ten times worse. It is extraordinary to think it used to be a crime: if people tried to kill themselves, and failed, they could end up in prison. Unbelievable, isn’t it? Even among depression sufferers, there aren’t many who will be able to take calmly a comment like: ‘I thought about killing myself today.’ It is something which goes against every healthy instinct a person has. Someone very close to me tried to kill themselves when I was a teenager, and I didn’t talk about it for years. It’s something so private and so alien, you cannot conceive why anybody would want to do it unless you’ve thought about it yourself. (Just to be clear- I have never considered killing myself. I am okay!) I have heard some people talk about the selfishness of Robin Williams’ suicide, and then get rebuked roundly for it. It sounds like a selfish thing, and I think for people who don’t know what depression is like, it must appear to be the most selfish thing you can do to people you love.
But it is not a selfish thing to do. It is nothing except desperately, desperately sad, for Robin and for everyone who loved him. If someone had terminal cancer, and decided to take their own life, wouldn’t at least some of what we were saying be ‘at least his suffering is over’? That’s why the Academy’s tweet- ‘Genie, you’re free’- was so heartbreakingly poignant. The outpouring of articles and discussion on depression and suicide can only be a good thing. It isn’t catching- if you’re not depressed, other people talking about it isn’t going to make you think that you are, but it might make someone who is suffering seek some help. I hope some people reading this might find it useful, to know that things can and do get better, and you can learn what you need to feel well again.