Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Few Words on Depression and Robin Williams (tw: Suicide)

It's been a really rough day to be on the internet. I'm glad this is opening up discussion of depression and mental illness. It's important to understand that this illness affects all of us in so many ways, whether you suffer from it or not. We need to talk about it and keep talking until the stigma surrounding mental illness finally falls away. And there are lots of great and amazing people out there saying a lot of things a lot better than I can, but I'm hoping getting some of these thoughts out can get them out of my head... because it's especially rough on those of us who can sympathise a bit too well.

Last year while at work, we were discussing the trains being late because someone had killed themselves and caused a delay. Most of the talk was respectful, at least (cause I've heard some really awful things about it being selfish to ruin everyone else's day by affecting transport, etc... ). What stuck with me, though, was someone saying, "I just don't understand it. I don't understand wanting to end your own life."

I didn't say anything, of course, but my immediate thought was, "I do." I don't know why I didn't realise it before then, but I finally understood just HOW different my mind was to everyone else's. Like, you mean not everyone fantasises about death and oblivion and the myriad ways you could end it at every given moment? That's my Thursday night. And Friday night. And every other night. I mean, last year was particularly tough for me, so my brain was in a bad place all the time, definitely. But to know, to really know the bleak depths that swallow you up, that desperate desire for everything to simply stop no matter what, the pain that feels as if it will never, ever end... to have your brain sap you of any and everything remotely good and replace it with darkness you can't see your way out of... even words don't quite do it justice, but every one of my fellow suffers of depression - they know it intimately.

Many of us didn't know Robin Williams by anything other than his work, but all of us with depression know exactly how he felt, and probably, like me, are a tiny bit jealous his fight is over. And that's why the internet has been a bit of a dangerous place for us today. Not that I'm in crisis or anything, but I have been avoiding being online too much, because that place in my mind is never too far away. (And if you, like me, have been triggered at all... please, do whatever you need to take care of yourself right now.)

But while the world screams tragedy over his death, I think it's important to not view it as such. Celebrate his life. Rewatch the many, many amazing and touching movies he's made throughout his career. Mourn him, but do not pity him. He wasn't weak nor was he selfish for finally succumbing to his illness. Just the opposite. He fought this darkness inside of him every single day for 63 years. 63 years! I'm barely halfway there, and I think that is a bit of a miracle. And in those 63 years, he has a massive body of work that has touched so many lives and we're all better for it. If I make it that long and I leave even a fraction of his legacy behind, I will feel like I've done something with my time here.

And that's why discussing depression is so important. It is silent and it is deadly. Unfortunately, it still wins far too often, but we only ever hear about it when happens to someone famous. Suicide rates are upsettingly high, and still so many are terrified to admit they suffer from mental illness and get help... because it's not discussed, or discussed in whispers, and we dismiss violent criminals as crazy, we dismiss victims of abuse as crazy, we dismiss a lot of things we don't like or understand that way. And depression already makes you feel alone and isolated and an outsider, and the stigma around it means that feeling is only intensified.

So, talk about it. Ask your friends if they're okay. Ask them especially if you suspect at all that they're not, and hope they trust you enough to give an honest answer. Listen without judgement to everyone around you, especially if they come to you for help. You don't have to understand, but you do have to listen honestly and openly. Don't freak out if what they tell you is scary. It is scary, but don't make it about your feelings, make it about theirs and whatever they need to get the right sort of help. And make sure your loved ones know how much you care. Tell them even if you're sure they know. Tell them over and over, because you never know when the right word at the right time might save a life.

          O Captain! My Captain! our fearful trip is done;
          The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won;
          The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
          While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
          But O heart! heart! heart!
          O the bleeding drops of red,
          Where on the deck my Captain lies,
          Fallen cold and dead.
          O Captain! My Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
          Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;
          For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;
          For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
          Here captain! dear father!
          This arm beneath your head;
          It is some dream that on the deck,
          You've fallen cold and dead.
          My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
          My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
          The ship is anchor'd safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
          From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;

          Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
          But I, with mournful tread,
          Walk the deck my captain lies,
          Fallen cold and dead.

- Walt Whitman, 1865

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