I know that this is meant to be a space where I share the positive things in life but after the death of Robin Williams I felt compelled to write this post regarding my experience of depression.
I grew up in the 90’s and was raised watching Robin Williams’ many wonderful movies. I played Mrs Doubtfire so much that my tape burned out, I screamed out load in terror in the cinema at Jumanji, was mesmerised by Aladdin, started dressing like a pirate because of Hook, cried uncontrollably at Good Will Hunting and stopped getting my camera processed in store after One Hour Photo.
I think many people have struggled to comprehend how a person that brought so much light into the world could take their life.
The media has been awash with news and tributes reporting this untimely death. Although most are focused on his extraordinary life, some have chosen to concentrate on the suicide itself with Fox News even going as far as to call it cowardice. I think that these opinions are so conflicting because we try to rationalise things that are difficult to understand – the thing about depression is that it is not a logical illness.
I was formally diagnosed as severely depressed when I was very close to breaking point in my second year at university. I went to the doctors who put me on antidepressants, which initially took the edge of the extremes in my feelings and gave me space from those unbearably dark days. They also allowed me to function in society as a ‘normal’ person; though this break from my emotions was needed, it also left me feeling numb.
Returning to the doctors they kept upping my dosage and eventually sent me to a psychologist once a week. Therapy is so incredibly beneficial for some people but for me it made me feel trapped. I am a “less talking more action” kind of gal. I spouted out what they wanted to hear so I could be released back into the wild with the other humans. I was good at this act and although it looked like I was getting my life back, it was a mask that made it easier for other people to be around me instead of any actual improvement to my mental state.
The fact that people seemed to like this cyborg version of me made me feel imprisoned. To the outside I was ‘better’ but on the inside I felt myself slipping into the darkness. I desperately missed feeling happy. A less reported side effect of depression is the days of euphoric highs where life is blissful and you feel like you can take on the world without breaking a sweat.
I was no longer creative or felt joy. I found the numbness unbearable and knew I had to find a way out from the extremes. I did not want to be fixed or upgraded I just wanted to return to a state of being that was me, however imperfect. I had somehow managed to get so lost that I had forgotten the difference between the girl I once was and the illness.
During my worst points of depression I lost a lot of friends. It is a selfish mental illness that is hard for people to deal with. I was lucky enough to have a handful of people who stood by my side without passing judgement, fussing, making me feel like a burden, or making excuses for my erratic behaviour. Though it must have been difficult for them they defended me, talked to me openly (and at times frankly), were there to hang out with on my good days and stayed in with me on the bad ones.
At the time losing so many people due to my own faults as well as theirs was excruciating, however it was also one of the best things that happened to me. Robin Williams said that:
I used to think that the worst thing in the world was to end up alone. The worst thing is to end up with people that make you feel alone.
I couldn’t agree more.
The times that I was most accepted was when I was acting like how people wanted me to be – I was a clone of them: outwardly happy but miserable inside. I had a similar experience during my recovery, when drugged up I was amenable and people liked it but I was not dealing with the actual issues. I cut those people who made me feel bad about being myself out and surrounded myself with those that liked me and my quirks. As Marilyn Monroe once said:
I am selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.
I have spent most of my life comparing myself to others: not feeling good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, always too weird, too awkward , I always felt that I was too much or too little of everything. I had to learn to let these negative thoughts that had eaten away at me go. I tried (and still do) to actively focus on positives in my life and, over time, the upbeat thoughts began to balance out the toxic ones.
I have accepted that depression is a part of who I am and we have learned to coexist without the help of drugs. I am not cured, there is no such thing. I still have dark days where the thought of getting out of bed is unbearable, I have the occasional panic attack but I do not beat myself up about them. I also still have those super heroes power days but I no longer pine for them when I return to average human strength. I know my triggers and have to be controlled with certain aspects of life that come easy to others, I still come across as odd but that is part of what make me unique.
I intentionally used the word battle to describe my personal experience with depression as, for me, it is a constant fight. The second that I feel I am winning those dark troops get an unexpected edge and I am once again being held captive by my own thoughts. Many people lose this personal crusade; it does not make them a hero or a coward, it merely makes them human.
I swithered whether to post this or not because there are still so many stigmas surrounding mental health. I was scared that people who don’t know about that side of me would start to treat me differently. I don’t want to upset others and also I don’t want to come across as a self proclaimed mental health expert, but then I decided that talking about depression openly was more important than my fears.
There are some great places to go to for help out-with your GP such as Samaritans and Mind who made me feel less isolated but also have a wealth of knowledge for those who want to learn more. These were factors which helped me get to where I am today but the number one thing was the people I had around me. If you are concerned about someone the number one thing that I can say is don’t talk about them but talk to them.
Whether you know me or not please feel free to ask me any questions that you might have as this is something I think we have to start opening up about.