Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Fuck you, depression

I've actually never been the hugest fan of the work of Robin Williams, I don't quite know why. I watched Mork and Mindy when I was a kid and I thought it was okayyyyyyyy, and then I watched Dead Poet's Society and found it was just about moving enough to escape schlock. And then... I don't really remember anything else. I've never seen Mrs Doubtfire, Flubber, Jumanji or even Aladdin. I seem to have just sort of missed his whole back catalogue. 

I don't know why this is, to be honest. He had a really kind face and very hairy hands - that's what I remember from interviews. And he always seemed kind of manic. I do know he was almost universally considered a kind, generous man and he had a real soft spot for animals. He rescued many through his life. 

The other thing I always knew about Robin Williams was that he was deeply troubled. I remember my mother telling me, when I was a lot younger, that he was a very depressed guy. I don't know what prompted that - most likely an interview on TV. He was always rather crazy high when speaking, doing impressions and being hilarious. I remember thinking that would be exhausting to be around. 

Now I'm older, wiser and have had quite the gutful of depression myself, I can understand a lot better. For a man that successful, that materially wealthy, that lauded, that popular, that creative, that well thought of, that admired - a family man who did a lot of good in his life - for depression to get even him, well, it's the perfect example of the insidious, evil, unrelenting, icy grip of this illness. 

I speak about it as if it's a separate entity, because as a sufferer, that's how it feels. You're one step away from the edge sometimes. Other times you're many steps away. Sometimes the edge is way out on the horizon and you think you've beaten it, only to wake up the next day and be staring right into the abyss. And it doesn't matter what you have or who you are. You can be a genius singer, a gorgeous young actor, someone who has battled to 63 or someone who only made it to 21, depression takes no prisoners and it has no mercy. 

Sometimes being strong in the way you need to be to live with depression becomes too much. And all it takes is one moment of the false clarity it can give you to know, to really really know, that the world would be better off without you for you to make a decision that would end it all. 

I think many people live on the knife edge of depression and I also think for those who are lucky (so very very lucky) to have never experienced it, it probably seems absurd that someone like Robin Williams chose to die. I don't know the guy, of course, but from what I've read in his interviews, he lived a creative life full of pain. He self medicated with alcohol - something he had returned to in recent years as he went through yet another bout of severe depression - and it got too much, in the end. 

Unlike Rik Mayall's death, I don't feel a personal loss with Robin Williams. I don't really have any treasured memories of his films, but I do have an impression of a warm, lovely, kind man who made millions of people very happy with his work. A man much mourned by his family, his fans and his little rescue pug. And it makes me think of all the other people right now suffering in the same way. 

There's been a lot of worthy stuff spouted since news reports of his death, about depression and anxiety and reaching out to people. I hope people read it and absorb it. For those of you that don't suffer, I am genuinely happy for you (also jealous), I cannot imagine what your world is like. For those that do, please reach out. Talk to someone. Even if the person you choose doesn't seem to be able to help you, keep trying. In the age of the internet, none of us are ever really alone, 24 hours a day. People are out there, on support forums or the good old Samaritans (I called them once many years ago, and I'm so glad I did). 

I hope none of this comes across as patronising or offensive to Mr Williams - I don't know what he was going through and I don't mean to pretend I do. I just hope that something good comes out of his death - and if the only thing can be more communication about depression and anxiety (and that means YOU as well, employers and bosses) then that is another good thing he did. 

Rest In Peace, Robin Williams. I really hope you have found the peace you couldn't get here. Without sounding like a cheesy fool, I do think that the world is worse off without you. 


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