When I woke up on Tuesday morning and read of Robin Williams’ death, I cried.
My earliest memories are of finishing nursery at lunch time and coming home to watch Mork and Mindy on TV. I thought they lived on a Boulder in Colorado, and was worried they might fall off. I remember running around the house saying shazbot and nanu nanu and my mum having no clue what I was on about. I remember being really excited when my cousin gave me some rainbow braces because then I could be just like Mork!
Whenever a celebrity dies, there is a lot of media attention. Column inches are devoted to their obituaries, to speculation about the cause of death, to interviews with people who barely knew them. When Princess Diana died, it seemed like half the world was in mourning and talking about how she had somehow touched their lives; London was practically paved with flowers.
When it’s a young star and drugs are implicated, everyone talks about what a waste it is, how they were such a bright shining talent whose greatest achievement was yet to come; they were taken too soon, blah blah. If they have died in an accident, we tend to get more of the same. If they die of a “real” disease then there is a lot of talk about new treatments, possible cures, how other people are living/coping with the disease.
I have to say, I’m not sure I know which side of that argument I agree with. Even having suffered somewhat badly with depression myself,
and having been so horribly close to suicide more than once, I still find it hard to understand. I still want to tell people to just pick themselves up and get on with it. More than once I have wanted to give someone with depression a big old slap and say “nobody’s going to get through this on your behalf, so get the fuck up!”
On the other hand though, I understand. I know that depression is like an evil, stinking bog monster that sits on your shoulder and offers proof and reasoning as to why the whole world would be better off if you were dead. Although many see suicide as the selfish option, I think the majority of people who kill themselves do so because they genuinely believe their friends and family would be better off without them. At the depths of my depression, people used to say to me “but wouldn’t your family be devastated if you killed yourself?” and my response – the response of the bog monster – was always yes, they would – but they would grieve and then get over it, rather than spend the next 40 years having to try and hold me up as I drag myself through this life. I felt myself unable to cope with life, and a burden on those who tried to help me do so. I spent huge amounts of time having impassioned conversations with people, explaining that people with mental illness should have just as much right as anyone with a physical disease, to go to a clinic in Switzerland and end it all. I genuinely believed that someone who has suffered for years with mental illness should have the right to assisted suicide.
The man who wrote the blog post about it having been Williams’ decision to die has received a lot of negative comments, and even more trolling, for his opinion. But realistically, I think he’s probably right. I think I agree with him. The thing with depression is that it’s not just a chemical imbalance, and you’re very lucky if your depression is “cured” just by some pills to iron that bit out. My personal experience was that the pills just made me able to cope with things like having a shower, getting dressed, putting on a front. They made it easier to pretend I was ok; they didn’t make me actually ok. And the CBT I was offered on the NHS was no massive help either; I remember telling my GP, great, I can write a plan for doing the washing up, but I still want to fling the dishes on the floor and roll around in the sharp edges – they’ll just be clean when I do. The actual being ok didn’t start until I began to argue with that bloody stinking bog monster. And I don’t think that was the pills; I think that was me.
There came a point in my depression where I thought to myself, if you’re going to kill yourself, get on and do it. And if you’re not, then get on and live your life. I felt like I had been living in limbo for months, waiting to see whether I had the nerve to kill myself, weighing up the pros and cons of staying alive. If I stay alive, I’ll see that new movie that’s due out next week. If I die I won’t have to go to that big gathering of people I’m supposed to like at the weekend. I had these conversations in my head constantly, for months.
Robin Williams’ death petrifies me. He was rich and famous; he probably didn’t have money worries or worries about being lonely or unpopular or that he wasn’t loved; the whole world loved him. But I know that all of that counts for nothing at 3am, when that horrible, stinking bog monster is whispering in your ear.
To see that someone with seemingly no possible worries could still succumb to that stinking bog monster makes my position seem that much more precarious. My mental health is still very much a daily effort. I don’t have internal conversations about suicide any longer – because I can’t afford to ever let it get to that point again. I have S now, and am very conscious that I am the only parent she has. Therefore I am hyper aware of the first signs I might be heading in the wrong direction, and I try to do something about that.
I remember when I was an angsty teenager, reading a quote by someone (I think it was Ian Curtis’ wife): how bad must one’s life be, that death seems like the preferable option? To me, hearing of anyone’s suicide is horrible. I have felt that pain; I know what it’s like to feel that you are genuinely alone, that the world really would be better off without you.
I think the thing with depression is that it chips and chips and chips away not just at your ability to stand, but at your desire to stand. and it’s that desire to stand back up that you need, in order to survive. I have no idea where I found the strength to stand up, and I know there is no guarantee I will find it again next time. I cry for Robin Williams because he made it to 63 before he gave up. There but for the grace of God, go I.