Poor Robin Williams. A long-term solution for a short-term problem. That’s what they say, isn’t it? ‘They’ being people who’ve probably never had to live with depression.
I’ll come straight out with it. I’ve struggled with depression all my adult life. And anxiety. And life. For people with a brain chemistry like mine, the whole bloody business of just being alive is dangerous and difficult.
I’ll tell you even more. I’m currently in the middle of the worst depression I’ve ever had. It’s been rumbling on for the last couple of years and it’s become almost unbearable. This bout has been triggered by a series of events so bizarre and extraordinary, you probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you. Which I’m not going to do, as everything I say these days ends up in the Daily Mail and this stuff is far too important to me to be treated like just another piece of crap Z-list celebrity gossip. Let’s just say I’ve hit several brick walls at once, and I’ve tried everything, and nothing works.
Today, my twitter and facebook timelines are full of lovely caring people saying things like ‘reach out if you’re down’ and ‘what a loss’. Wonderful sentiments, I’d say the same sort of things if I thought they would help.
Let me explain, as best I can through my foggy brain, what having depression feels like. For me, anyway.
I wake up very early every morning with a split second of OKness, followed immediately by a sledge hammer blow of despair to the solar plexus. If my anxiety is up, I feel what I call The Eagle of Fear flapping at the end of my bed, saying “I’m coming to get you” over and over again. I’m terrified. Sometimes I’m already crying. I don’t feel like I’ve been to sleep at all. My body feels like it’s made of lead.
The horror of having to do a whole day again comes crashing in and I turn over and try to go back to sleep. It never works, because my mind is shouting at me. “There’s no point! You’re useless! There’s nothing out there for you! Give up, shut up, you were never of any value! You can’t do anything right!” Or sometimes it just whispers, a non-stop round of shaming statements “nobody cares, nobody really loves you, you’re unlovable, who gives a fuck, shut up, you’re crap, you’ll never manage, you’re pointless, nobody cares, nobody ever will, nobody is bothered, shut up, nobody cares” etc. All day.
Trying to actually achieve anything becomes harder and harder. I’ve given up trying to raise the funds for college in October, as I can’t get a job that will help me repay the loan. This is the second year in a row, and I really want to retrain as a therapist. I did a week’s TV work recently because I desperately needed the money. I managed to ‘act’ my way through, I was quite convincing, but I couldn’t leave the house for four days afterwards. I can do some things, like drive, as long as the Sat Nav tells me where to go as I can’t seem to remember any routes. I spend my days either walking around outside, looking at people living their lives, wondering how they do it; or inside, on facebook then twitter then facebook, obsessively, wondering if I’ll ever have a life again. I can’t imagine how anyone gets anything together like a holiday or a fancy dress outfit or even a family lunch. It’s like I’m looking at the world from behind a window, but I don’t want to knock on it in case everyone turns round and looks at me.
I’m already finding writing this really hard work, and am tempted to stop and delete. But I won’t. I can’t. I mustn’t give up. I’m trying not to think about what you’ll think of me; but actually, to be honest, I’m beyond caring.
My depression is such that I want to die, but I don’t want to kill myself. There’s a difference. The feelings are so overwhelming and painful and huge that I know it would be so much easier to put myself out, then I don’t have to feel them any more.
But I have two children, who I love, very much, who need me to be here. Even in this state. I’ve seen the pain caused by those poor tortured souls who can’t take any more and leave for ever, and I’m not prepared to do that to my children or my family or my friends. For me, and I’m only speaking for myself, that would be a very selfish thing to do. So I just have to go through the pain, not round it or under it, just through it and I will come out the other side eventually. It’s better that just one person is suffering, rather than more. And anyway, when I’m good, I’m great. If I have to feel like the walking dead for the time being, then so be it.
I know I’ll get better because I’ve done it before, although this one feels like the worst ever but it probably isn’t, and because everybody tells me it won’t last for ever. It feels like it will though. That’s what depression is, an illness that makes you think its lies are the truth. An illness that wants to get you on your own. An illness that hates you. And it’s living inside your head, it feels like there’s no escape. An illness of feelings.
Which is why, dear caring lovely people, it’s impossible for those of us with depression to reach out to you, we’re stuck in our prison. We can’t ask for help. We don’t think we’re worth it, we can’t bear the thought of more rejection, we don’t want to rely on anyone because that’s just too painful. It feels like we’re stuck down a well and your ropes and ladders just aren’t going to be long enough. And if you ask us, we’re going to deny being depressed because we don’t want the attention, we just want to be left alone.
So, how can you tell if someone has depression? By looking very carefully. (It’s a bit like elderly neighbours in the winter, you have to look out for them, they don’t come knocking on your door asking for a blanket.) Our eyes are a dead giveaway. Literally. We are dead behind the eyes. We’re probably not in great physical shape, dirty hair, stained clothes, too thin or too fat. Or we’re ‘busier’ than usual, we’re on the run, we know what’s coming and we’re trying to get away from it. If we don’t balance our negative statements with as many positive ones, then there’s probably something up. We’re not good at returning phone calls, opening letters, dealing with emails and admin etc. We say ‘no’ more than we say ‘yes’. Actually, we hardly ever say ‘yes’.
I believe the days of “pull yourself together” are over, thankfully, and most people know that depression is a mental illness and not just a case of someone being a bit fed up. But it must be very difficult for you to watch your loved ones drowning slowly in what looks like a sea of self-pity, so what can you do to help us?
Of course, there are the well-known solutions to managing depression. Anti-depressants are brilliant, they provide a patch of blue sky in an otherwise clouded world, but it may take a while to find the right one. Therapy is great, as long as we’re ready. Eating is fantastic, but not always easy. Exercise is really good for us, but it’s hard to get the oompf together to get out of the house. Sleep is vital, but good luck with that. Here are some other things that might help:
Firstly, don’t try and cheer us up. We can’t be jollied out of this, it feels terminal and as Robin Williams has shown us today, it can be.
And please don’t expect us to tell you all about it. We can’t. It’s too big.
Your solutions aren’t helpful. Ask us what we want to do about it instead; it’s our illness, we know how it feels and we might not be ready to move yet. Hopefully we will one day, when we’re ready, but not right now.
Be consistent and reliable. If you say you’re going to call, then call. Don’t change the plan at the last minute. Please don’t let us down, even in a tiny way. Even if we don’t show it, we are grateful for your ability to be a constant in an ever-changing world.
Keep reassuring us that this won’t last for ever. We think it will. But we hear you.
Accept us as we are today. We’re not lazy, we’re unwell. It’s like a broken leg of the mind, it takes a while to heal. Don’t try to hurry us up.
Don’t be upset if we refuse your help. Keep offering it. One day we’ll say yes.
Walking’s good. Dogs are good. Walking dogs is great. But a day out at the zoo is too much.
Text us every morning, just to say hello. We won’t reply, but we’ll know you’re there.
Hold our hand. Give us a hug and don’t break away until we do. You may not be able to reach our minds but our bodies will register your care.
Don’t ask anything of us. We have nothing to give. You’ll be the first to know when we have. We can’t deal with stress, or pressure, or any of their more insidious relations like time-keeping and good manners. We are too busy trying to stay alive.
I agree, Robin Williams’ death is a great loss. But it was a bigger loss to him. He lost his self, his soul and his future. Why would he want to carry on?
If you’re depressed right now, then let’s remember that we only have to do today, that’s all. Nothing more. We can do just a day, can’t we? And don’t forget, we haven’t always been like this. The good days will come back. We’ve just go to do as much as we can, when we can.
When I’m better, I’ll write again and let you know what helped.
See you on the other side. Shazbat.