I’m sitting here with the tail end of a ferocious battle with Sinusitis and an upper respiratory infection, aware of the mountain of dishes and laundry that needs to be done but somehow I can not stop scrolling the internet and reading every scrap of information I can about the death of Robin Williams.
He hung himself.
Someone who made his career as a funny man, a jester, hung himself because of depression.
The irony is….well…..yeah, you know.
And I’ve already seen a constant stream, on Facebook, on Tumblr, on the other social media sites I haunt, of an outpouring of grief; of people saying things like “You were too bright for this world”, “You hid your tears behind a veil of laughter” and “A rare and delicate species of a man, maybe too delicate for a place so difficult”
And you know what? That just makes me mad. Like red-hot burning anger at the easy platitudes that come slithering out of people’s mouths.
This overly romanticized idea of depression that spouts forth like a movie of the week – the idea that depression somehow lifts the veil and lets you see life as it really is, that it’s all brooding and dark and angst ridden poetry and staring off pensively into a Californian sunset. That as you suffer with depression you become some kind of broken doll; beautiful, fragile and somehow destined to be ruined by the world around you. The tragic hero with the fatal flaw, Hamlet, Holden Caulfield, Daisy Buchanan, Batman and the self-styled Lana Del Ray.
Depression is feral – there is a reason Winston Churchill called it the Black Dog.
It’s fighting – it’s teeth and claws and blood and pulling yourself up out of that pit by fingernails that want to rip out of their beds and kicking that son of a bitch in the dick and catching your breath as you wait warily for the next round.
Sometimes it’s sitting perfectly still whilst that war screams inside of you, features schooled to a perfect neutral, because if you move, someone’s going to get it.
It’s being tired – so fucking tired, of feeling, of thinking, of being, of keeping it up day after day after day.
And sometimes it’s nothing at all. White noise on an endless loop – and at that point in time you’ll take the feelings back, because otherwise you’re left looking at people from somewhere deep inside a shell that DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO LIFE
and sometimes it’s none of them, for long periods of time and you wait and life goes on and you are happy and you laugh and you buy cheeseburgers and watch TV and have sex and go to work and feel okay.
Of course, I can only speak from my own experiences.
I was diagnosed with depression at the age of 17 after multiple years of fit like states of hysteria that would see me rocking uncontrollably at the slightest turn off the path and smacking my head on the wall behind me. Only acting gave me a safe outlet to explore the darkness inside of me in a way that was relatively safe and socially acceptable. Deep down inside of me, I honestly didn’t believe I was worth anything or anyone’s time. I constantly let myself be someone’s side kick and let them mould me into what they wanted me to be – not that I became something I wasn’t, you understand, I just learnt what those people valued and liked and then let that become the dominant part of my personality – told myself that that’s who I really was, and after a while I just believed myself. Then of course, the inevitable would happen, for whatever reason, that co-dependency would end for the other person and I would be afloat without an anchor and an ill-fitting personality that made me embarrassed to explore on a psychological level. Until the next person came along, that is, and the process would start again. I day dreamed about suicide, spent hours thinking about the most visually striking way to kill myself thought about who might cry at my funeral, decide that there wouldn’t be enough and then decide to stay alive to spite the people who didn’t give a damn about me. Somewhere along the way that just became anger, anger at the whole world and everyone in it, anger at my family, anger at myself. But sometimes that anger was a blessing, it made me get up in the morning and prove people wrong, it made me give a giant “FUCK YOU” to the people I thought wanted to grind me to dust below their heals and reduce me to nothing. In the words of Shakespeare, it made me screw my courage to the sticking place and the very act of waking up each and every day and going about my life with my head held high, became my little rebellion.
I looked for, found, embellished or sometimes created my very own arch nemesis to war with – to give me purpose. Sometimes it was a person, sometimes it was a cause – but every good old-fashioned comic book hero needs a villain don’t they? Don’t get me wrong, I am not, nor have I ever been delusional, I have never truly believed I was a comic book hero, but inspired by the Sci Fi genre and troupes I loved, I perfected the art of the sarcastic off-hand one liner, gradually took on the persona of the tough as nails battle-hardened chick with a smutty sense of humour and a wicked laugh, thought about my life in movie clichés, there was a distance to what I was experiencing – sometimes there still is.
All of this helps to keep the depression at bay. I’m on meds, have been since my diagnosis, and being on them has helped to ground me somewhat – it takes the most extreme edges off my scale, instead of 1 – 10, my scale hovers somewhere between a 3 – 7. I did worry for a while that cutting off the ends of that scale would limit my emotional connectivity as an actor – but it hasn’t. Well, actually I don’t know, sorrow – no, I can tap into that, into that heart wrenching despair, it’s like a greasy barrel drum with a tight lid somewhere in my soul – given the right crowbar, I can leverage that off for the sake of a role – but Joy? Pure unadulterated Joy? I don’t know – I don’t know if I’ve ever been called to experience that, and I think that says a lot for the roles I am drawn to.
I have no doubt I will be on meds for the rest of my life. It’s low-grade, the lowest there is and I sometimes wonder if it’s nothing more than a placebo – but then I try to come off them and after 4 days I’m noticeably shaking and my mood swings are even bigger than they normally are and my ability to deal with any kind of stressful situation goes completely out the window. Is that me just breaking the addiction to the meds I’m on? Not sure, maybe, I don’t know if I’m strong enough to find out.
Being married has forced me to look at a lot of the ways I hide from myself. Lying to yourself is easier than lying to a partner that loves you and cherishes you. I’ve been forced to break down a lot of these personas I wore for years to find that, well, some of them actually just are me and I’m okay with that. I’ve been forced to just sit with things I can’t articulate and let them be, let them try to wash over me and come out the other side. With the help, patience and love of my husband, I’ve learnt a lot about what my depression means to me, what it is, how it manifests, how to deal with it – although, I don’t know if I’ll ever truly be on top of that one. I see a lot of my struggle to live with it and ride it out, in him and I wonder about his own journey. But I think the thing here is that depression is such a personal thing, it’s your relationship with that beast – it’s how you feed it, it’s how you talk to it, it’s who you are on the inside that makes it different for each person. It’s hard to watch people you love go through depression – to resist the urge to simply remind them of all they have to be thankful for in their lives and to try to cajole them out of it – I’ve done it and had it done to me, it rarely works, on the receiving end you feel guilty for not being able to give that person what they so obviously want from you and on the giving end you feel frustrated and useless whilst someone you care about is so resolutely in a pit of their own making. I don’t know what the right answer is in those situations – just be there for them I guess, whatever that means – try to have empathy. For someone who suffers depression, it seems their mind, their soul is a battleground filled with long periods of bloodshed with themselves, and it’s raw, and you don’t know what’s going to trigger another attack, in whatever form it comes. That doesn’t mean that everyone needs to be on eggshells, you don’t need pity, but just realise you are dealing with a solider and everything that means.
Have depression does not make you fragile or delicate or burn too brightly. It makes you a fighter. And it’s not hopeless, even when you have depression, because when you are not in that place, in that hole with that dog, you are living and loving and making memories, good or bad and that’s what makes you fight harder, it gives you a reason to fight
From my experience having depression is like being an alcoholic in so far as you never really stop having depression – you never really get to the point where you can say “I do not suffer from Depression any more” – it’s there, inside of you and learn how to deal and you do that. And sometimes people stop.
Robin Williams stopped fighting – and you know what, he was 63 – that’s a long fight – more power to you buddy, rest well.