The shock is still reverberating about the death of comic genius and all-round nice guy Robin Williams heartbreakingly sad suicide.
“Fancy, all that fame and money and he couldn’t find happiness”
“What did he have to be depressed about?”
“You’d never have guessed”
These are some of the comments I’ve heard today. Offensive? possibly. Naive? Definitely.
Of course you didn’t know. Depression is not something that we shout about. You don’t hear someone loudly informing everyone in earshot of their mental illness do you? No, we leave that to those strangely proud “intolerants” in restaurants who seem to wear their illness as a badge of honour. If you ask us how we are, we say “fine, thanks”, we don’t tell you that we feel like we’re going to smash into a million pieces at any moment or that sometimes the terror of being suffocated by the sadness makes you want to scream.
My illness comes with a badge of shame and until I decided to “come out” there were very few people who knew about my it, and by very few I mean three or four at most. Even now, although I am quite open about “my struggle” I only have one, possibly two people who I can really open up to and be brutally honest with regarding my depression and how it makes me feel. Even then, it makes me feel guilty for burdening someone else with my “problem”, because this disease is so hateful and sinister it makes the sufferer embarrassed about suffering – how perverse is that?
But really, let’s ask ourselves – honestly. If Robin Williams didn’t hide his pain behind a clown’s mask, if he wasn’t as hilariously entertaining would you have loved and accepted him as much? Would you have wanted to see him on a chat show regaling you with tales of how he sometimes couldn’t get out of bed because the blackness had enveloped him? No, of course you wouldn’t. We took the bits that made us feel good and disregarded the rest.
Because the “rest” is embarrassing isn’t it? So, we pretend it’s not there and make sure it stays hidden.
Today has left me feeling sad and scared. It makes me think that if it can get someone like him, with all that talent, energy and “joie-de-vivre”, if it can extinguish his light what chance have I got? It’s made me hate mental illness even more. It’s a nasty, insidious, opportunistic stealer of souls and all of you brave warriors out there battling it have my love, my compassion and my empathy.
I found a quote today that really touched me: “They didn’t know. But now you do. Tell a friend. A family member. A complete stranger. Tell me if you want. Because it can never be worse than what you’ll leave behind.”
Maybe something good will come from Robin Williams death if it makes us all a little less judgemental and a bit more understanding and puts us on the road to ending the stigma attached to mental health. God knows, it’s about time.