The Rest Is Silence

*Trigger alert – talk of suicide and depression*

What terrible news to wake to, that Robin Williams lost his battle with depression. I write it like that on purpose, rather than ‘he took his own life.’ He didn’t. Depression and addiction took his life.

I have read so many heartfelt posts and social media statements this morning, saying ‘what a waste’ and ‘if only he’d sought help.’ And I can’t help but feel the need to defend his actions. He clearly did seek help, just as a cancer patient will seek the best care. But sometimes it isn’t enough.

My father died of pneumonia when he was 58, after battling cancer for several years. I believe part of him gave up the fight. But no one would say he took his own life, or blame him for refusing to live with the pain anymore. We think depression can always be treated but sometimes the drugs don’t work. Therapy doesn’t work. Knowing the world loves a version of you that maybe isn’t the complete you surely makes it worse. Knowing you bring joy to millions but not to yourself. I can only imagine how lonely and painful that might be.

So I will mourn his loss, and celebrate his greatness, and hope his suffering may cause others to seek help and live to celebrate another day. I hope people will recognise Depression for the debilitating illness it truly is, rather than a weakness of character.

Many speak of failed suicide attempts giving them new life and new purpose, and I am glad that is true. Matt Haig often writes of surviving suicide and I am grateful he lived to pour his pain and experience into The Humans. But how many more woke determined to try again? There should be no blame, only an attempt at understanding. Robin Williams battled an illness and lost.

Rest in eternal peace, Robin Williams, I hope you have defeated the dark dog within and can walk free.

Depression is an Illness Not a State of Mind

Sometimes sleep isn't enough

Sometimes sleep isn’t enough

I finally had my doctor’s appointment today to talk about getting some chemical support to help me climb out of the pit of despair I have tumbled into over the last two or three years. I nearly didn’t go. The sun is shining, I had a day off this week (to be ill, but a day off is a day off), the school run went well, I felt in control. I felt great.

I’m not depressed, I decided. Why do I need to go to the doctor, I’m just wasting their time. Then I checked my blog. My low periods have been coming every two to four weeks since I last went to see a GP at the beginning of September last year (when the woman told me to get more sleep ‘for the sake of my family’ grrr) and they’re always followed by a period of revelation when I decide I’m better and as long as I read a certain book, implement a change, recite a mantra every day, I’ll be fine. Hmmm.

So I went.

And as the lovely lady (an understanding GP I saw two years ago, not the one from September) asked me about my life, my routine, why I found the school run so stressful, why I couldn’t just re-organise things, get some help, put my kids in after school club, ignore the dishes, I thought here we go again. And as she picked through all my weaknesses and stress points the carefully constructed bubble I’d put around myself burst and the blackness flowed back in.

I sobbed.

I felt so inadequate giving her all the answers I’ve given myself, as I’ve called myself a failure: I shouldn’t need help; my husband does what he can but he works hard too; my mother has earned her stripes and deserves her retirement; I don’t want a cleaner they create mores stress; I gave up work to do the school run, not to pay someone else to do it.

I cried because nothing was going to change. I was still a failure, and there was no help coming. I would still get angry and yell at the kids, I would still neglect my husband and ignore the dog. I would still feel that I prioritise my writing over being a good parent. My mess was all my fault. My chest tightened, the tears fell and the darkness closed around me.

Flowers from my daughter

Flowers from my daughter

Then the GP said, “I agree, you do need medication,” and everything changed. A light shone bright at the end of the tunnel. It isn’t just me. I’m not a failure just because I can’t manage to look after two small children, even with them in childcare or school half the week. I might actually be ill, not crap. And then she talked about different medication options, including the one she prescribed two years ago (I should have taken it then! Ah hindsight, you bitch) and I felt she might actually be able to help.

I was talking last night about the first GP that diagnosed me with depression, fourteen years ago. The man – and I don’t even remember his name – saved my life. He might not have realised it, I certainly didn’t, but that’s what he did. He didn’t suggest I just needed to get a different job or organise my time better or get more sleep. He sat and drew a diagram of the brain on a scrap of paper, he explained about chemical imbalance and the importance of serotonin. He treated me as ill rather than inadequate, poorly not pathetic. He gave me half an hour of his time and my life back.

I accept that depression is hard to diagnose, and that the world is over medicated. I accept that therapy is brilliant and necessary for some people, just as some diabetes can be managed through diet rather than drugs. But Doctors who suggest a few nights sleeping at your mum’s house might fix everything could be doing untold harm.

So I’m glad I went today, I’m grateful for the advice on the blog two weeks ago, encouraging me to go. I might get to the end of six months and nothing will have changed. I’ll still be overwhelmed, angry, a horrible parent teaching my children that shouting is the only form of conflict resolution. I hope not.

As with everything, I’ll keep you posted!