Warning! This post is dealing with the topic of suicide. Please exercise caution if you feel that it is not the right time for you to read this.
My adult daughter woke me in the early hours of this morning to tell me that Robin Williams was dead; suicide at the age of 63 after living with Bipolar Mood Disorder for many years. The news had just come in and she was shocked enough to need to share it immediately. As a friend pointed out later, he was ‘found dead’ and therefore died completely alone. This is so often the case for those who die from suicide and reflects the isolation that the depths of depression can bring; even to those who are clearly loved and admired.
There are so many different roads leading to suicide but before an attempt, a person is usually subsumed by hopelessness and despair. The voice of depression has convinced them that nothing is going to improve and the only way out is to end it all. Those of us who have lived with depression for many decades can sometimes be left with a sense that we are living on borrowed time, that it is only by chance and lucky circumstance we have not been taken into death before now. This sense was starkly portrayed by the characters in the TV series M*A*S*H. They lived each day to the full; seizing the chances they were presented with to experience lightness and connection. They relentlessly occupied their time in an attempt to outrun the horror of death that threatened to engulf them. The backdrop was an army surgical hospital in the Korean War and the theme tune poignantly summarised the mood “…suicide is painless, it brings on many changes and I can take or leave it if I please.”
I can see this same pattern of creative genius, breathtaking skill, utter clownery and the looming shadows of darkness in the life of Robin Williams. He has been such a formative part in our cultural and personal histories through the roles he has played; it is understandable that people are mourning his passing as they would that of a friend. I hope that out of this tragedy, he has finally found peace.
My last experience of being suicidal was the worst I have been through for over thirty years. I was constantly hounded by thoughts that I should kill myself and how much better off everyone would be if I was no longer here. All of my waking time was filled with these horrible imperatives forcing their way into my consciousness; wheedling, mocking, sometimes screaming for me to end my life. The voice of depression told me in no uncertain terms what a waste of space I was and that my continuance was an aberration which needed to be corrected. The only way that I could carry on was to see myself as a wretched scrap of humanity who needed help. In this spirit I was able to treat myself with compassion along with the barely concealed disgust I felt. I managed to instigate some help and the antidepressants that I’d taken each day for years were changed in the hope that the new ones would lift my mood.
At this point I entered a period of bargaining with myself. I was playing for time, trying to delay my suicide by coming up with tasks to perform before I could go through with it. I began to sort through all of my belongings, giving things away, organising what was left so that my family did not have to face this after I was gone. Part of me wanted to systematically put my affairs in order, another part was taking the role of Scheherazade, leaving tales part finished in the hope that eventually enough time would have passed so that my life could be spared. During these months, I became obsessed with reading about suicide; searching for some meaning, some understanding in the actions of others. The fighting piece of my soul was hoping to find a path of redemption through these words. I started gaining ground and eventually there came a day when I realised that I had finally crawled out of danger and started to take some shaky steps forward. It was a while before I engaged with the world again but I remember the day that I did so and I wrote about the experience at the time…
“I can feel the stirring of life and hope again and it is a remarkable process. For the first time in many months I have ideas of things I would like to do, I am engaging in a future for myself. Suddenly the long absence of the belief in continuing life comes into stark focus. Last night I slept without fear and dread and my dreams were filled with delightful images and emotions.
Yesterday as I left the stifling atmosphere of a stressed and overheated building, I felt pleasure when the cool spring breeze touched my skin. Last night I experienced love towards my daughters and spoke of possibilities, of creating something beyond the darkness with a dear friend whose quiet kindness and strong faith in me throughout this hell has kept me breathing more than once.
Dare I believe that I am committing to living again? Yes, I do dare. I am alive, waking up to the world and thrilling in the return of positive emotions once more.”
If you have been affected by the suicide of someone close to you, you can get support from a national organisation called SOBS – Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide. Their helpline is open from 9am until 9pm daily:- 0300 111 5065 http://uk-sobs.org.uk/
If you are currently feeling suicidal, please seek help! Speak to your GP about medication and referral for therapy. Ring the Samaritans any time of the day or night to talk through what you are feeling:- 08457 90 90 90
Find some way of getting through the next minute, the next hour, the next day and you stand a good chance of surviving until you start to enjoy life again.
The words from the blog title are from a poem by Emily Dickinson, a 19th Century American poet and a woman who was no stranger to isolation; both in a physical sense and the emotional seclusion that comes with depression.
The first two verses of this poem are:
I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading–treading–till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through–
And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum–
Kept beating–beating–till I thought
My Mind was going numb–
Andrew Solomon, in his 2013 TED talk (see the video below) speaks these words so eloquently and then goes on to describe his own descent into depression and how he subsequently found a path which led him to explore others’ experiences of mental illness. He speaks powerfully of the resilience that has allowed some sufferers to survive and learn from their depressive episodes.
This blog is intended to be an outlet for those of us who have depression; a place to share how that feels and what we have learnt that has helped to lift us out of the darkness. All the authors here have experience of depression, either through personal experience and / or through treating others who have depression. We want to end the stigma around the condition and educate people about the illness itself.
There is effective treatment which can enable people to learn the tools they need to prevent future bouts of depression but the resources to provide that treatment across Britain are very limited. Part of the reason for the Living with Depression Community of Interest coming into being is to campaign for better resources and to fight for appropriate treatment to be made easily available to all who seek help for their depression.
Please read and share this blog and follow our future posts in order to help us get the word out – Depression is a serious, debilitating illness which can be treated successfully if we can get the resources we need. The treatment pays for itself many times over by saving lost days at work, preventing the emotional and economic costs of relationship breakdown and by harnessing the talents of those whose depression could prevent them from contributing to the world in so many ways.
If someone were to suffer a heart attack and be told that they need to wait months in order to get the medical attention they needed, there would be a national outcry. This is exactly what happens when people have an acute episode of depression. Why is this scandalous anomaly allowed to continue?