This blog was, and is, mainly going to be about books. But last night saw the death of one of the finest comic actors of our time. My first memory of Robin Williams came as a child, when I used to watch Mork and Mindy on Channel 4. It used to make me giggle so much and as a child I could often be heard saying ‘Nanu, nanu!’ whilst doing his trademark hand sign. Over the years he provided us with some fine pieces of performance in films like Hook, Mrs Doubtfire, Dead Poet’s Society, Good Morning, Vietnam, Fisher King, Jumanji and Aladdin.
It’s incredibly sad to know that this great man was lost to depression. It still baffles me how in this day and age we’re still afraid to talk about mental health issues and depression, as though the conversation will cause some kind of social stigma and make you an outcast, but the truth is it won’t. I’ve often thought that silence is a disease, this belief that brushing it under the carpet and pretending it isn’t happening to you or someone you love and just not talking about it will somehow make it all ok and disappear. But really it’s making it worse.
Depression has touched my life a few of times over the years. I suffered depression quite badly after the death of my father, I just couldn’t cope. It was like being trapped inside a house of repetitive gloom, where I questioned everything. How I could be living and breathing and he was ceasing to do these basic things that gave him life and made him be there and be my dad. It felt like I was walking around in a shell, I felt like a zombie and the basic abilities for survival like sleeping, drinking and eating, lost all appeal to me. I didn’t eat and wash for weeks, I’d have bouts of anxiety and panic attacks. Suicide was a regular thought to me in those days, but if it hadn’t have been for the people around me giving me some outlet for my thoughts and anger, I probably wouldn’t be here today. Sadly, my mother has been severely depressed by the death of my father, and from events in her past, and is currently undergoing therapy. It’s a daily battle for her, and I often don’t know what to say, there’s that curse of silence again. But what I can do is let her know I can listen. And often that’s what I do, I sit and listen and it’s amazing how much that can help. I can visibly see the weight lift off her shoulders and the sun shine on her face, like someone’s pulled back the heavy curtains of doubt and depression that wrap themselves around her and threaten to cut off her view of the world.
But it’s something I had to learn the hard way, to listen. Some years ago now, I was sat in a lecture at college and received a text from a friend, what I read shocked me. A good friend of ours had been found hanged in his room; he’d left a note behind saying he just couldn’t go on anymore. When I think about the kind of person Tom was, no negative word’s spring to mind. He was an absolute joy to be around, a sweet guy who always had a smile on his face. He’d battled with depression for years, I’d seen him just a week before his death and he seemed somewhat subdued and quiet but I just put this down to being tired from work. I kick myself everyday, for not just taking some extra time to ask him if it was more. It’s something I’ll always live with. Perhaps if someone had taken him to one side, offered to listen he’d still be here. What if I would have offered to listen?
You will get people out there who will see suicide as a weakness and to an outsider it can seem this way. It can seem selfish, ‘stupid’ is a word often bandied around in situations like this, but until you have walked a day in those shoes you can’t for one moment understand how the prospect of no more torment, no more painting on a smile for others and no more pretending to be ‘normal’ seems like such an appealing option. The truth is people like my friend Tom and Robin Williams felt that it was their only answer, their only chance of peace. You cannot pass judgment on them or question their motives, but what you can do is try to understand. If you know someone suffering from depression, help them, listen to them, let them know they are loved, keep your eyes and ears open but don’t pretend that ignorance will help. Depression is blind, it doesn’t care if you’re poor, or rich, smart or dumb, ugly or pretty. It affects people from all walks of life and it’s not going to go away just because we choose to ignore it as a society. It will affect you or someone you know, and if it’s not doing so now, it probably will in the future. If you see someone suffering speak to them, chances are they probably already feel abnormal enough without people walking on eggshells and not wanting to address the elephant in the room. If you’re suffering from depression, speak out, if you know someone who suffers, just listen and don’t judge.
To my dear friend Tom, we still miss you. To Robin Williams, rest in peace and thanks for laughs, my thoughts go to your family and friends. And to all those who have lived or are currently living with depression, don’t suffer in silence – let this act as a catalyst to stop this stigma of shame attached to mental health issues and let’s talk about it.