Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Bangarang.

Robin Williams.
I can't believe it.

This is such shocking and heartbreaking news. Honestly, I can't really think right now, but writing is how I cope, so I'm going to write.

Robin Williams has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. Two of the earliest movies I watched at the cinema were Mrs Doubtfire and Aladdin. In fact I think Aladdin may have been THE first movie I watched at the cinema. He was an amazing and versatile actor, and it almost seems like as I grew, his movies grew with me. After Aladdin came Jumanji (for me, I mean. These aren't necessarily chronological), then Hook, Fern Gully, What Dreams May Come (one of my favourite movies of all time), just to name a few. All movies that made me believe in the magic of life and the power of imagination. One of my favourite scenes from Hook is the one where there's no food on the table, but the Lost Boys are pretending to eat. At first Peter doesn't want to join in with the make believe, but when he finally does (throwing a spoonful of imaginary food at Rufio), the table becomes laden with some of the most delicious looking food my kid-brain had ever seen. Seriously, who doesn't want to eat multicolored goop? I always imagined it tasted like frosting...

Scenes like that opened up a world of possibilities to me. Like maybe just pretending something was real could make it real. This was also around the time I had read Matilda by Roald Dahl, and I was halfway convinced that I could become telekinetic if I just believed it was possible. If Peter Pan could fly and lions could come out of board games, I could certainly move things using only the power of my eyes.

It is horrible to think that someone who brought so much joy and creative inspiration was suffering with their own demons so intensely that they felt they had no options left. It is a very strange place to be in -- the place where death seems like an appealing solution -- and one that I think you can't really understand unless you have been there yourself. As a person who has been there before (I actually lived there for a while), I can tell you that it is not something you can just "shake off". There were people who would tell me repeatedly to just "cheer up" or that I could "stop if I wanted to" and that "happiness is a choice". I'm sure that most of those people had the best intentions, but all those platitudes only served to make me feel even worse. What was wrong with me, then, if the cure was simply to "decide" not to feel this way, yet I couldn't do it?

For a long time I resisted telling anyone what was really going on with me for fear of judgement or ridicule. People could tell that things weren't right, of course, but I vehemently denied all "accusations" (because that's what they felt like) of needing help. It is ridiculous to me to think of this now, because I can't understand why I felt ashamed of being sick. Because that's what I was. I was sick. Mental illness is a disease just as surely as cancer is a disease. No one would ridicule a cancer patient for seeking chemo treatment, so why would people ridicule someone for seeking therapy or going on antidepressants? Yet people do. There is a huge stigma attached to mental illness which prevents people from admitting they are not coping and asking for help. I was not coping. I was damaging my body in ways that will have repercussions for the rest of my life because that seemed like a more acceptable way of dealing with things than to just say, "I need some help. Please help me." I was even afraid for my career -- As you all know by now I am a teacher, and I was scared that I would be unemployable if I had a record of mental health problems. It is crazy to think that I would rather be dead than unemployable, but that's what my choices ultimately meant. I was so afraid of the stigma attached to depression and mental health problems that I was willing to let it kill me. Even now when I'm forced to tell people for whatever reason, I feel the need to clarify that I was never a danger to anyone else, just to myself. Even writing this right now is more difficult than I can say, but I am pushing through it in the hopes that maybe it will reach someone who is struggling.

When I did eventually seek help, it wasn't easy. I went through a lot of idiotic doctors and therapists who treated me like I was just a defective human. One memorable incident was the psychiatrist who, during our first and only appointment, asked me to explain what I was struggling with. He continually cut me off while waiting for "the good part" (literally what that jackass said) and then handed me a box of drugs that were in a trial period (read: untested) and said, "Take these. They'll make you feel better," all within the first five minutes of meeting me. When I asked for information about the drugs, he said there was none available yet, but it's okay, just take them and come back in two weeks. I tried to talk to him and tell him what was happening to see if those drugs were even a good fit for me, but he basically told me to just take them and shut up. So I shut up. I felt like if a person I was literally paying to listen to me won't listen to me, who the hell will? He confirmed that I was, indeed, worthless and a waste of space. I left and spent the night alone in my apartment, making bad choices.

I didn't ever take those drugs. In fact, I still have them.

It took over a decade to find a person who was actually interested in helping me, but by that time I had completely given up hope and had decided to just let the depression "have me". I found this person completely by accident (which is another story on its own), and it took a very long time for me to trust that she wouldn't just throw drugs at me and collect my money. It took me even longer still to be completely honest about everything and finally get the help I so desperately needed. Over time I started to see small glimmers of light and hope in the world, and, with the help of a certain band, I feel like I can say I have made it through my darkest times.

My point is this: If there wasn't such a stigma attached to mental illness, I could have sought help a lot sooner. I didn't need to waste the majority of my life stuck in the dark and twisty place. It is so horrible to think about how many people die from suicide each year, because it is completely preventable. If people were able to speak up without fear of ridicule, judgement, and labels, they could get help before it is too late. We need to start treating mental illness like a real disease because it IS a real disease. It gets in your head and lies to you, and sucks every ounce of joy from your life. It can make you feel like you don't even exist in the real world; like you are living behind glass or underwater and no one can hear you scream. It makes everything difficult beyond belief. There were days when I would breathe in and not breathe out until my lungs hurt and I felt dizzy because it was too difficult. Imagine living like that -- where it literally hurts to breathe -- but thinking that was a more favourable option than just asking for help. We need to change this. People with mental illnesses are not weak, stupid, pathetic, attention seekers, worthless, or any of the other awful labels thrown around. They can't just "decide" to get better any more than a person with a broken leg can "decide" not to have a broken leg anymore. If you know someone who you suspect might be struggling, reach out to them. Don't tell them to cheer up or to look on the bright side of life or any of that crap. Just listen. Don't ask for reasons or explanations. Be there. Let them know they aren't alone and that you won't abandon them when things get hard (this is a very real fear). Gently encourage them to get help, but don't abandon them when they do, thinking that the doctors have it covered. The most important thing is just to be there. Care about them. Make sure they know you value them and your life is better with them in it. And if you are the one who is struggling, know that from a person who could have very easily not been here today, it does get better. But you need to seek help. It doesn't have to be from a doctor right away; start by talking to someone you trust. Be honest. I promise it won't be as bad as you think it will be. I was convinced my mum would hate me if I told her about what was happening, but she still loves me. I'm pretty sure, anyway. Or if that seems too hard, start by calling an anonymous hotline. Sometimes it can be easier to talk to a perfect stranger than it is to talk to a loved one. Just don't suffer alone. It doesn't have to be like this. I promise it can get better.

Robin Williams, I'm so sorry that you felt this was your only way out. I hope you've found peace. You will be dearly missed and remembered forever. As many people have already said today...Genie, you're free.




If you or someone you know needs help, please contact someone. There is always someone who will help.