The untimely death of Robin Williams brought up a whole tsunami of emotions in me and now I’m consequently sat here at 2am writing this. Happy Tuesday.
I bet that made someone feel uncomfortable.
Pretty sure that didn’t. Feel free to challenge me.
It makes me feel physically sick that mental illness is still a taboo subject in 2014. And before you say it, I’m well aware that there’s something overwhelmingly oxymoronic about that sentence. If I were to fall down with a crippling physical illness right now, I could confidently bet that a small army of people would come rushing to my side, positively showering me with sympathy and Anadin Extra. Now, if I were to fall down on the pavement sobbing and holding up a repeat prescription of Prozac, people would most definitely alter their route to avoid me.
But we don’t do that. We don’t cry in public. We don’t show people we’re hurting. And why not? Because we’re not broken on the outside, we’re ever so inconveniently broken on the inside. And that’s a problem. A big one.
As a general rule I tend to refrain from talking about my mental health (making this post seemingly self-contradictory in places, I know) but, nevertheless, here I am. It used to terrify me that people would label me an ‘attention seeker’, but over the past few years I’ve started to view those two words in a completely different light. There’s nothing wrong with seeking attention when you’re trying to save your life. If I hadn’t sought attention, I may not be here today, much like many others. I would’ve been labeled ‘tragic’, or something equally cliché by people who barely knew me. Oh, and the old favourite, people definitely wouldn’t have ‘seen it coming’. Of course not. Because if you don’t seek attention, then how the hell are people supposed to foresee the inevitable? They’re not. And that’s that. All of a sudden you’re in a vicious circle with no guidebook, no phone-a-friend, and no sparkly iPhone app to tell you what the heck to do. Well… Great.
I’ve had my heart broken a grand total of once. And when I say broken, I mean blended (definitely just wrote that as ‘blendered’). Juiced. Chewed up a few thousand times and violently spat out again. Spat under a bus. Under a double decker bus. I think you get the point. I got hurt – really hurt – and it sucked. Bad.
Throughout this period, of which we shall ever so affectionately call ‘Missing: Natalie’s Smile’, I learnt many a life lesson. One being that people will walk out of your life because of mental illness. They’ll cross the street to avoid you. They’ll block your number. Yet, the greatest part of all, they’ll always turn up at your funeral. They’ll probably round it off with a melodramatic performance to rival Meryl Streep too. Salt, wound, anyone? I’ve seen it happen more than once and I’m sure I’ll see it happen again. It’s the age old saying that people only care when you’re dead. Well, some people appear to only understand mental illness when you’re dead too. But it’s not understanding, is it? It’s following the crowd. It’s putting up the Facebook status that everyone expects. Much the same if someone were to die of a physical illness, only this time there was no sympathy beforehand, no ‘Get Well Soon’ card, and definitely no phone call. Mental illness has a habit of driving people away and, just sometimes, there’s not a damned thing you can do about it. As I’m loving the clichés this evening, you well and truly find out who your real friends are when something like this hits you.
Bringing me back to Robin Williams, it’s become increasingly evident that people are forever portraying themselves to be far more understanding when it’s a public figure associated with depression. I’m in no way belittling the situation. Every death is devastating and of course people within the public eye will gather more attention. Rightly so in Robin Williams’ case, especially after all he contributed to society. My point is this. Where were you when it was your friends struggling? Your family? Where were you when your best friend was crying on the bathroom floor at 3am, terrified to call anyone in fear of being laughed at, patronised, or dismissed? Where were you?*
*For all I know, you might well have been there. If so, great. You’re an awesome human being and I hope that one day I come across you.
In reference to the above ramble, Stephen Fry sums up my point way more eloquently that I could ever dream of doing (definite subtle fangirling, don’t judge) –
“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.
Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.”
Puuuuuh-reach. Thanks to my friends who stuck by me. You’re totally amazing and I love you to pieces. But you already knew that, right? Now you reading this (so impolite of me, I apologise) go and do the same for someone you love. Go and ask them if they’re doing OK, how their day’s been, how their job is, even how their morning coffee was. Anything and everything. Please, if you do just one thing today, give someone 5 minutes of your time. You never know what someone else is going through (and nor should you, unless they’ve shouted it from the rooftops), but nevertheless, a kind word can really brighten someone’s day. In the most urgent of situations, it can save a life.
Side note, just as I finished writing this, I refreshed my Twitter page to see the following.
Firstly, unfollowed. Secondly, really? REALLY, though?
You matter. You really, really matter. To me, to your friends, to your family. You are loved beyond comprehension and you contribute so much to the world. Please, if you take anything from this, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. People do care if you’re miserable, I know I do, and there is certainly no law obligating you to be happy. People have bad days, it happens. Sometimes, people have bad months, years, lives. That happens too. It’s time to stop acting like it doesn’t.
Finally, I hope you’re doing OK today. I really do.
Some helpful links:
Samaritans (27 hours a day, 365 days a year) – 08457 90 90 90 / http://www.samaritans.org
Mind (9am-6pm, Mon-Fri) – 0300 123 3393 / http://www.mind.org.uk/
NHS – http://www.nhs.uk/livewell/mentalhealth/Pages/Mentalhealthhome.aspx