I heard a great quote this week, just from someone in the office who I wouldn’t really have expected it from, while she was talking about Robin Williams’ suicide. While I only heard the last part of the conversation, it was clear that she and the other lady in question were taking a sympathetic stand on depression, and an unfavourable view of those in the “just buck up” camp.
“It’s like telling someone not to be so diabetic,” was what she said.
Brilliant. Replace that with any condition. Don’t be so arthritic; so infertile; so elderly. It also works with personalities and attributes; don’t be so funny, so relaxed, so kind, so anxious.
Don’t be so depressed.
So, is depression something you have, or something you are? Something you have or hold? If you hold something, you can put it down. Maybe you can change who you are, maybe not, and I wouldn’t be arrogant enough to decide which is the truth, should such a creature exist in this or any other matter. One thing is certain and that is that Robin Williams has raised awareness of a subject that is still so misunderstood, still taboo and even viewed with suspicion. We may all feel depressed (although depression is a chronic state and not to be confused with feeling down) but depressed enough to take your own life? This is huge, scary stuff. No wonder it gets some people’s backs up, its just a terrifying and incomprehensible thought. What does that kind of depression feel like? I think the key word must be hopelessness. An absolute belief that the emptiness, the heaviness, the blackness, will never lift. Ever. That you have no choice but to let that blackness envelop you; that it has become you. That it is you.
People can be very uncomfortable around those with severe depression, because it can cause them to feel this hopelessness too, and given the choice, they would rather turn away. That’s the whole point; the sufferer can’t turn away. They may put on a face, and many, including our case in point, are extremely good at it, famous for it, even. But it is with them everywhere they go, embroided into the very fabric of their being and saturating their essence. A bleakness, a desperate sorrow, a numbness beyond emotion or capable of reason or fathoming. It is all pervasive, like broth soaking into bread.
I believe that Robin Williams’ greatest legacy will be raising awareness of this terrifying condition. He couldn’t just buck up, he couldn’t just move on. To be truly depressed is to be, in every sense of the word, alone, trapped in your thoughts and living within a prison with no hope of release, bar the one which those who are sympathetic will call tragic, the less so, selfish.
I was moved by the above photo of Robin, because his face shows utterly the kind of despair so typical of this condition, and to see it on a face so loved, so regarded, is, hugely poignant. To be broken by depression is truly tragic, to live with it, terrifying and to witness it, traumatic.
I don’t know what the answer is, much less the problem. But this I do know. We can never understand the mind of another. But we can open our hearts.
Be kind to those around you. You can never know the tragedy behind their eyes.