18 August 2014

Black dog

Image courtesy of dan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Thousands of words have already been written about the actor and comedian, Robin Williams, in the week since his suicide. I would not have added my own voice, were it not for a friend's comment on my last post, which dealt with my response to feeling less anxious, and how this happier state might have arisen. 

'One thing you didn't explain was what you meant by trying to "think more positively",' my friend said. 'How did you actually do that? It might help other people.'

She was right, it might, and so I gave it further thought. I quickly realised, however, that I couldn't be sure how I was suddenly able to look on the brighter side of life; I hadn't really done anything.

Yes, I had chosen, quite deliberately, to view my wonderful birthday dinner as the turning point in a very difficult year, and my spirits are still high, two months on. But would I have been able to sustain even that first flush of positivity, if a fresh crisis had immediately struck? 

Consciously adopting the view that your life is on the up isn't enough to guarantee contentment. While I'm definitely dealing with trivial causes of anxiety better than usual, perhaps that is more to do with the absence - for now - of any significant domestic or personal difficulties. The fact of the matter is, my new-found optimism has yet to be properly put to the test.

And so to Robin Williams. 

As each fresh layer of his life has been stripped away, a new theory has emerged to explain his death - had he resumed drinking, was it financial problems, or perhaps the diagnosis of Parkinson's Disease? One, some or all of these factors might have contributed to his final act, or maybe something else entirely; we'll never know. 

Perhaps even Robin Williams would have been hard pressed to explain. It can be difficult for anyone to pinpoint what tips them into severe anxiety, depression or suicidal thoughts; the human mind is just so fragile and unpredictable. 

Although I do not fully understand what it is like to be clinically (ie severely) depressed, I do have some small insight into how this might feel.

Earlier this year, for several weeks, I found it difficult to get out of bed and, when I finally did, had to drag myself through the day. Reviewing the symptoms of depression detailed in Mind's booklet, Understanding Depression, I did have a mild form - as opposed to just feeling low - and probably not just then, but on other occasions in the past.

Yet even this insight didn't prevent me from glibly writing of positive thinking, which potentially feeds into the misconception that anxiety and depression are things you can just snap out of. Of course, you can't. Even if you do succeed in thinking positively, it is only a very small piece of a complex mental puzzle.

When a celebrity kills themselves, it's not long before somebody points out, often smugly, that 'Money can't buy you happiness'. Doesn't that comment alone prove how difficult it can be to deal with depression? If beauty, fame and fortune don't provide immunity, then what a truly terrible condition this must be.

RIP Robin Williams.

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For an insight into depression, take a look at Matthew Johnstone's beautifully illustrated 'black dog' story.


Tina Fariss Barbour said...

You're so right, Helen. Depression is a horrible disease that we can't just snap out of. I know what you mean when you say you can't exactly pinpoint how you started thinking more positively. I wonder about positive changes I've made, too, and how I can't tell you exactly how I was able to make them. I think all the good things we do for ourselves contribute to a better ability to be resilient and content.

Sebastian Aiden Daniels said...

I am glad that you are doing well. Cherish that. I deal with frequent bouts of depression still, even though I have come a long way in dealing with my mental illness and it is very tough. You are right that the human mind is fragile. I am glad that I have found your blog through twitter.

Helen Barbour said...

Tina, I'm glad to hear that I'm not the only one slightly lost as to how and why these changes happen!

Helen Barbour said...

Sebastian, I'm glad to have you as a new reader, and I wish you well in your own mental health battles.

Unknown said...

What's worst of all is that almost all the current drugs to treat depression, especially the SSRIs, not only worsen it, but actually cause suicideation in many who never had it before, and dramatically increase suicide attempts & suicides.

No one understands the brain's chemistry, least of all the pharmaceutical companies profiting from carelessly studied drugs. For all we know, it was an anti-depressant medication that drove poor Robin Williams beyond despair.

RIP, Robin.

Take good care of yourself, Helen.

Love, A xxx

Helen Barbour said...

Thanks, Alexandria. Fortunately, I have never had to go on medication to address any mental health issues, but my experience of meds for other ailments has certainly been that the side effects can be worse than the symptoms they are designed to fix!