Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The suicide of Robin Williams

will sadden and distress many people. It saddens and deeply distresses me that a man with so much to give should believe he was worth so little. It has also brought back memories which are never too far away.
Depression is a dreadful thing. I have, like most people, had momentary bouts of depression but I have so far been fortunate in not having the deep, lasting depression which is so intensely debilitating. Could it happen? Of course it could. It could happen to any of us. I consider myself very fortunate to have come this far without experiencing "the black dog".
I have a friend who has such bouts of depression. Many of the people we know in common at a knitting group have no understanding of the problem at all. They ask, "Why can't she just snap out of it? Surely she doesn't like being miserable."
Well, she can't "just snap out of it" and no, she doesn't like being miserable.
The frustrating thing is that I don't know how to explain so that they understand this. I don't know how my friend feels because, like any sort of pain, it is an intensely personal thing,
On one occasion when she was hospitalised I offered to go and see her. I phoned the hospital and told them who I was and asked if sh could have visitors. They surprised me by putting my call through to her. She asked me not to come but asked, "Be there for me when I get out of here?" Of course! It is the least I could do for someone who, when well, does much for other people.
Instead of going to visit her I alerted a very old friend, the widow of a Presbyterian minister, who was doing visits at that hospital.
"I'll just pop by," she told me - and she did. It was the start of a friendship. The old friend has now died but my knitter friend still talks about her.
We have talked about my friend being needed by other people. She knows this and she can believe it when she is well but not when she is ill.
My late uncle was cared for in part by a man who desperately needs to be able to help others. He is quite open about the fact that it helps to keep depression at bay but when he is ill he finds it hard to believe that he is needed or wanted.
And all this brings back memories of people I once knew but did not know well enough. One was a highly intelligent research worker who, on the day of her mentor's funeral, ran over the cliffs at Beachy Head. There was no sympathy for her among her colleagues, just anger. But I keep remembering the Saturday morning in an otherwise deserted research unit when she brought me a mug of tea and said, "Can we talk for a moment?"
I let her talk - but it wasn't enough and, although I knew there was a problem, nobody else was listening when I tried to speak up.
And there was a university tutor I knew who had the tell-tale marks on her wrists. Everyone told me she was "over it" but several years later she succeeded in doing what she had failed to do earlier.
Do we ever really know other people? I doubt it. But it should not stop us being there for them. We can't feel their pain for them. We can't experience that deep, dark, colourless world. We can't understand that. What we can and must understand is that they don't choose to be like that.
They can't "snap out of it" and they do not choose to be miserable.
We need to be there for them when it is like that and not condemn them or desert them.


jeanfromcornwall said...

Yes we need to be there for people with depression: they don't ask to be like that, and deserve all the kindness we can give. We also need to forgive ourselves when all the help we can give is not enough.

catdownunder said...

It's hard to forgive oneself for that sort of failure Jean - but yes, we must.