I was heartbroken to discover today that my childhood idol, the incredibly heartwarming and talented Mr Robin Williams had died aged just 63 at his home in California. Police are currently treating his death as suicide due to asphyxiation, whilst his publicist has spoken of him battling severe depression having also struggled with alcohol and drugs in the past. In July this year he returned to rehab for his sobriety and was seemingly on the up.
Why was such a well loved and world renowned actor taken from us so soon? And why do we as a nation shy away from talking about and recognising the crippling and life-threatening effects of depression? Depression is far greater than just feeling unhappy for a spell, as it’s more likely to make you persistently sad for weeks and months on end. It isn’t a state of mind, it is an illness, not a weakness or inability. People cannot simply snap out of it or pull themselves together as somebody on the outside world may think, because the condition goes much deeper than the surface or day to day outlook. But there is light at the end of the tunnel, and with treatment and support it is possible to make a full recovery.
Although I have never been diagnosed as having depression, for the first time in my life when I was 25yrs old I believe I came very close and nursed myself out of it. I had not long given birth to my son, was terrorised with sleepless nights and teething as a post-pregnancy parent, my chest implants had collapsed and were leaking poisonous silicone into my body making every day agony, and my fiance of six years ended our relationship just days after I returned home from a triple breast reconstruction surgery. Overnight I became a single parent to my two young children, with tubes hanging out of me, unable to walk or stand from medication and heartbroken beyond belief. As I sobbed uncontrollably it would pull on my chest and cut like knives so I had incredibly strong painkillers to allow me to deal with the pain from the surgery, but they did nothing to ease the pain of my heart and mind.
As I was on complete bed rest following my procedure, for days I lay heartbroken in bed, unable to move, unable to do anything for myself, helpless, devastated and unable to shut off. All I could do was think, cry and remember the life that we had shared only hours and even days ago. My heart felt like it was going to explode from the pressure and heaving ache inside my chest. My eyes were constantly sore and puffy from crying, my nose and throat choked from the snot and tears and mounds of tissue at my bedside. And I couldn’t eat, drink or think, just lay and stare through whoever approached me or tried to help. I felt like nobody understood, I felt like the pain would never end, and I felt like a complete and utter failure at life. How could I go on when I couldn’t even stand? How would I raise two children on my own so young and how would I ever stop my heart from breaking? It was as if the entire world fell down around me overnight and the person I needed most who I had always turned to and confided in was gone, and all I could do was mourn. I lost a lot of weight in a very short space of time to the point of looking skeletal, my bones stuck out, I felt sick when food touched my lips and I couldn’t concentrate or make sense of anything. I just wanted to lay in my bed with the curtains closed, trying desperately to stop thinking long enough to fall asleep so that the pain and suffering would go away. My heart, body, mind and soul were incredibly tortured and I couldn’t see a way out. And I believe this is what depression feels like.
Depression affects people in different ways and has many different symptoms, from feeling sad and hopeless to losing interest in what would normally make you happy, or feeling tearful and anxious. It can make you feel tired, restless in sleep, a loss of appetite or sex drive and various aches and pains. At its mildest it can make you feel low, and sadly at its worst it can make you suicidal. Sufferers see life as no longer worth living, feeling impossibly stressed, sad and endlessly anxious. It is therefore incredibly important to seek help and advice from your doctor if you think you may be depressed. It can start from something as small as feeling low for more than a few days, yet many people delay seeking help through embarrassment or not recognising the symptoms. The sooner you seek help the sooner recovery can begin. There can be a trigger for depression in day to day life, from a life changing event, bereavement, losing a job or childbirth. A family history of depression also increases the the likelihood. And at times depression can strike for no apparent reason at all.
Depression is sadly an incredibly common illness, with one in ten of us suffering from it at some point in life. It affects both men and women, young and old, rich or poor, starting with children aged between five to sixteen years. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and treatment is available from medication to talking or combining the two. A doctor can provide a plan based upon the type of depression that an individual is suffering from. Lifestyle changes can also help, such as taking exercise, cutting out alcohol and being more healthy. Self help books and support groups are incredibly worthwhile and surrounding yourself with positive and loving friends and family. When I was at my most lowest point, at worst I wanted to close my eyes and sleep for days on end until the pain would go away. I didn’t want to take my life, but I wanted to be taken away until it had ended. I would have given anything to turn back time to the day before, when everything felt so calm and normal. I clung onto the past, to what had been my reality before it ended, and I think I survived on denial. I couldn’t digest and understand what was happening and so I lived in a daze, a cloud of suffering and starvation. Taking one little gasping breath at a time between sobbing, and knowing that eventually I would run out of tears and hurt and begin to heal.
The first step for me was when my eyes became so raw that I could no longer cry. I lay in bed whimpering and sniffling until after days I eventually fell asleep. I fell into the deepest sleep that felt like years. The aches and pains melted away and my body and mind was free. And when I woke up the next day for the first few sweet seconds I totally forgot about my heartache and pain. As soon as I tried to move it shot me like needles and I remembered how helpless my body was, and again I started to cry. Only this time I decided to stop taking my painkillers. My head felt so clouded, so congested, confused and overrun, I just wanted to wash out my thoughts, to clear my mind and begin over. And oddly enough, when I stopped taking my painkillers I felt the pain of being alive and it helped me. The discomfort of breathing with a chest that was heaving and stitched together was horrendous, but it reminded me that I was here. I no longer felt numb and in a bubble, as gradually the clouds were clearing and I could think and breath properly.
My next step was to get out of bed. And although I’d had a severe upper body surgery, where I’d been unable to walk or move my legs were like jelly, my skin felt hot and tender and when I placed my foot on the floor for the first time I felt as if I’d fall straight through it. It took me an hour to get down the stairs and into the garden, but I was so relieved to be outside, to hear the birds and feel the sunshine on my face. To sit in nature, close my eyes and just breathe. I felt alive and it was beautiful. Day by day my body grew stronger, my tears fell less and I gradually managed to silence my thoughts enough to take short naps and rest and it made a world of difference. I was still incredibly tortured mentally, and at times when I would think I was okay I’d suddenly find myself bursting into tears to the point of sobbing uncontrollably and my whole body shaking. My days were like a roller coaster, one minute I would try to lift myself up and make sense, and the next I would plunge back down, struggling and helpless again.
But each hour that passed I grew stronger, each tear that fell was one less, and each morning I made it out into the garden I recognised how blessed I was to have this chance of recovery. It was the feeling of being reborn, of riding through a terrifying storm and suddenly feeling the calm. I recognise that my suffering was due to three things, firstly a complicated pregnancy and sleep deprivation following the birth of my restless son, secondly the physical condition of my chest collapsing and triple surgery to rebuild me, and thirdly the sudden termination of my relationship and fear of becoming a single parent family. For this reason I didn’t see a doctor because I was able to identify the cause myself. And when friends and family would look at me with sorrowful eyes and pity I somehow pulled a smile onto my face and told them not to worry because I was “okay”. I cried behind closed doors instead, and I lay awake at night alone, hurting and mourning. But as time passed I did heal and I found myself again. And my smile returned all by itself.
My appetite gradually returned, and although I couldn’t manage an entire meal, just a nibble every several hours kept me going and from there I was able to have a little more each day. I became determined not to let this beat me. I saw my life as a beautiful challenge, my two amazing children desperate to hug and hold me, and so I had to rebuild myself so that I could walk into their open arms and smiles. They kept me going, they kept me fighting and for them I am eternally grateful. I needed them and they needed me, and together we could be all we ever needed and more. A month after my surgery, my surgeon advised me that I could exercise which I started with a gentle walk and eventually turned into bodybuilding. I started to read again, burying my nose in inspiring and heart warming books. I went out with friends, played with the children in the park and appreciated the life that I so fortunately have.
Before this happened I would juggle work and the children, bills and busy weekends, and I totally lost myself in life. I wasn’t living a life, I was just alive. Since going through such a testing time I have come out of it a far stronger and happier person, and now I’m no longer simply alive, I am living for the first time ever. I see a butterfly and it makes me smile, the morning breeze smells so sweet and even in the rain I want to laugh and splash in puddles with the children. It can sometimes take a massive tragedy in life to make you realise how blessed you really are. It doesn’t matter how young or old you are, how much money you earn, what car you drive, or how long you’ve been married or single, if depression is going to strike it will do so regardless of your position. But there is light at the end of the tunnel, not darkness. Great strength comes from suffering and understanding from confusion.
The world can seem so cruel and lost, people can weigh you down with their own trouble and strife so that you feel you have nowhere to voice that of your own, but you won’t ever move forwards if you continue to blame others. Yes somebody may have hurt you in love, but you can find happiness again with the true love of your life. You may be in debt but you can work hard to earn the money you need to pay it back and then you will be free of it. And if a loved one has passed away you will always hold a lifetime of beautiful memories in your heart, and can proudly continue their legacy by living your life and raising a family and bloodline in their honour. Life is a journey, an experience and lesson as from weakness comes the greatest strength.
Sadly dear Robin lost his battle with depression, as a man who filled the world with smiles and laughter was suffering silently inside, whilst we mourn this great man please take a moment to reflect on the blessings that you have. The reason for going forward, for taking those baby steps, keeping your chin up and carrying on. The world is full of opportunity, new beginnings and the chance of tomorrow. You can always wipe the slate clean, you can always start over and you can rebuild a life from scratch no matter what you have been through, because that is the beauty of life. It goes on. I please urge you to seek help if you feel you may have depression, to consult your doctor, turn to friends and family, look the beast in the eye and tell it that you will not be beaten. I have never been so happy and at peace in all of my life until this terrible illness darkened my door and I am all the better for sending it on its way. Always remember you are loved and life can be anything that you make it. My inbox is forever open to your thoughts x x x