Imagine waking up in the morning and feeling nothing. You’re not hungry or thirsty. You’re not dreading the day or eagerly anticipating it. You feel nothing. Now imagine this was a good day.
I should say up front that this isn’t a typical post. So if you’re looking for novel or publishing information this isn’t the post for you.
On the eleventh of this month we tragically lost a comedy great, Robin Williams. He was a bright star who accompanied us through life. From childhood when he was Mork, and the genie in Aladdin, through to the greats like Good Will Hunting and Good morning, Vietnam. He proved his breadth as an actor and never disappointed us. He was greatly loved and under-appreciated. As with so many things, we took his light for granted.
But why did we lose him? I began to list the victims of this disease and found that the list was too great. I’ve struggled with the idea of this post. Mental illness is one of the last great taboos. Even now we hear talk of not focusing on Mr. Williams death, we should focus on his life. Yes, we should. We should celebrate him and his talent now and for as long as we can so that our children and their children can embrace his genius.
These things happen, right? Except they don’t happen on their own. Picture yourself as he would have been, alone in that room, contemplating the end of your life. Feeling such hollow despair as to have it permeate your bones. I can’t tell you what happened in that room. I can’t tell you what went through his mind. I can tell you that he is not unique.
Depression and other mental health issues are vastly overlooked. People who are already vulnerable and insecure do not always have the courage to stand up and ask for help. They do not believe that they deserve it. Everyone else seems to be doing fine. This quaking fear that resides in your throat constantly reminds you that everyone else is doing great. Every other person on the planet can cope but somehow you can’t. You might look at your life and think that you have nothing to complain about. You may be married, employed, financially secure, so why does the darkness surround you? And it is darkness.
Sometimes it’s despair, sometimes it’s anxiety, more often than not it’s apathy. Sitting on the floor maybe considering your life and relationships, or your daily duties, nothing seems to matter. You don’t matter. Your life doesn’t matter. What difference does it make if you take out the trash, pay the bills… wake up tomorrow? Nothing matters. You don’t matter. No one wants to help you because you’re pathetic. Everyone else can go about their life and here you are feeling sorry for yourself. Is it self-pity? No. It’s the demon in your chest squeezing your heart telling you that no one is here to see you like this because you don’t matter. Maybe you would push them away if they were here but the truth is, it does matter.
But you’re ashamed. Oh you’re so ashamed of yourself. When the door opens and you have to venture into the world you paste on a smile because otherwise they’ll know. You have to be happy. You have to laugh at jokes, and offer some words because if you don’t, they’ll know. The world will know how weak you are, that you can’t help anyone, you can’t help yourself. If you don’t smile then society will notice the gaping hole within you that desperately wants you to open your mouth and scream. Scream out the pain and the hurt and the empty abyss that everyone else avoids but you spend your life teetering on the brink of.
Your hands shake, your sinuses sting, your throat closes, and the pressure in your chest is the warning that you need to get out of here now. If you’re lucky you make it to the bathroom where you can hide the torment. If not, you fake a physical illness and make your excuses. No one would accept anxiety as a reason. That clawing claustrophobia that urges you to cast aside all in your path to gain the freedom of air, outside, in the world where you can breathe again.
Except then you’re outside and breathing doesn’t get easier because nothing around you is familiar. Suddenly you’re lost and tired and you just want to be alone again.
Those are the good days. Some days you feel nothing, think of nothing, breathing is a chore, forget getting up out of bed, forget eating. It’s not a burning desire to die, it’s not a quest for redemption on a higher plane. All you want is to cease to be. You don’t want to go through the possible pain of death. You don’t want to cause your love ones hurt. You certainly don’t want to cause an international uproar of shock and surprise. All you want to do is cease to be.
I told you this wasn’t the typical post. Ignore it if you will. I know this is a sensitive subject. But how many times must we hear of deaths resulting after a battle with this disease? And it is a disease. It can be physical. A lot of mental illnesses are to do with chemical imbalances in the brain, that’s what the medication tries – though often fails – to compensate for.
Do you know many people ashamed of having cancer or other horrific diseases? It’s a disease you can’t understand until you have experience of it. Maybe it will surprise you or a loved one. Mental illness comes in many forms. It’s a secret, a private, personal struggle within a person screaming out for help without ever uttering a word.
Talk about it. Please. I’m not appealing to those with the disease to talk, though of course they should, but it’s not as easy as that. I’m appealing to those who don’t have the disease to talk about it, with each other, with a friend, with anyone. Get talking so that we can bring this disease out into the open. It has to be ok to talk about. It can be terrifying and daunting for those suffering, who already feel alone, to discuss and educate their loved ones about it.
We all have to talk about it. As often as we can. Talk about what you know of the disease, what it must be like to experience, talk about how you might help someone with the disease, research it online, educate yourself. We cannot allow this clandestine killer to proliferate amongst us.
Talk about it. Read about it. Write about it. Don’t be surprised, because next time it could be someone you love who needs help, do you want them to be alone?