The news and social media have been full this week with discussions about the sad death of Robin Williams. You’ll no doubt have seen all the dialogue about his troubles and his assumed suicide, some of it very distasteful with very inappropriate comments and speculation.
I have seen a couple of comments asking why there has been such a focus on the death of one man, while there are so many innocents suffering tragic deaths in conflicts around the world. In one sense, I agree. But in another sense, the sad thing about our culture is that it often takes someone in the public eye to experience a tragedy, or suffer an illness for that issue to get the spotlight put on to it and receive the awareness-raising it deserves.
Sharing our stories can help show others they are not alone. This is possibly no more important than with mental ill health, which still suffers from so much stigma and misunderstanding.
Since the actor’s tragic death earlier this week, many bloggers have been coming forward with their own stories of depression. It is useful for others to see that all sorts of people experience depression, and that it is ok to talk about it.
Others have offered advice about dealing with depression. Some of this advice, such as ‘reaching out for help’ though well-meant, reveals a failure to really understand what it is like to have depression.
Depression can feel very lonely, and it can erode your sense of self-worth. You can feel like you don’t want to drag others down with you. This means it can feel difficult to reach out.
Therefore, the best thing you can do to help anyone with depression is to reach out to them.
I have been experiencing depression and anxiety since the death of my baby son, Hugo, earlier this year. It is important to emphasise that grief does not always lead to depression, and depression does not always derive from grief – and that depression often does not have any cause at all. It just is.
My anxiety manifests itself through panic attacks, a sense of constant hypervigilance and that something bad is going to happen. The fear is about nothing specific, and for the life of me I could not articulate what bad thing I expect to happen. It defies rational thinking, which is the problem.
To put it in context though, a life-threatening illness; the emergency, very premature delivery of my son and his death within the space of five weeks – the worst really did happen – my symptoms are probably not surprising.
These symptoms are exhausting emotionally. If you add to this the fact the isolation of grief and the fact that many people don’t know what to say or how to act around the bereaved in general, let alone those who have suffered baby loss, it has become easier to stay away from many social occasions and public places.
Of course, this self-imposed isolation adds to the depression and fuels the anxiety.
I am blessed to have so many kind family members and friends who constantly reach out through texts, emails, and contact on social media. It reminds me that I am loved, and that I am important to them. It stops me feeling alone. I know they will be there for me when I am ready.
Someone recently suggested I am ‘hiding’. As described above, maybe I am, but of course it is so much more complex than that.
I have created a little comfort nest for myself, a nest where I am fully in control. And control, for me, has become a key word. Control is vital when your reserves of emotional resilience are low. Control is about survival.
This post, written by another bereaved mother, felt like it was looking in to my own brain. For me, it fully demonstrated the value of sharing your story so others know they are not the only one. It articulates the reasons for declining invitations: sometimes it’s just too hard, you don’t want pitying looks, or you don’t want to deal with awkwardness.
It’s not about rudeness – it’s about self-preservation. Doing whatever you need to do to get yourself through the days.
These are some examples of what can go through my head when I am faced with going out and talking to people:
- Will there be babies and children there, especially boys, looking all cute and adorable and ready to smash my heart again?
- Will there be parents impatiently shouting at their children, making me want to shout at the parents?
- Will people I talk to say something silly to me, or will there be awkwardness?
- Will people I talk to ask me questions I cannot answer, don’t have an answer, don’t want to answer, or am not ready to answer?
- Will I have a panic attack?
With this cacophony going on in my head, it is no surprise that I am exhausted before I go anywhere, meaning it’s often easier to just not bother.
There are a couple of very dear friends I have seen regularly, and that’s always absolutely fine. On most of the few other occasions I have gone out, despite my reticence it has been absolutely fine.
Sadly, some people on some other occasions have said some silly things to me. It has been without malice, but it has created awkwardness. I’ve prepared things to say, but when it happens on a bad day I just don’t have the emotional resilience to deal with it. That’s not to mention how cross I feel when thinking that I may have to consider the sensitivities of others who feel uncomfortable talking about baby loss.
There are good days and bad days with my depression and anxiety. There are also better mornings and worse afternoons in the same day, and vice versa. That also doesn’t help. On a good day, I’ve made plans with a friend, only to get to a bad day to realise I’m not ready and can’t face it. I’m grateful to have understanding and patient friends. I know everyone is not so fortunate.
So, it’s become, on the whole, easier to ‘hide’ at home, talking to people on social media and wring my blog. But that, of course, is not hiding at all.
If anything, I am hiding in plain sight.
I am recording my journey very publicly, and hopefully sharing my thoughts this way helps my friends and family understand what is going on in my head. It is also helping me make new friends. Complete strangers have also got in touch to say that my candour is helping them.
Sharing stories really can help others with similar troubles and experiences. It needn’t have to be about celebrities – ‘normal’ people’s stories are just as relevant, and important.
Please don’t forget that there are many people with depression and anxiety hiding in plain sight. Many people try to hide it because of the stigma. If you know someone experiencing these illnesses (and remember they are illnesses), do reach out to them. A text, an email or a ‘hello’ on social media to let them know you care and are thinking about them (but with no judgement, no telling them to ‘cheer up’ or similar) really will mean the world to them.