‘There, but for the grace of God, go I’
Several billion years after its life starts, a star will die. Some will fade into a black dwarf and others will explode in a supernova. I’m not a scientist, nor do I understand astrophysics, but stars die and fade across our infinite galaxies – all the time.
Do we notice them go? We cannot even comprehend the size of our universe, let alone its number of stars, but imagine if Orion’s Rigel (Beta Orionis), one of the brightest stars in our night sky, forming the Hunter’s left knee, went out? Or Mintaka, one of stars forming his belt disappeared – it would be headline news.
For each star that fades, light is lost. On August 4th we remembered those who’d lost their lives in World War One. Many flames extinguished amid sacrifice. And yesterday we remembered a single star Robin Williams, who lost his battle with life itself.
For each star that falls, we mourn.
More often than not, we don’t control the way we go, but sometimes, our life is in our own hands and this is when death touches me more.
I do not fear death. I’m comfortable with my beliefs and fear not walking into that valley, and it’s a route I’ve considered, holding my precious life within my own hands.
Yesterday felt personal to me, and a quote, from an amazing blog post I read, resonated: ‘…here’s the thing about his death that is hurting so many people right now: when someone who publicly advocates for a disease that you’re intimately familiar with decides the pain is too much to bear – even with every resource available to him – what hope is there for the rest of us who battle this disease on a daily basis?’
Where is hope? According to official statistics, there were 5,981 suicides in the UK in 2012.
Depression affects a fifth of all adults in the UK. Look around you, that’s 1 in 5 and we hide it well.
We have the highest rate of self-harm in Europe.
Mixed anxiety and depression is the most common mental health disorder in Britain, and 1 in 4 people will suffer some kind of mental health problem within a year.
Several times yesterday, I saw the word choice being used. Yes, for most of us there is a choice, but the black dog and society sometimes remove choice and the black hole of depression offers no alternative.
When I hit my true lows, when I’m sitting at the bottom of the pit with my head in my hands and my eyes closed – I cannot see those around me, I cannot lift an arm or ask to be pulled up. I cannot see further than the gloom and fog that surround me and sometimes the nothing removes my choice. Depression can be a killer.
I am lucky, whether it be my faith, or my family, or my friends – someone is there to embrace me and lift me out even when I refuse to move.
So, why, when mental health issues are so prevalent, are we still so unwilling to talk about them? Why are treatments so difficult to find? And why are so many suffering in silence?
I’ve self-harmed since I was 14. Had 6 months of anti-depressants at 18 and was offered pointless group therapy. I had a nervous breakdown at 32, 6 more months of anti-depressants and 9 months of private counselling which successfully resolved one major issue. I rejoiced, believing my depression overcome. I soon discovered that depression is not something you get over, it’s something you get through, until the next time.
During the next decade, depression and anxiety raised their ugly head time and time again. Anti-depressants are the first thing offered by doctors already struggling for resources. My experiences with anti-depressants are not fun. My family prefer me present though anxious and depressed, than an empty, emotionless zombie. I choose not to take anti-depressants for a variety of reasons: I don’t want to sleep my life away, I need my creativity, and I want to be me! Anti-depressants and meds have their place, and they have worked, short-term, for me.
Last year I was offered ‘Stress Management’ to help conquer my crippling anxiety. I took the 6 week course, hoping to talk about and share experiences and find answers. While I won’t criticise the course, which was presented very well, it wasn’t for me. I couldn’t find personal answers or help during a weekly 2 hour slide show of things I already knew. If I want to talk or get personal help on the NHS several years will pass before help is offered. Most depressives won’t put themselves on that list, because they believe there are people more worthy, more desperate and in more need than they, which will be true until they become one of the statistics. Help isn’t offered until you do something desperate.
So my family continue to live with a woman who is flawed, cannot answer the telephone, suffers huge bouts of insecurity and paranoia (even after almost twenty-three years of wonderful marriage to my sweetheart, I still ask “Are you sure you’re happy you married me? Wouldn’t you be better off without me?”). A mother who disappears or runs away when things get too much, who has scars that reappear, who panics, and who slips into interminable black holes.
But you know what made me cry and gives me hope? My youngest listened to a friend who suffers all these things too, and said to her “It’s okay, if you ever need someone I’m here, because someone I love is like you and I know how to deal with it.” I’m crying because Robin Williams had people like that and still couldn’t win.
Society needs to understand that depression is a hidden illness, and that it’s generally not something you get over.
It’s a lifelong condition.
Someone once said to me “…but you’re okay now, you’ve got over that depression thing…”
You never get over this depression thing – when people understand that, it will be easier for us all to get through, not over, it.
Offer support and understanding…and don’t let the stars in your life fall.