Those who suffer from depression hear this a lot, even from themselves: ‘what have you got to be depressed about?’
I think about that and the answer is very little but the depression doesn’t just go away for thinking that. There is something else going on and depression is not a choice. It’s not something we wake up one morning and think ‘I’ll be depressed today.’ It’s the way it is and it’s not by choice.
We see a range of high profile people who have had a battle with mental illness their whole lives, with recent shocking news regarding Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell. They were successful musicians and had adulation of their following, yet they chose to end their lives.
One of my favourite comedians and actors, Robin Williams, suffered from debilitating mental illness, yet anyone who saw him on any chat show or performing would think he would be the last person to ever be affected. Again, he took his own life and it shocked a lot of people.
With all their success, what did they have to be depressed about?
Surely, they are the very people that should force people to turn the question on its head and ask why they were depressed, leading them to take their own lives.
The simple answer is that it’s an illness, taking hold of the person regardless of who they are or how successful they might be. It wrecks lives, identity, character and self worth of the sufferer, taking so much from them. The individual can switch on, hide behind a mask in public without anyone else knowing, but it takes so much out of a person to continue doing that.
I remember telling a colleague of my issues and their response was ‘You? Depressed! You?’ and they had a time processing it. I was in the grip of a serious episode of depression and anxiety at the time and no-one knew until I told them, such was my ability to hide it, to switch on to perform as me, put the mask on. It absolutely exhausted me at a time when I had little energy and accelerated my burn out but no-one who worked closely with me saw it until I mentioned it.
The celebrities who talk about their battles with mental illness and raise awareness need special praise. They are not victims and should never be a ‘poor me’ disclosure, it’s usually something a bit more pointed to raise awareness of the illness.
Ruby Wax needs immense credit in this regard as she suffers debilitating issues and had tried everything she could find to help her. She went to Oxford Uni and gained a masters in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to help her understand the workings of the brain of those suffering mental illness. Ruby has become a campaigner raising awareness for mental health issues, writing books and touring to bring her knowledge to bear for all to hear. I respect her enormously as she laid her life out for all to see and get an insight into her struggles, then bringing in the techniques which help her battle against the illness.
In short, Ruby Wax is an inspiration. Her book, Frazzled is one that I recommend to all for reading or listening (she reads her own audiobook in her inimitable style) as it gives a wonderfully frank look into mental illness and how she deals with it.
It is not an embarrassment or a black mark in asking for help. It shows strength and understanding, plus there is a sense of relief in not being alone, sharing the burden with someone else. If you are reading this and relate, but haven’t yet spoken with anyone, go do it. Speak with a trusted friend or family member, or book an appointment with your GP. There is no need to suffer in silence and you will be better for it.
As always, be kind to yourself.