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Depression is an illness – not a lifestyle choice! – by Debbie

Depression is an illness – not a lifestyle choice!

DepressionI was away on holiday this week when news of Robin Williams death reached me via my
Facebook newsfeed, and I was deeply saddened to read that he had taken his own life. I had not been aware previously of his battles with addiction and mental illness, and like so many others, only knew of him through his comedy and films.

I thought twice about writing this blog. I am generally not one to speak out publically when people die, or terrible things happen – it always feels a bit like jumping on the bandwagon, exploiting someone else’s misfortune to say things that would never had been said if they were still alive.

Those that know me will know that I am not one with a general interest in celebrities and the
vagaries of their lives, and whilst every untimely death is tragic, many of these stories simply
pass me by. Not so with this.

There is something about Robin Williams’ death which has touched me deeply; it has got
under my skin and left feelings of sadness in me which I’m struggling to understand. Since
returning from Cornwall yesterday, I have been looking at the many news reports, stories
and tributes to this great man – and I’ve been trying to work out what it is about him, and his
passing, that has struck such a chord with me.

What keeps coming back to me over and over, and leaves such a profound sense of
sadness, is that someone who brought so much joy and laughter to innumerable lives could,
though mental illness, be denied those feelings in his own life. It seems such a cruel irony!
I have read the headlines , “What did he have to be depressed about?” – like there’s a selfish ingratitude in someone like Robin Williams being depressed and taking his own life; a
lifestyle choice to turn his back on all the positive and good that surrounded him.


Robin with his friend Koko

There’s an echo in those words, a memory stirred from when my daughter’s depression took her to the edge of suicide. “What has she got to be depressed about?”, people used to say to me – she’s so pretty, clever, popular, funny and so on …

Do you think being told that would make you feel any better? No, it is likely to make you feel even worse – makes you feel a failure all over again, for not being able to appreciate the good things in your life, reinforces your sense of worthlessness, and feelings of guilt and
shame. I can only imagine that for someone like Robin Williams, famous and universally
known, not being able to enjoy what you have and all you’ve achieved must have been so,
so painful.

Because this is not a choice! Nobody would choose this for themselves, any more than they
would choose to have cancer, or any other potentially life-limiting illness. Mental illness is
just that – an illness. And just because it’s an illness of the mind and not the body, does not
make it any less real or any less of an illness. Like any illness, it needs treatment, and for
many this is simply not available when it is most needed.

My son broke his leg when he was 6 years old. He cried with the pain, but within hours
he was in hospital, receiving appropriate pain relief and treatment. People offered him
sympathy and understanding; the cast on his leg identified the problem. Friends and
teachers understood his limitations, knew there were things he would struggle to do, made
allowances and accommodated his needs. Why then are we so ill-prepared to make
allowances for someone who is struggling mentally?

My daughter developed severe mental health issues at the age of 15. For several years,
depression, anxiety, eating issues and self-harm reduced her life to a desolate wasteland.
She cried in pain every day, but her pain was emotional not physical. It took 6 months to get
her any help, during which time her symptoms deteriorated to the point where she no longer
wanted to live. She could no longer cope with the pain she was feeling. Maybe that’s why
I’m so touched by this story, because we came so close to losing her.

Why, in our society, is it considered acceptable that people with mental illness are so
frequently left unsupported? Why are they judged as weak or selfish? And why do people
think it’s ok to make comments like “snap out of it” or “pull yourself together”? Again, these
suggest there is an element of choice! Only those who haven’t witnessed what mental
illness can do to someone would make these comments.

And before passing judgement, people need to understand that mental illness is no
respector of fame, wealth, success, intelligence, looks … You can have all these things and
still struggle with mental illness – it can affect anyone at any time!

To those that judge someone for taking their life, we cannot know the pain that someone
else is feeling, or how desperate it must be for someone to find themselves in a situation
where suicide seems like the only option. It is beyond heart-breaking to think of anyone
finding themselves in such a place.

To those who say that Robin Williams’ suicide was selfish and a ‘waste’, I would say this …
Robin Williams has brightened this world with his talent, generosity and warmth, and whilst
it will be a poorer place without him, his life is not ‘wasted’. How can it be when his comic
genius and often poignant acting has touched and enriched so many lives – including mine.

He had left a legacy that will live on, and continue to bring joy and laughter which, it would
seem, is what he most wanted to do.

RIP Robin Williams

If you are affected by depression, and struggling with suicidal thoughts, please talk to
someone – a friend, family member or health professional. Or you can call Samaritans 24
hours a day on 08457 90 90 90


6 Responses so far.

  1. sofia livingstone says:

    Debs, what you have written is beautiful and so heart felt it has moved me to tears. Bless you for having this gift to write and help others to recognise and empathise with mental illness because you and your daughter have travelled such a deep journey together. I feel the same way, depression has so many arms and I’m still clearing stuff relating to my core hopelessness and seemingly beginning to win the ‘battle’ but still having to clear metal poisoning, viruses and other UFOs that come in as a result of lack of self love. There is also a bigger picture that I see which is one of healing the blood line, those of us that are here now to help the shift happen, not an easy task but one that is essential.

    To walk this deep journey as you have, has opened my heart and continues to be the portal for my soul awakening. Bless you for sharing your soul journey with me/us and know that you are not alone in this, we are all one and love is more powerful that anything else. This I’m finally seeing as I begin to self love at last and just writing this reduces me to tears, to think of the self abandonment that I have had and that clearly Robin Williams felt at a deeper level. Sofia xxx

  2. Rob Bailey says:

    I hope those who are feeling this illness in their depths can find the courage to ask for help, or a smile, or someone to hold their hand. It seems so simple, but such an obstacle. Depression and isolation go hand in hand.
    Some people who are not able to empathise with depression tend to distance themselves from it, or at least keep a respectful distance.
    Those who are depressed (i speak from experience) see problems everywhere. When presented with simple suggestions we tend to regard them as invasive, unsympathetic. This is part of the bargain one makes internally; to keep others at arms length.
    One of the most terrifying things for someone who is depressed is to recognise that there may actually be a cure. So much of the chemistry for that simply must happen internally, but to be open to that change, to really feel its possibilities, one must be open to the world, to its sadness, to its joys, and to the help that others provide.
    Sometimes the best help one can receive is simply not to be physically or socially isolated – to have someone visit regularly who doesn’t necessarily keep asking “what’s wrong?”, or “what can i do to help?”, but who simply goes about the essential daily business – making tea for two, cleaning, cooking…AND allowing themselves to get cross with the depressed person (demonstrating authenticity). Being deppressed does not make you special, or more important than anyone else, nonetheless your feelings do matter. But unless you can integrate those powerful, achingly intense, visceral and STRENGTHENING feelings into daily living – by ALSO making tea, cleaning, cooking, working, excercising, and LAUGHING DAMMIT, then really, treat yourself to a quick and painless exit.

  3. Keryn says:

    I myself suffers from depression, they say that it is an illness…. Please give me a cure!
    I fully understand where and why Robin did what he did. To be so alone, yes alone, having people around you does not give you comfort, support or love, it actually isolates you even more as most people do not understand, usually fear and cannot get away quick enough from a person who is consumed and overwhelmed by depression.
    Then there are those like me who through an accident looses everything. Your left full of pain, grief and loss, you have no one to reach out to and ask for help, please hold my hand, please tell me that this is all going to stop, going to go away?
    Robin Williams, I battle every day not to join you in that better place. Every day I fear that if I don’t finish the job properly then living my life is going to be even harder than what it is now. One day soon I hope to meet you Robin Williams in that better place that you have chosen. Now forever safe and peaceful xoxo

    • Debbie Humberstone says:

      Hi Keryn – thank your for your message, and I’m sorry to hear of your struggles. I hope you are getting the help and support you need at this time? I know it’s not easy, and reaching out when you feel low can so often be difficult, but there are people out there who can help, even if it’s just to listen – sometimes that in itself can make all the difference. Stay safe, and know that people are wishing you well. Debbie.

      Call Samaritans FREE 116 123

  4. Tim Constable says:

    At 62, I’m experiencing my first ever episode of depression. Unlike the Robin Williams episode so poigniantly described above, my current state was triggered by very personal circumstances, about which i shall be candid.

    Against a background of leg pains (which the doctor couldn’t diagnose) and tooth pains (which led to two fillings and an extraction), within the space of a few days a number of ‘incidents’ happened: 1) A Christian couple who I have known and loved for a number of years (I played music and read a reading at their wedding) revealed they had split up pending divorce – the most unlikely thing anyone who knew them expected. 2) I have been out of work for several months with doubts about ever getting employed again due to my age; that is not normally a problem as I’m usually good at finding or inventing projects to work on. But I had been selected for interview for a very good job which I really hoped I would get. There were five candidates chasing two (identical) positions. A few days after the in-depth assessment, I received news; I did really well at the assessment, came a close second to the top scorer – but for some reason, they decided to only appoint one post! You do everything you can, do really well.. only to be dropped for no explained reason. But these were minor compared to 3) the biggy! I’ve been involved with music ever since I was four, like it’s in my DNA. My main activity is composing/ songwriting, and with no false humility, I’ve often only continued because others have said how great my music is, even using the word ‘genius’. Yet I’ve never been published, and not achieved the professional recognition (and income!) I had hoped for. The last three plus years I’ve been involved with a major recording project – an album – in which I’ve been the main songwriter, one of the performers and co-producer. I’ve poured hundreds of hours, hundreds of pounds (£) and a great deal of creativity into the thing. I believed at long long long last this wouldd be my door into the professional music industry. A few weeks ago, I got the news; the main instigator of the project has been arrested on several charges of pedophilia (he is now in prison). Not only did this greatly shock all those involved, but it has – at least for the foreseeable future – totally destroyed all hope of the project continuing. without adding any more detail, I found myself sleeping erratically, eating erratically and unable to concentrate on tasks. I decided I needed to see my doctor, and he signed me off, but no medication as yet – “Let’s see what time does”.

    The most suprising thing about my condition was how it fell upon me like something external. If you’re in a traffic accident and break an arm, you can point to external causes of your condition. But your response to circumstances is an internal thing – “Nobody else can feel your pain”. Yet to me it feels external, something unwittingly and unwelcomely imposed. I’m generally a very upbeat and positive person, but all that has gone, at least for the present. I have a very strong fundamentalist Christian faith, and when i wake up in the morning the first thing I do (once I’ve made my giant-size cup of tea!) is a period of bible-reading, study, praise and prayer. But then the day starts; and it’s then I often find some totally unexpected symptom(s). One day my main agenda was to get in some urgent shopping; but I found i couldn’t bring myself to go outside, let alone interact with people. In the evening I quickly dived out of my bedsit for pie and chips. By contrast, a couple of days later, I WANTED to get out; a friend was trying out a new fishing location, and even though it was raining, I drove out to be with him for a couple of hours. Thankfully I am still able to drive alright. but I find I can be going somewhere I know perfectly well where it is, and start getting confused about the route, even missing obvious turns, and having to back-track, eventually arriving later than expected.

    Having developed depression, I’ve been finding out more about my condition. I’ve gone to some length to explain, because, even though such things are unique to each individual, there are some common factors. But I’ve seen nothing about this perception that it’s an external thing. Is that unique to me? Or an ‘overlooked’ aspect of it? I’ve had the occassional comment along the lines of ‘Pull yourself together, you’ll get over it!’. But people don’t seem to realise that depression is when you are BEYOND ‘pulling yourself together’.

    Having a strong faith and having others around me with equally strong faith has been a great help – I thank God I did before the condition developed, because if I hadn’t, I know I wouldn’t be remotely interested in such a thing – I just want to ‘get better’.

    I know I will pull through this, with my Saviour alongside me. But regardless of what I would like, regardless of prayer, regardless of faith, there does seem to be a process to go through. And I will only know I’m better when these seemingly external unexpected symptoms stop happening.

    • Debbie Humberstone says:

      Hi Tim – thank you for your message and for sharing so honestly and openly about your current situation, and how life is feeling for you right now. I hope you have people around you who can help, even if it’s just to listen to how things are for you at the moment. I know when several serious and difficult life events come together in this way, it can be so hard to stay positive and to find a way though. But there is help out there, and it can get better. Please know that there are people who care, and who are wishing well. Debbie.

      Call Samaritans FREE 116 123

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