Robin Williams died yesterday - an incredible talent, a man of great charisma, who was loved by millions and yet, with the world apparently at his feet, a man who suffered from deep depression which, if you believe the headlines this morning, led to him taking his own life.
It all seems so senseless doesn’t it? But it just goes to show that mental illness can strike anyone , at any time & your personal circumstances have absolutely nothing to do with why, which is the question that many are asking this morning. I have battled depression for many years, know all about its insidious nature, the associated stigma & the need to try to pretend on the surface that everything is ok, when most of the time it is not. It is exhausting, & at times it makes you feel like you are leading a double life & the temptation to hide away becomes ever more prevalent. On a good day, you can function completely normally but on a bad day you can get caught up in a cycle of smiles & tears – smiles for your “public” face, behind which you hide, & tears in the privacy of your own home, or your own thoughts & the point at which the mask drops.
From personal experience, dropping the “mask” is actually quite an accurate description of the mental challenge I & other cancer patients face on a daily basis as we try our best to live our lives as normally as possible without letting cancer rule us. Other patients have told me that when questioned by family & friends, the conditioned response is “Fine!” because they feel that they have to protect loved ones & quite simply don’t know how to be anything else. Pressure builds as you continue to try to be as positive as you can, which places additional pressure on a body which is already fighting & at some point, something has got to give & at that point, to whom do you turn?
In my 6-weekly appointments with a clinical psychologist, I unload fears, worries, & concerns about my cancer, which “releases” some of that pressure BUT not everyone is as lucky. At Support Groups & on on-line support forums & time & time again, I hear the same issues – that fellow patients have no one to talk to about how they really feel & that they are exhausted from the double fight – against their illness & against themselves as they struggle to retain their positivity in extremely difficult circumstances. I would like to see cancer patients routinely offered psychological support at the point of diagnosis & on an on-going basis throughout their cancer journey. It doesn’t help everyone, but it might just tip the scales in favour of living rather than existing.
RIP Robin Williams – it breaks my heart to think of the difference between the public showman & the private person. The mirror really does have two faces ….