Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The black dog


In common with many thousands of others, I feel so very sad for Robin Williams and his family. A great tragedy, and a terrible waste of a prodigious talent.

I've been there too. For much of my life, I suffered from depression. It's debilitating, mysterious, at times crippling. And however sympathetic others may be, they do not - cannot - really understand.

Everyone can identify with, say, a broken leg. It's easy to understand. It hurts, and you can't walk properly.You don't have to have one to have an idea what it's like. Not so depression. Depression feels like a lead weight, can come out of the blue, and can be totally paralysing. And only someone who has been there can understand. You may know you have a lot to be happy about; that there's no reason for it. But that makes it even worse. I recall my then GP, whom I must have called upon in desperation, looking at my two toddlers and telling me how lucky I was, because she couldn't have children. So that brought on even more of the guilt I already felt.

When I was a student, I was hospitalised for several weeks. The hospital was Victorian and very grim. We were watched every second of the day, and even had to ask for the taps if we wanted a bath (no privacy, of course). I was treated with a bizarre therapy called 'insulin therapy'. Lord knows how it was meant to help, and I don't think it did anything at all except  make me feel even worse.

But in a way, I was lucky. My black dog is now kept at bay most of the time, and during that time in hospital I met, among others,  the girl who is still my life-long closest friend. I also  learnt to listen, as there were so many who were worse off than I was. In the end, I think I was a better person because of it.

Robin Williams has left a tremendous legacy for those of us who can still enjoy his work. I hope that he is now at peace.

20 comments:

  1. Frances, thank goodness that treatments and understanding have come a long way since your insulin therapy and Victorian hospitalization.
    It seems as though part of Robin Williams' legacy will be to have opened up the floodgates for more discussion, comprehension and, hopefully, empathy amongst depression sufferers and those around them.
    It seems symbolic to me that black dogs are indeed those least likely to be adopted from an animal shelter.

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    1. I never knew that about black dogs, ER. I quite like them (the canine sort),

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  2. I once visited with someone suffering from depression and I was struck by the feeling of a heavy darkness when I entered the room. My imagination? No, it was a very strong sense and it was overwhelming. I hope everyone who has depression will find ways to cope with it.

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    1. There's much more help about than there was, Kay. Thank goodness.

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  3. One of my aunt suffers clinical depression. Her husband is one of the kindest, gentlest and funniest people I know. He supports her all the way through, and has been doing so for decades now. Whenever there is a birthday or some other event coming up, we'll always know at the last minute whether they will be attending (or hosting), which makes it a little difficult to plan properly, but we know this is not her "fault" - it is just that she can never tell in advance what the black dog will be doing on a particular day.

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    1. Yes. It never tells you when it on its way, Meike!

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  4. The problem is that he is also dead. It's not much good being peaceful if you can't feel it.
    I hope you manage to keep your head above water. I certainly don't want a peaceful Frances.

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    1. Don't worry, Adrian. Peaceful I am not!

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  5. Thank you for sharing this with us, Frances. Depression is a terrible and those of us who don't suffer from it should be eternally greatful.

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    1. Yes, I suppose it was quite a personal post, Wendy. It would be so much easier to post about that broken leg!

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  6. Thanks for that heartfelt post Frances. You cannot tell from your postings that you have suffered depression, which must say something about how the illness can strike without warning. Anyone affected so badly that they are driven to suicide must have been in a very dark space.

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    1. Thanks, Maggie. I'm much better these days, although the dog does sometimes snuffle under the door and ask to come in...

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  7. I am appalled at what your GP said to you and the treatment you received as a student, Frances.
    I was lucky to have a very kind and understanding doctor when my children were small - I couldn't even tell him how I felt, but he worked it out.
    I've never seen it as a black dog, but as the heavy darkness Kay describes - as if you are being pressed down by a heavy, dark cloud.
    I hope as you do that Robin Williams is at peace now - he must have been so desperate to do what he did, my heart aches for him and his family x

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    1. Teresa, I don't really think of it as a black dog, either. It just seemed a neat heading for this post!

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  8. One of the best things that ever happened to me was succumbing to the illness of post-operative depression when I was 16 after I had much of a lung removed. I can remember the feeling today as if it were yesterday. I still cannot go for long walks on my own for fear of the feelings returning for that was what I did: I walked alone for weeks and weeks - perhaps longer - from crack of dawn 'till evening. When I recovered I could truly say "I understand". I have quite a few friends who suffer from the disease in various forms from the clinical to the mild and it helps (me) that I may not be able to relieve their illness but at least I do understand.

    In New Zealand there is a huge push by high profile males to rid the country of it's very macho "pull yourself together" culture and get people to understand that you can't and that it's an illness.

    Robin Williams was a truly brilliant person who (completely unrelated to his illness) brought much to the people of this world. With his death he is also bringing much to this world: people are talking more than ever about the illness and I think that they really are beginning to accept that that is what it is.

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    1. Thank you for that thoughtful comment, Graham. I think it will always be hard to admit to depression, but things are certainly much better than they were.

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  9. Have you seen the Stephen Fry letter to someone who wrote to him - likening depression to bad weather? I notice too how our society thinks people should move on from grief, holds up ideals of being 'up', busy and successful all the time, and is in denial about the state of our planet. Jean

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  10. I haven't seem the letter, Jean, but I know Stephen Fry is a sufferer. I agree with your comment. As for grief, you never get over some things. You just learn to live with them, don't you.

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  11. I just wrote to a friend the other day, who recently lost her mum, that I'm not sure we ever "get over" grief and loss, they just sort of change with time, kind of get reshuffled.

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    1. DT, the best analogy for grief that I've come across is that over time, it turns from a wound into a scar. Less agonising, but it always aches, and it's always there. But of course, it's not the same as depression, is it.

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