S was a lovely man. Kind, quiet, considerate and friendly, he lived in the house next door to us. We were good neighbours to each other – we looked after his cat whenever he went on holiday, he would trim the hedges at the front of our house, we’d put each others bins out on rubbish day and we’d always have a nice chat in a morning as we left for work at the same time. I know that he had been having a rough time – he and his wife had separated and she had left, taking their son with her, but in conversations we had with him he seemed to be doing ok – he regularly went out with his friends, he had a new relationship, he went away on holiday for a break, and he seemed to greet us with a smile every morning as he left for work.
About a year after the separation, we received a knock on the front door. It was K, who lived in the house on the other side of S, and she was upset. S had taken his own life. He had been found in his house, hanging from the light fitting in his bedroom by his brother who had become concerned when he failed to show up for lunch. When we learned the time of his death we realised that when he was doing it, we were lying in bed in the room on the other side of the wall. A wall that was so thin that we could hear him cough and sneeze in the night.
I felt helpless. If he had only knocked on the door, or even on the wall, and told us that he was feeling this way. If only he had given some sort of inclination that he was struggling, that he needed help. If only he had told someone, anyone. If only…
I couldn’t sleep last night. I awoke at about 2am after a nightmare, and so I logged onto Twitter to calm my thoughts. Like the rest of the world, I was horrified to hear of the death of Robin Williams, an actor who’s many films have made me both laugh and cry. While many are quoting his performances in Good Morning Vietnam, Good Will Hunting and Mrs Doubtfire, for me it was Bicentennial Man that has always stayed with me as being the absolute example of his ability to simply make us feel. Every death is tragic and a loss to the people around them, but a life taken by their own hands always leaves me with the same feeling that I experienced when S passed away. Helpless. How sad that a man who did so much for so many felt that there was no other option.
Suicide is not chosen: it happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with pain. It is not a strength or weakness, or a defect. It doesn’t come with any moral wrongs or rights.
I am not a therapist, and I don’t possess any qualifications in counselling or mental health issues, but I know what it is like to feel that there is nothing. I know what it is like to be surrounded by people and feel entirely alone. I know the blackness and despair that depression can bring. I also know that, without help, the Black Dog doesn’t go away – it festers and grows, taking over and destroying every aspect of the mind and body, and the burden of carrying it alone makes it unbearable. I also know that things get better.
Depression doesn’t discriminate. I’m not saying anything different from millions of others this morning. If you’re feeling lost, alone, out of control, I’m imploring you to tell someone – a family member, a friend, a neighbour. Contact the Samaritans, or the National Suicide Prevention line. Or anyone. Just tell someone. You aren’t alone, you aren’t crazy, and remember that no matter how badly you feel, there is always a light out there. There is hope, friendship, love and laughter. There is joy, inspiration, creativity and happiness.
There is life.
RIP Robin Williams, you will be greatly missed. My thoughts and condolences are with his family and friends.