Have you seen the suggested posts on Facebook, I’m thinking of one in particular; “Are you depressed about the fine lines around your eyes”. I see red every time I see this. Why do we throw away words in such a thoughtless or careless manner, mindless of the implications and effects over others. Whether it’s using such a powerful word to describe a few lines or making promises to friends we can’t or aren’t prepared to keep.
Depression isn’t being upset over a few lines on our faces, it’s being alone with your thoughts and those thoughts are telling you over and over, you’re useless, worthless and unlovable. It’s pain and not just emotional, it’s physical, and your body aches all over. It’s finding it damn near impossible to put one foot in front of the other, let alone get out of bed in the morning. It’s exhaustion, physically and mentally, but not being able to sleep. You can’t eat and when you force yourself, everything tastes like cardboard. Every sense in your body is numbed, colours are faded, images dimmed, sounds muffled and then there’s the hypervigilence and every noise makes you jump. People talking around you is akin to a jackhammer pounding away outside your door for the last eight hours. You can’t leave the house because crowds make you panicky, shake and sob. Your dreams die and your passions and loves no longer interest you.
Then comes isolation, as people drift away from you, the few that stay around, well you can hear in voice and see in their eyes, their desire to be a long way from you. And why not, you’re not fun to be around and you sap their energy and they’re busy getting on with life. And the others, well they can’t be found, later they’ll tell you, “I didn’t know what to say” or “I wouldn’t have been much help anyway”. Don’t you know I would have given anything to hear you say, I love you and I’m here for you, if you need me. Why couldn’t you have given me that choice. You’re trapped inside this aching body and insidious mind and you just want the pain to stop, so you consider what is unthinkable to a healthy person, and the planning of it is as mundane as making a shopping list. And if things aren’t bad enough, people will tell you, there’s no such thing as depression, why don’t you just pull yourself together. Everybody has bad days. To my mind depression is a grieving process, and the loss is of one’s self. That’s the face of depression. To use this powerful word in any other way denigrates the suffering and desperation of those with mental illness.
But I was one of the lucky ones, I had a great GP, who kept in contact and who knew when it was time to hand me over to the experts. I got a proper diagnosis, my medications were changed and adjusted gradually till they worked for me and then months of therapy. A wonderful space to explore, talk and cry, where I wasn’t judged or hurried away. I learnt ways to process my thoughts and emotions in a more positive and harmonious way.
That was me two years ago, today I’m so much better, but I have to work at it everyday. I can never become too complacent, but I’ve learnt to recognize my triggers and I know when I’m beginning to sink again. What works for me is communication and open dialogue, the power of words, but sometimes it falls on deaf ears, and I’m left reeling from the emotional turmoil. I am overly sensitive and in this dog eat dog world, I struggle. Utopia to me is a world filled with compassion and empathy, what a caring and wonderful society we would then have.
I want to embrace life, it’s experiences and challenges, as well as new and renewed relationships, fully, but how do I do that without getting hurt. Is it at all possible? That is my challenge, I’m back looking for work, a somewhat disheartening process, but I keep my head up and move on to the next possibility. So I’ve got the experiences and challenges under control, but relationships are very different. I always seem to end up getting hurt. Why do I dive in head first, and get so emotionally involved, when I know it’s going to end in tears. Why do I keep making the same mistake. Words again, I get lulled into this sense of security, of believing and trusting, in what others say, but at the same time I’m scared of not believing and not trusting and missing out on something wonderful. What is the key, I really wish I knew. All I can really do, is keep positive and strong and in time too, perhaps my relationships will come good.
Don’t be fooled by me. Don’t be fooled by the face I wear for I wear a mask, a thousand masks, masks that I’m afraid to take off, and none of them is me.
from the poem Please Hear What I’m Not Saying by Charles C. Finn
The world is reeling from the news of Robin Williams suicide. It’s impossible for us to reconcile ourselves to the fact that this man who brought such joy and laughter to the world, could have been in so much pain himself.
If this teaches us anything, it’s that depression does not discriminate. from rich or poor, young or old. Here was a man, so celebrated and loved, by family, friends and the world at large. A wonderful and beautiful actor and comedian and by all accounts a man filled with such great kindness, and yet he was not immune. Depression and suicide, doesn’t make sense and there is no point in trying to do so. Depression is not a life choice, but an illness that can strike at anytime in anyone. And sometimes it’s a fatal illness, we need as a society to become more educated about the illness, to take it out of the dark ages and lift the taboo and then maybe many others who suffer in silence may be saved.
There has been outpourings of grief, sadness and support from across the world, but sadly there has also been condemnation as everyone tries to make sense in their own way of what has happened. But condemnation only seeks to diminish our humanity, and yes we are all capable of finding some level of compassion for others, if not understanding.
If you consider this, each and every one of us has felt despair and loneliness at some point in our lives, many have experienced the devastation of depression and for some the pain is so intolerable and consuming that they consider ending their own lives. Some survive, others do not. Look to your own experiences, open your heart and mind and just for a moment walk in someone else’s shoes.
Robin Williams has me laugh and cry many times, but never more so than now, as I recall the maniacal, jubilant and vulnerable man who was Mork from Ork. I’m deeply saddened by his passing and the world is a little emptier and sadder for it.
Rest in Peace.
Edward Roy Cawdell
“I didn’t want to kiss you goodbye, that was the trouble; I wanted to kiss you goodnight. And there’s a lot of difference.” ~ Ernest Hemingway.
Fourteen years have gone since your passing. Does it get any easier, the days in between do, but those special days, your birthday, my birthday, fathers day, Christmas and the 9th August still bring me to tears.
I remember that day like it was yesterday, the seconds move forward in slow motion. The sounds, images, words and the people with me, so vivid. My brothers voice, so strange, what’s wrong with him, then screaming, frightened children running. Repeatedly writing and writing to leach it from me, but still it stays, will that day always remain with me, so strong. The funeral I was unable to attend, never really being able to say goodbye. For weeks feeling like a part of me was missing, your being like a phantom pain in an amputated limb. I’d wake up in the morning , and for a second everything was normal, until I remembered.
You were only 61, so much ahead of you, seeing your grandchildren arrive into this world, and grow to the wonderful young men and woman they are becoming. Your retirement after all those years working to provide for your family, time for just you and Mum. A massive heart attack in your sleep, the only mercy was that you felt no pain, I’m grateful for that. There were police there, I hated that, it felt so….dirty, but it had to be, a sudden unexplained death.
I do prefer my happy memories though of a very wonderful father, and there are so many more of them, you were funny, intelligent, charming, cheeky and very loving and affectionate. A wonderful chess opponent, but a terrible dance partner, remember the French’s wedding, you trampled all over my feet, you were shocking, but I still loved dancing with you, I was so proud. I remembered you singing in church, how could anyone forget, Cath asked you to stop, she was an embarrassed teenager, but you just said, “God gave me this voice, he deserves to listen to it”. I loved watching you playing conductor to your much loved classical music, when you thought no one was watching. And whenever I hear Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, I think of you. You made everyone around you feel important and special, you had such a natural way with people. You inspired us all, to be kind and loving and loyal and to work hard at everything we do, and I see who you were, in little parts, in my kids everyday.
We all still miss you, myself, Dave, Ted, John, Jen and Cath, but we talk of you often and those memories bring us great happiness and tears of joy. You have lots of grandchildren, five girls and eight boys, they’re growing up quickly and very soon you’re to be a great grandfather, a little girl is on the way. The due date, your birthday. We”re all so looking forward to that. Mum can’t wait to be a great grandmother. I planted a tree for you, I wanted an Elder, but couldn’t get one, so I planted an Oak instead. It’s growing tall, lush and strong, and I like sitting under it and thinking of you. I’ve felt you many times, when I’m talking to you and I hear your laugh, when you come to me in my dreams, I can’t believe we don’t live on. And when I’m old, very old after a long and happy life, with my children, grandchildren and maybe if I’m really lucky great grandchildren, I look forward to being with you again.
All those good memories and mostly good days, I love that, I love that it’s getting easier. I love that the good memories now outweigh the bad one.
God rest you, my beautiful and wonderful Dad. Shine brightly.
I have recently started therapy, a ongoing attempt at re-connecting with myself. CBT with John on Tuesdays, a space to talk and explore. No egos hurt, no damage done. Last week, a compassionate letter to myself, I sat for ages looking at a blank piece of paper and all I could come up with was I’m a good mother and a loyal and loving friend. Pathetic! Difficult! Apparently this is common, somewhat comforting, misery does love company. This week it was social interaction and isolation, that opened deep wounds for me. Then art therapy with Sarah on Thursdays. Art therapy shows me I can do contented isolation well, I get absorbed in what I’m doing, as I caress the paper with my charcoal covered fingers and I forget all around me, I become calm and at ease with myself. I also do it well, when I snuggle into bed with my faithful companion, my Kindle. I get lost in the worlds of Bilbo Baggins, Elizabeth Bennet and Scout Finch and I feel my pain ease and my breathing slow.
I can feel myself sinking again, I’m turning back inside, the critical and angry me, the hyper-vigilant me, the despairing me. I’ve learnt how to recognize the signs, and I attempt to self isolate, although that doesn’t always work out, in an effort to avoid further damage to my already suffering friendships.
I think one of the greatest losers in depression is friendship, the desolation that depression brings affects everyone. I find myself now very isolated, my children are grown up and I rarely see them. My family a long way away, my friends are few and even fewer are my close friends. And over the months I feel some backing away, retreating somewhat to protect themselves, I get this, I don’t blame them, I was horrendous, I only hope that when this is all over, I can regain what I’ve lost. My friends are precious to me, to me they’re my family and family is everything.
I lost Liz at this time to sudden death, the ultimate isolation. I get so angry with her, then I think of the senselessness and futility of this and I get angry with myself. I still see her face everywhere, and sometimes I forget she’s gone and I smile and start walking towards her and then I remember. I’m exploring my grief in therapy but sometimes I feel I’m moving backwards.
I know the greatest gift I can give myself is contentedness in my own company, the gift of being alone not lonely, see I know this, but doing it is something altogether different.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits and Are melted into air, into thin air: And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind.
We are such stuff As dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.
People come into our lives for lots of reasons, some say for a lifetime, a season or a reason.
My friendship with Liz lasted a lifetime. Her sudden passing this weekend, has left all who knew and loved her, heartbroken and desperately seeking an answer to why. For me, for the rest of my life she has taken a special place in my heart, thoughts and soul.
I find myself a day after her beautiful and simple funeral, utterly bereft. I spent the day in quiet solitude, thinking of her laugh, her smile and her last words to me on Saturday. I chose to turn to writing, and hopefully gain some peace from that.
I’ve known Liz for years, her daughter and my children having gone to primary school together, but I only really got to know her well about six years ago, when I started piano lessons, and this quickly became a deep friendship that grew and grew. A friendship of mutual respect and admiration, of shared passions and of sheer enjoyment in each other’s company.
Liz was a wonderful musician, an exquisite pianist and I loved to watch her play. Her beautiful long fingers danced across the keys, her eyes closed gently and her body swayed as she played. The beautiful music singing not only from the piano but from her very being, her lovely spirit.
And then it was my turn, and the spell was broken.
“It’s the C, Gill.” “Oh the other C.” “You weren’t playing the C.” “Are you sure about that, Liz.” “Fairly sure, Gill.”
“That’s lovely, Gill, but it’s not what the composer wrote.” “Mine’s Better, Liz.” “Undoubtedly, but as he went to so much trouble to write it his way, we should probably respect that and try our best to follow his score.” We would both then dissolve into laughter and tears of laughter until many minutes had passed before we could resume again.
But my favourites times with Liz, were the coffees, occasional meals together, or the glasses of wine in her favourite room, looking out over the stars and city lights, surrounded by her childhood piano and her much loved books. And we would sit late into the night discussing music, books, family, life and love.
I was with Liz two weeks ago, when her last student was finishing up, and she said to me, “Ah Gill, look at the beautiful gift I got.” And she showed me a beautiful bunch of roses. “And Gill, we must have a coffee from my new machine, it’s second hand but it’s brilliant. It makes lovely coffee and we must share one.” Last week, when we met again, it was, “Ah Gill, look at my lovely new sandals, they are so comfortable.” And her face lit up again, like a child on Christmas morning.
That was my friend Liz, such joy in the simple pleasures of life. A gentle honesty, generosity of spirit, such calm dignity, living life so passionately, and sending lovely picture messages which always seemed to come at just the right time.
I stood again in her favourite room, Monday evening, looking down on her coffin, grief stricken and in shock. Her daughter leaned into me, took my hand and shared with me, her mother’s feelings for me. I will hug them to me for rest of my life. But I wondered too, did she know how special she was to me. Did I tell her enough. We all think we have so much time.
Yseult said to me Monday, “Gill, Mum was a donor and she saved six lives, isn’t that wonderful. And it is, and back in February, at one of the darkest times in my life, her gentle coaxing of me, back to piano and something to focus on helped to save mine.
I have much to be grateful for, all these people in the world, and Liz and I connected. In time too, all my lovely memories of her will bring me great joy. And I will think of her as I look at the stars, a shining light that once blazed here on earth is now twinkling down on me from the heavens.