Last night I took my daily anti-depressant and crawled into bed.
Without a second thought of what I would read, I took what I expected to be a final glance at Twitter. It was hard to miss the succession of tweets each shouting 'BREAKING' down my timeline.
The death of a celebrity is something social media is still learning how to deal with. The initial fear is that it's a terrible, sick joke. Sadly, last night's news was very real.
Robin Williams was one of the greats. You only have to look at his filmography to realise just how many films you knew and loved. The man who made generation after generation laugh. But social media was shocked to learn that he had been battling depression. How could such a funny man be so unhappy? If we want to show Robin our appreciation for all the laughs, let's do our bit to help end those questions. Let's finally see depression recognised for the silent killer it is.
I was first diagnosed with depression at 15 after bullying resulted in an attempted suicide. I was ignorant as to what illness I'd been labelled as having. As were many others I quickly discovered. If I had a penny for every, "you seem so happy", '"you're in a good mood today", "get some fresh air and you'll be fine!" I've heard over a decade...
I tried numerous times to stop taking my medication, convincing myself that I had somehow become too reliant on them. I couldn't possibly be normal if I was taking this drug to somehow function. Lesson learned the hard way as days locked away in total darkness would follow. The scariest thing I find is how heavy I can feel my head become - like there is a sudden mass just filling every empty space.
I've never been great at communicating with a doctor about how I'm feeling. I've always turned to writing it down, always with the intention of keeping it private. Late last year I had a very dark period, while still taking the medication. It took weeks too long but I eventually sought help and had the dosage increased; the first change in nine years. I was mortified. There I was at 24, crying in a GP's surgery, approaching a decade with this illness and now needing that extra bit of help.
Almost a year later and it's been far from plain sailing. Getting older has made it harder to live with depression, as normal everyday things become more and more of a challenge. Life goes on all around you but no one wants to wait for you to catch up. It's understandably difficult as they can see you on a so-called 'good day'. Walking, talking, even smiling. See, I'm totally fine! That actor making millions laugh? He's got it all, he looks so happy. Some will hear that Robin Williams was suffering from depression and still to fail to understand why we have heard the tragic news today. Ignorance is already in fine display across the internet as the word 'selfish' is repulsively used to describe a man whose battle they will never know the true extent of.
People see what they want to see. And when they can't see depression, it's very easy to forget that it even exists. There's no badges, no big flashing arrow above our heads; the requirement is suddenly on the sufferer to be the person to say it. And if you know depression, you know that that isn't going to be easy.
It's no secret that men are diagnosed with depression much less than women. The stigma of living with this so frequently misunderstood illness is frightening. Be it family, friends, colleagues... the fear of them not understanding you can leave you to suffer alone. Please, please, please, do not do that to yourself. You are suffering from a very real, very dangerous illness and you deserve all the help and support available.
"You're in a bad mood". A sentence that has made my blood boil on so many occasions. But take it. If someone gives you those few words, grab them. Admit you are. Telling that one person is all it might take. It will be the bravest decision you'll make, and you will never regret it.
While writing, I also found so much strength and comfort in reading stories from others who are living through the good and bad days. You're not alone. You're never alone.
It's extremely sad that it takes the death of such a universally loved husband and father to spark a conversation like this, but if one person out there can seek help as a result, I think everyone would agree that it is a conversation well worth having.
If you need to talk to anyone or are concerned about someone else, you can find help and advice:
NHS - http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/depression/Pages/Introduction.aspx
Mind - http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/depression/#.U-nYVvldVFw
Samaritans - http://www.samaritans.org/
Mental Health Foundation - http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/help-information/mental-health-a-z/D/depression/