"You will have bad times, but they will always wake you up to the stuff you weren't paying attention to" ~ Robin Williams
It's difficult to explain an illness that can't be physically seen and one that initially swooped down on me and then held me prisoner without any notice period or early warning call.
Just turned twenty, I looked like a young woman on the cusp of her biggest adventure in life. I dressed to make a statement, stood out in a crowd and I was never shy or withdrawn. I partied with the best, hung out with the coolest and seized every opportunity with both hands. But something didn't feel right and when my parents came home one evening to find me curled up in the corner of the living room, my head buried deep into my hands, they too finally realised there was something dreadfully wrong.
Trying to explain to my Mother and Father, who were desperate to understand what was happening to their daughter wasn't easy. This overwhelming darkness which had somehow clouded my mind, was difficult for me to come to terms with, and the times I had been told by them and others to 'snap out of it' had also given me cause to feel ashamed about the way I was feeling.
The physical symptoms were there for me as the bearer of the illness, but nothing visible for anyone else to witness. Palpitations, so powerful at times it would feel like my heart was exploding, headaches and sensations that would attack without warning and claustrophobia, which would have me running out of bars and jumping off buses in an instant. Yet for most of the time to look at me and be in my company, you would never have guessed the inner suffering, anxiety and torment I was going through. This was how my depression worked and that's why I feel able to understand others like the late genius Robin Williams, who it seems is yet another casualty of an extremely misunderstood disease.
Depression is an invisible illness and all too often people suffer in silence due to the stigma which has long been associated with it and yet the Mental Health Foundation facts and figures around mental health are alarming...
1 in 4 people will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year in the UK.
450 million people worldwide are affected by mental health.
It's over thirty years now since my initial encounter and I am still uncertain why it happened. Perhaps it is part of my makeup, or maybe there are times I have allowed myself to feel out of control and unable to cope with certain incidences. Since this time though, depression has managed to creep back into my life on a number of occasions, but what I realise now is how cleverly the illness can package itself within other underlying issues, or unexpected events. There are times in everyone's life when things just don't seem fair, either a sudden death, redundancy, homelessness, addiction, illness and divorce to name a few, and apart from the latter I have experienced most on the list.
My last tussle with mental illness began in the latter part of 2009 - largely due to money issues and work related stress and anxiety. Fortunately although the shock redundancy that followed in March 2010 brought me to my knees, it also became the most poignant time in my life and for the following months I began to face up to the demons plaguing me. It's never easy to come to terms with our true concerns, but with the help of mindfulness and meditation I felt able to look my fears straight in the eye.
The psyche is the totality of the human mind, conscious and unconscious and whilst certain amounts of stress and anxiety, particularly in testing times are normal, we need to learn how to be the controller in these difficult situations. Our thoughts can be so easily controlled by the mind on autopilot and this is where negativity steps in and has a field day.
I cannot express how important the roles of mindfulness and meditation have been in aiding my recovery from mental illness, but more than this in how much they have helped to change my thought process.
A few things I have also learned through my experiences...
1. We can't change who we are and we shouldn't try to either.
2. The only time we stop loving is when we lose faith in ourselves.
3. We have to face up to our fears. We cannot hide or runaway.
4. Strength is gained from hardship and pain.
RIP Robin Williams, a true genius who left this world far too soon!