The Silence

I had intended to publish something very very different today – fun and some may say frivolous.

Then I woke up and saw the news about Robin Williams and the outpouring of love and sorrow all over my social-media feeds.

One of the main themes in my Twitter feed is the silence surrounding depression and mental illness: the great taboo you can never give voice to, for fear of making people around you feel uncomfortable.

I’ve not talked about this for years, so here it is. The Great Taboo.

I tried to kill myself when I was 19 or 20 – the event is so shrouded by silence I can’t even remember exactly when it happened. I won’t go into why I felt so crap about life, but I did. I now know that what I did was a cry for help, that I wanted to be found and thankfully I was.

What was so shocking about that time was how quickly The Silence descended. No one talked of it, then or since. Even I found it hard to tell people. I told a boyfriend once – he couldn’t believe that ‘someone like me’ would attempt it. Well it’s always ‘someone like me’, isn’t it? It’s not a special sector of hidden people going around planning it in the dark.

They’re right in front of you. In the daylight.

I wonder if people can’t handle the idea that someone might want to remove themselves from the earth because it’s a latent dark thought in all of us. Some of us are used to it emerging at difficult times – it’s the ultimate get-out clause, after all – but others steer well away from it, unable to even admit that it’s lurking there.

This week, I am attending the funeral of a person whose life was tragically taken away from them by a terminal illness. They entered my life for only a few months but my eyes are still blinking from the glare of their brightness. We find these situations incredibly difficult to talk about but we console each other with a stumbling shared disbelief of the circumstances.

Robin Wiliams’ life has been tragically taken from him too, by depression. It is the illness that dare not speak its name and one that we find much more difficult to talk about.

Let’s talk about it, shall we? Too many amazing people are being lost to it, or living with it on a daily basis to ignore it.

RIP Robin.


Caroline Criado-Perez on anxiety and depression:

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Fifty-five-year-old woman flying solo since 2010. Freelance writer, editor, hiker, traveller, yoga teacher. Alcohol-, child-, and hair-dye-free.

8 thoughts on “The Silence”

  1. Mental illness is indeed the last taboo. I’ve suffered depression on and off throughout my life (yes, and heard the “what you? Really?!” a million times). Sometimes its been short and sharp and sometimes its dragged on for months. There’s been therapy (CBT, group work – hitting a pillow with a baseball bat was one standout technique I was asked to give a go), pills (lots beginning with ‘C” and some that made me dream blood was dripping from the ceiling) and a funny Scottish psychiatrist I once asked if he thought I might be schizophrenic as I had ‘voices’ to which he replied “what you’ve described is your inner monologue and that’s the whole reason I know you’re not schizophrenic” it made me laugh. I hold down a senior role in my company, I have a wonderful 5 year old son, I do my shopping, pay my bills, try and contribute to society and yet the Black Dog still visits. So, Lisa thank you for sharing, thank you for being brave enough to tell the story and thank you for reminding me – just as the sad and tragic death of Robin Williams has reminded me that yes, people like ‘us’ suffer from depression and mental health issues too and yes – let’s talk about it.

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  2. Oh Lisa – how amazing are you to share this? I think part of the reason people are afraid of depression, those of us that are lucky not to suffer from this dreadful illness, is that it’s so huge, so monstrously beyond our abilitiles to help. We’re clueless and flailing – it takes courage to face it, to say I’ll try and help but I don’t know what use I can be. We feel guilty for wishing our loved ones would be well again, knowing depression is an illness, just like any other and beign afraid that that desire for recovery is seen as apportioning blame on the sufferer. it’s so so complex and frightening for everyone. We feel responsible for not being enough when depression really bites, and angry that we can’t be enough to help someone when we’re trying so hard…knowing full well that depression isn’t a thing that can be switched on and off doesn’t help…we are frightened by something we can not understand and can even less, fix. We all need to be a little braver facing the monster under the bed xxxxx

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  3. I suffered depression too. Bring male all of my friends at first told me to pull myself together, snap out of it, have a beer you’ll be fine. Then they just stopped trying, stopped calling. Again being a male I refused to even accept that I wss depressed, tried to hide it, hid it well. For a while.
    I was in my early 40s living alone and eventually I gave up. I wanted to die.
    Eventually I managed to get therapy and a drug regime and, at the moment, I’m ok. But knowing that depression can hit anyone at anytime I’m not ashamed to speak openly about it to anyone who asks and even to those who mock mental illnesses or conditions.
    Mental issues are still misunderstood and buried away and I will help change and challenge that in anyway I can.

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  4. Silence is a fear reaction. When a situation forces people to face their most innermost fears (death is one of them), they’d rather bury their heads in the sand, pretend nothing amiss is happening and all is well. It’s denial.
    I’ve been in a situation, a life-threatening disease, where most of my friends suddenly disappeared so that they didn’t have to talk to me and face the fact that a) it could happen to them; b) I could actually die. The truth is anything can happen to anyone at any time: horrible diseases, crime/violence, depression, suicide. I have always been a very open person and can talk about almost any subject, no matter how tough or delicate, without blinking an eye, but I know I am an exception. Most people around me live by a tacit code of silence, a code of “let’s not make each other uncomfortable by mentioning things like that.” And yet, when you are in “that situation”, nothing can help you more than people giving you the space to talk about it, maybe even by initiating the talk themselves. Talking can save lives. Literally.
    Come to think of it, I believe the reason I first started to blog was to give voice to subjects I could not easily discuss in my everyday life. Through blogging, I met people online, who found resonance in what I wrote, and they commented or contributed their own stories. Feeling less alone at times of low ebb can give you that extra battery power to keep you going one more day. Let’s keep talking.

    Liked by 1 person

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