She was always smiling and laughing, the life and soul of the party. The one who always had a little too much to drink, but had more giggles than anybody else in the taxi home. She would always be up to hang out and go for a coffee, watch a film or have a pamper night.
She was actually on the maximum dose of an anti-depressant called citalopram. Who’d have guessed it? The sad truth is that she had been on this medication for a year, and although they were working on the problem up in her head, she still had down days. But nobody would know, because depression isn’t actually as obvious as popular culture would like to imagine.
In the light of the tragic death of comedy genius Robin Williams, his apparent suicide due to severe and chronic depression, it seems it’s time we start to shed some light on the sadly, still-taboo topic of depression. This mental illness isn’t simple, nor is it straightforward. It isn’t simple being sad and down about life. The chemical imbalance in the brain cannot only happen to anybody, but can be as debilitating as a physical illness.
Everybody knows the feeling of a down day- where nothing goes right for you and you just want to sit and mope on the sofa with your duvet and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. But imagine waking up and immediately feeling hopeless. It’s near impossible to explain the feeling of depression to somebody who is fortunate enough to not have experienced it.
The utter plunging feeling that people with depression experience is scary and constant; a tragic feeling which can take over your life. It isn’t always obvious, although sometimes there can be telling signs.
Having experienced this myself, I found having to ask the doctor for help embarrassing. I felt I had stooped and that I was weak for not being able to simply cheer up. At the time, I was disappointed in myself. Cheer the f*ck up, I mean really. You’re 21, capable and at uni, man up. But I couldn’t.
It took me a long time to realize that depression isn’t a reflection of the sufferer. Me taking anti-depressants wasn’t because I couldn’t cope with life, it was an unfortunate chemical imbalance in my brain. I still struggle to wrap my brain around the fact that, for the time being, tablets keep me going.
But what I tell myself, and what others need to recognize, is that there is no shame in depression. Life is hard, it really is. You don’t need to be a pessimist to know that life throws curveballs more than we like. You also don’t have to be in poverty, homeless or in a mid-life crisis to be depressed. I have an amazing boyfriend, family and pretty much great life- that doesn’t stop me feeling how I do.
Sadly, comedians are often renowned for being sufferers of depression. There has been many studies in previous years which suggest manic mental illnesses, such a schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression may be the precise thing which helps comedians spark ideas for gags and jokes. It has also been suggested that making people laugh can be a form of acute self-medication.
Whether you know the dark engulfing feeling of depression, or are lucky enough to never have met it, people need to begin to realize that depression is nothing to be embarrassed about. It doesn’t mean the sufferer is weak, or incapable of living life. It is simply an unfortunate chemical imbalance that can prey on anybody at anytime.
I will keep my tablets close to me until my brain is strong enough to be without them. My heart goes out to each and every person who battles with depression everyday, and I implore you all to remember that you never know what goes on behind closed doors. Someone doesn’t have to be crying everyday to be depressed. Nor are they always happy on anti-d’s.