Thursday, 9 October 2014
Not very long ago I locked myself in my room for a couple of days and decided I wanted to be dead by Friday. I’m not writing to reap sympathies or defend my choice or lament over how thankful I am at my lack of success. Drinking a lot, taking a lot of pills isn’t poetic or tragic or even particularly sad, it is just a stark fact that is a symptom of my bipolar. My suicide attempt is also a stark fact and a symptom of my bipolar. One that until now, was a pretty well-kept secret.
If we all co-existed in a perfect society, the death of a bipolar celebrity like Robin Williams wouldn’t be the ignition for discussions about mental illness. I guess the thing is, our society is far from perfect. We place emphasis on popular culture and material items rather than the individuals that surround us and it allows things like mental illness a rather taboo or confusing topic. In 2014, the understanding about the black dog or the blues is far greater than when my Grandfather battled it. And while the mileage which has been run is valuable mileage, there is still a great distance to go. If the question what could they possibly have to be depressed about in their lives? Is still begging legitimate answering too then so does the lack of understanding.
The death of Robin Williams has quite literally shaken the world. One friend put it well when he said, there was a moment where you don’t know how you’re going to keep going because you have to live in the world without Robin Williams? I think that fear was a genuine thing for me. I had a feeling in my gut not entirely dissimilar to when my Uncle died.
As a bipolar sufferer, I often find myself idolizing those who suffer and are successful. I too subscribe to the celebrity culture which is so innate to our values as a Western society. By idolizing those who are celebrities and survivors of mental illness the media gives fuel to the notion that being mentally ill is to be genius and creative. And for a minority it is. But being mentally ill is also to be ostracized, discriminated and ordinary. More mentally ill line our streets than our red carpets. Thanks to the media, I have come to see success as an antidote to mental illness. Which is why the news of Robin Williams suicide at 63, was a rather blunt reminder that my mental illness is not merely an adolescent phase.
I described living with bipolar as being a survivor to someone recently and I was rather scoffed at. But here is the thing, mental illness is a physical illness. It is. If you were to replace the word bipolar with cancer the meaning does not change. Both make you ill. Both can be medicated. Both kill you. There is only really one, heartbreaking difference. If a celebrity (or anyone really) were to suddenly die of cancer, their death would be free of the stigma which shrouds the death of the mentally ill.
Robin Williams’ death helps raise awareness of this arguably terminal battle, we the bipolar endure. And that is special. He was special. Despite the darkness of his own world he still wanted to exert light and kindness and laughter into others. A cruel juxtaposition, but he had found completely beautiful and worthwhile cause. His death for me is a painful reminder that there is no cure. He led a life which contained blips not dissimilar to others who suffer a mental illness; plagued by the seduction of drugs and
alcohol. His death is rather a stark reminder that not even mentally ill celebrities hold an antidote. Success is not an antidote. The antidote is acceptance and education. And it is one we will have to find in a Robin William-less world.