Last week, the tragic news of Robin Williams’ passing shocked the world. Social media went into a frenzy of articles, pictures, videos and comments as tributes poured in from the four corners of the globe. While the vast majority of his fans worldwide mourned his loss, some inevitably asked: Why does someone of Williams’ statue, who seemed to have everything decide to take his own life and depart from this world?
I was deeply saddened, although I did not analyse why, just terribly sad and troubled that depression has taken another wonderful soul from us. It brought back painful memories of my own depression more than ten years ago, which drove me to despair, plunging me into a terribly low, emotionally taxing hell. Yes, DEPRESSION, was cited as one of the factors that killed him, and others before him.
If you ever suffered depression yourself or you know someone who has, you know that it is no joke and it can affect people from every nationality, every colour and race, whatever your age, gender or disposition. It does not matter if you are rich or poor, powerful or destitute, depression can overtake you and there is nothing you can do about it.
I am no comedian like Robin Williams, and I don’t make millions of people laugh and cry with my acting talents. Yet people who have met me for real and via social media can testify that I generally have a sunny outlook and sparkle with optimism towards life. I am certainly not someone who seems likely to fall into the dark pits of emotional hell and find myself unable to climb back up.
Those of you who followed Pearl Zhang’s Journey to the West often identify the protagonist as my alter ego, and in many ways she is. In Trials of Life, she fights bulling and sexual and racial harassment, and for a period of time, depression besieged her and she had to resort to anti-depressants. I am sharing a short excerpt below, showing just a little how commonplace depression can be, and how difficult it is for those who suffer from it and for their loved ones.
Trials of Life: From a Counsellor’s Point of View
Shortly before the Christmas break, Pearl came to my office, angry and upset.
“I could not believe what I was told by Personnel. It was like a knife going through my chest. All my faith in the university was dashed.” More tears were threatening to fall, imminently.
“How do you feel now?” I asked.
“How do I feel now?” She repeated, her voice broke. “I feel betrayed and I shudder at the thought that I have put my trust in the university’s policy.”
Policy did not mean implementation; after all, it was just a piece of paper, and Appleton and Sir Mark were powerful flesh and blood. I waited for her to continue.
Tears were now coursing down her cheeks.
“I am feeling extremely vulnerable and distressed. This has put a huge strain on my family life. You know, my daughter has recently joined me from China, after many years’ separation.”
“Congratulations!” I said, not with the usual bounce and cheer attached to such a response. I knew that Dick had used her child to blackmail her, and how long she had waited for the reunion.
“Thank you,” she attempted a smile but did not quite succeed. “I should be there to help her to learn English and get accustomed to the British culture. Instead, I go home, crying my heart out because of what I’m going through at work. I don’t know how I can explain the situation to her; neither do I expect her to understand. She’s only 14.”
What an introduction to a new arrival in a strange land and even stranger home atmosphere! I pushed the tissue box closer to her side; her tearful recounting of the tale was momentarily stopped, as she blew her nose and murmured an apology.
“Some days I don’t feel like getting up and going to work. Can you imagine? This is the job I fought so hard to get and absolutely loved it when I first started. Now I just dread it. I have no energy or motivation for anything. I have no appetite. It takes me forever to fall asleep and when I eventfully do, I have nightmares every night. Then I wake up more tired than before.”
Again her sobbing got the better of her, and she stopped to catch her breath. Her eyes were blood-shot and swollen, and her face was pale and showing clear signs of sleep deprivation. No trace of make-up. I also noted that she had lost weight.
“What did your GP have to say? Are you given any medication to help you?” I asked gently.
She nodded. “I was given anti-depressants. My doctor also issued a sick leave note and ordered complete rest for a month.”
“In that case, I’ll see you in a few weeks’ time. I am sure you’ll feel better then.”
* * * * * *
So, please remember that depression is a serious illness which can kill someone just as surely as a fatal cancer. Indeed you could argue that it is a cancer of the soul. If someone you know is diagnosed with depression please take it seriously and work out how to help them. It isn’t just “feeling down” or “sad” and cannot be cured in five minutes. Don’t tell them ‘just to snap out of it,” because it is not that simple. Seek professional help before it’s too late.