Tuesday, August 12, 2014

On the Death of a Star

On August 11, 2014, actor Robin Williams, 63, was discovered deceased, an apparent suicide. The following day news stories were saying it could have been accidental but they weren't saying anything definitive either way. Today, I'm not sure what the news says because I stopped listening. It's unfortunate that, no matter how far we seem to advance in so many areas, mental illness - an invisible disease like diabetes, among others - is still overlooked, misunderstood and has a stigma attached to it. I'm glad people are talking about mental illness and sharing. I'm not glad that it took the death of another person, a famous person who brought so much joy and laughter into our lives, to start the talk.

Many people have taken their own life in the throes of depression. Many teenagers, many adults, many non-famous people. They don't get the notoriety that those in the spotlight receive. It's understandable. We are but mere mortals compared to stars and starlets in the Hollywood skies. What's not understandable though is the commentary that follows the death of a "mere mortal" - "she was a troubled teen" or "he had issues with alcohol" or "everything was such a struggle for her." Even comments such as how selfish suicide is or how good the person had things are a blow to those of us that have stepped out on that proverbial ledge.

Now all of a sudden things are coming out about bipolar and depression and how mental illness is linked, in a round about way, to comedians that want to save the world. I find this interesting, purely on a selfish level of course. I don't write a blog to talk about other people, necessarily. I blog to talk about myself and how the world affects me, how I see the world, on good days and bad days and those in-between days. So how does all of THIS affect me? How do I see it? I will tell you. Because that's why you are here and still reading, right? :)

When I leave a place of employment to move on to new adventures I am always told by others that they will miss my laughter the most. Always a positive attitude and smiling face. I'm such a good faker. Not that I don't enjoy being with my colleagues or the work that I do/have done. That's not it at all. They just don't have any idea what is really going on in my head. I mean REALLY going on in there. It's a side that I don't show to anyone, at least not on purpose. My close dear friends know about my dark thoughts, but even then, I do my best not to share those dark thoughts too often or too much lest I scare my friends into thinking I'm a danger to myself. It's not like I'm going to act on those irrational thoughts in my head trying to bully me into doing something, well, irrational.

This past year I had to reveal to my employer about my mental illness. After some time of working together to try to accommodate me he came right out and asked me "When you say you are having a bad day, what does that mean? Because to me you look fine. You came to work, maybe a little bit late, but you're not angry or grumpy; you're smiling and doing your job." How do you explain to someone that when you have a mental illness and you have a "bad day" it's a bad day INSIDE your head, not a bad day on the outside. It's not like a bad hair day or a bad clothing day (you know, when all your favourite clothes that make you look smoking hot are in the dirty laundry that you just didn't have time to get to over the weekend or during off-peak hydro times).

A bad day in my head for me means that I actually am grumpy and angry and frustrated and so many other things all at once. Making otherwise simple decisions is a difficult process and the last thing that I want to do is go to work and make decisions that will affect other people. The last place I want to be is around other people. But I get out of bed, shower, get dressed, (sometimes) eat breakfast and take care of the pets before I take an anti-anxiety pill or do my breathing exercises in order to make my way out the door to work.

When I get to work and it's a bad day in my head, one of two things can happen: I could be manic or I could be stone cold quiet. Either way I'm faking it. If I'm manic, everyone thinks I'm happy and in a great mood. I keep them laughing at coffee break and at lunch and it takes a lot of effort and energy to fake it this way. If I'm quiet everyone thinks I'm hard at work and, for the most part, they leave me alone. But I'm still faking it because I'm not really working very hard because I can't focus or remember things or think clearly. This is called "presenteeism" and statistically it accounts for more lost time and productivity in the work place than absenteeism does. We're there but we're not really there. And it's a horrible feeling, on top of what I'm already feeling and thinking inside. Faker, liar, loser, slacker, the list goes on.

Knowing what I know about myself, I can't even imagine what Robin Williams struggled with on his bad days, being in the spotlight and being such a noted actor and comedian. He wanted to make the world a better place through laughter but no amount of laughter on the outside could change or help what was going on inside. At the end of the day when we lay our head on the pillow to go to sleep the laughter is gone and all we are left with are the voices in our heads, the irrational thoughts trying to hard to bully us into doing something, well, irrational. Please join me and hold in your thoughts those that have lost the struggle to fight this irrational never ending battle. And reach out to those that you know of that continue to struggle, even if it looks like they are having a good day.

Peace and love to all.

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