Robin Williams death taught me that the depression I have come to accept as part of my normal conditioning will probably be with me for the rest of my life. And that’s okay. I’ve got it covered! It taught me that there’s no real cure for depression only antidotes, temporary reprieves and Tunnocks Teacakes. And, as a small whiny child, my black dog (let’s call her Ethel) will also constantly need distractions.
Happily, I find amusement for my whiny child in the guise of uplifting music (Vivaldi, Nutini or Parton), coffee & cake, climbing hills, swimming, (soon to be) sailing, dancing, singing (my neighbours hate me), art, comedy, talking to my friends (sometimes it’s just my own reflection to be honest, but I put on an accent which helps), writing, meditation and yoga.
But, mainly, coffee & cake!
Sometimes one of these remedies actually works.
On the day Robin Williams died I was stunned, shaken, angry, bereft, crushed and devastated – like millions of others. I didn’t cry though. I didn’t actually know him after all. I felt I didn’t have the right to cry. But even as I was rationalising that to myself the tears were bubbling away within me from my feelings of sadness and grief for a man that I had never actually met.
Later that day, I did some yoga and half way through Virabhadrasana (Warrior Pose) the release of tension brought with it a flood of tears which floored me into Savasana (Corpse Pose). As I lay there on my mat, sobbing quietly, images of Williams fluttered through my mind. I saw the Black Dog that had plagued him; that comedy genius mind of his, never silent; the gift of laughter he gave to others; his devastated family; the A.A. meetings he had attended; the strength of will that had kept him sober for 20 years; the treadmill of constant work that kept him going and the despair of the ceaseless end to that work which drove him back into alcoholism at a time when he should have been at peace with himself and lightening up on the workload.
I thought of him and his life and his comedy and his death and the things – however distant – that linked him to me.
I cannot imagine ever taking my own life, it has never even crossed my mind – even in my darkest days. I guess I’ve just never been that low. And I have always held fast to my dreams and have great optimism for the future, no matter how down I get. But as the fuller facts of Williams’ life and death emerged I began to understand why he felt there was no option other than to end it all – in much the same way as I can understand why someone would jump from a burning building. He had an alcohol problem, was facing illness, bankrupsy and was on a treadmill of constant work from which there seemed to be no end. After a lifetime of constant hard graft, he was unable to retire. It seemed really unfair.
Williams’ state seemed all too familiar to me as my own father had suffered alcohol, health and financial problems throughout his life and he too was unable to retire in his 60s. My father lived a long and varied life filled with many great joys, wonderful adventures, peak experiences, true happiness and an abundance of love. He had a first-rate public school education, intelligence, wit, an adventurous spirit, doting parents, a loving sister, a beautiful loyal and loving wife, eight amazing children – who adored him – amazing friends and so, so much more. And he worked hard all his life.
Six days before he died of a massive heart attack at the age of 66, he said to me, “I cannot see an end to it all! I just cannot see an end to it.” It seemed really unfair.
Although I was devastated at the loss of my father, I was also so relieved for him as he was finally at peace. And I also took comfort in the fact that he died in Portugal on holiday, so his last days were spent golfing, hill-walking and swimming in the glorious sunshine.
When B.S.K. Iyengar (Yogacharya Sri Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar) died last week there was not much of a delay between me hearing the news and breaking down emotionally. I felt like my (sort of) Granddad had died. Here was another man I felt closely connected to but had never actually met. Iyengar changed my life. I practice yoga most days and have his books always close to hand. I’ve tried other methods of yoga, but his, in my view, was the best.
“Yoga is first for individual growth but through this individual growth, society and community develop.”
Unlike Williams, Iyengar’s death was not sad, he was 96 after all. And, although he had suffered great tragedy and ill health as a youngster, he had a long, peaceful and healthy life as an adult. But similar to Williams, Iyengar left a massive legacy which can only be described as inspiring, enriching and uplifting. One man gave through yoga; the other through comedy.
Mind you, Iyengar’s uncanny physical resemblance to Yoda – and the fact that that signifier is one letter away from the name of the science, philosophy and art to which he so passionately dedicated his life – did give me some comedy reprieve through a friend’s comment on my facebook thread. And, so, even as my tears for him dripped off my chin, I was also laughing.
Comedy can do that in the middle of a tragedy. Comedy counteracts tragedy. We laugh because it makes the pain bearable. Laughter releases feel-good endorphins in the brain which offsets depression (I read it here The Science Bit).
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is always part of my birthday celebrations. This year my birthday fell on the first day after the last day of The Fringe. And to add insult to grumble, it was a bloody Tuesday.
The end of The Fringe is always a depressing time for many artists and especially for us artists who live in this town. We are the ones who see the posters coming down in the rain and those annoying little bits of stapled-on reviews stubbornly sticking to the half-dismantled hardboard of the pop-up venues and the infinite faded flyers fluttering forward fleetingly into the oncoming winds of autumn and finally flitting forth across the Forth to Fife (purely for the alliteration) where Fringe flyers go to meet their maker (yes, that dodgy cheap printers in Kircaldy).
It’s depressing. And on top of that my showbiz ‘friends’ are too busy cleaning their rented flats, gathering up their props and attending end-of-Fringe parties to even notice that someone has a birthday!!!
I didn’t do the Fringe this year, because my favourite character, Mistress MacKenzie, has kept me busily writing her new show!
I will be recording Mistress MacKenzie and Friends in early September, for transmission on the 4th October at 12.30pm – so you bloody well better tune in!
All I can give you is the gift of laughter. And scones, I bake a good scone.
Along with laughter, yoga is a good antidote to depression. It may not give you happiness, but it will help you towards inner peace – and, hopefully, fitting into those skinny jeans.
Comedy, depression and yoga sit side by side by side inside my soul. They argue constantly. Sometimes one of them pulls rank and profoundly colours my day. So this year, on my birthday, I decided yoga would win out.
I forced myself onto my mat before I was fully awake. I also decided to remove myself totally from the disheartening end of The Fringe and reclaim my special day as a day where I will find 47 reasons to be truly grateful for each of the 47 years I have subsisted in this blessed earthly realm.
Happily, I found them.
Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with the list.
Now get on with clearing up those posters, people, for tomorrow it’s, em, Thursday, I think.
Nanoo & Namaste!
Here’s another 9 reasons to be cheerful…