“NO MATTER WHAT ANYBODY TELLS YOU, WORDS AND IDEAS CAN CHANGE THE WORLD.”
**WARNING. CONTAINS TRIGGERS**
Last Saturday, I thought about Dead Poets Society. The kids were watching Night at the Museum (it was really Karen and I, Jake and Amy were upstairs playing), a film in which Robin Williams appears. He made me think about the time when, as a teenage boy, I watched Dead Poets Society and felt moved. And I mean really moved.
Those who know me will vouch I’m not one of these ridiculous, gushing sycophants (see: Jo Whiley’s cringe-inducing commentary on the ’96 Oasis Knebworth gigs) who laud praise on anyone who moves or has the misfortune to die on us. But back then, in the mid-nineties, I watched a film that had a huge impact on me. I remember being emotionally bludgeoned and sitting, numb while the credits rolled.
Williams’ performance – a stand out in his career – made me think “Wow, this guy is my favourite actor in the whole world!”. The final scene, aw man, that final scene. If that doesn’t move you, well, I guess your heart is made out of cold, cold stone.
And the other day I watched it again, feeling those same emotions and thinking how incredibly tragic his death was.
I’m not sure why I connected so easily with the film. Maybe it was my own desire to have an inspiration such as John Keating. Most folk I know always say they had that one, special teacher; that shining light in an otherwise dim few years at High School, the one that brought out the best in them and made them the outstanding human being they are today.
I didn’t have one. I wish I did. I wish my Higher English teacher was an inspiration to me but she wasn’t. I wish she spotted the potential in a seventeen year old me but she didn’t. I had to discover I could write when I was thirty, leading me to a never-ending whirl of what-could’ve-beens waltzing through my mind. I know. I’ve had a hard life.
Mrs Gordon hated me. I was too cheeky, too fly, too loud for her. She thought she was punishing me by giving me the part of Romeo to read out. Aye right hen, cos I pure hate being the centre of attention and all that.
I remember writing a 2500 word essay on the history of religious bigotry in Glasgow, specifically to do with the Old Firm. It was impressively researched and well presented. It was tossed back to me; apparently the subject matter wasn’t appropriate. I remember one time where I nearly made her explode with rage. While we were studying Romeo & Juliet, we had a discussion about the different types of love Shakespeare used. We had the paternal love, sexual love – was there any other kind? I immediately shot up my hand and quipped “Well, according to Phil Collins, you can get a groovy kind of love.” I’ll never forget her dagger-like stare as the class flew into fits of hysterics.
So maybe that’s why I hold that film so dear. But no one could have played Keating the way Robin Williams did. As much as I admire him as a comedian and enjoy some of his light-hearted roles, it’s always his more serious films I connect with. And the world is a far worse place without him.
The way his death was reported, however, was fucking hideous. I awoke to Sky News, was shocked to find out about it, then flattened by the cause. Initially, the media did well. No major triggers and responsible reporting. But then came the usual suspects. The shit-stirrers; the scandalmongerers; the hate-filled and fuelled rags that some people call TV stations or newspapers.
Exhibit ‘A’ – Fox News
“One of the children he so loved, one of the children grieving tonight because their father killed himself in a fit of depression.”
“You could love three little things so much, watch them grow, they’re in their mid-20s, and they’re inspiring you, and exciting you, and they fill you up with the kind of joy you could never have known.
“And yet, something inside you is so horrible or you’re such a coward or whatever the reason that you decide that you have to end it. Robin Williams, at 63, did that today.”
Yes, that’s right. Fox News’ Shepard Smith called Robin Williams ‘a coward’. I mean, for the love of absolute fuck, can you think of anything more atrocious? Would Smith call a member of his own family a coward in the same circumstances? Why are right-wingers such monumental tadgers?
Exhibit ‘B’ – The Daily Fucking Mail
The worst of all news publications in this country broke pretty much every single one of the guidelines put forward by The Samaritans on how to report suicide safely. No thought on how it would affect some people, a blatant disregard for any trigger warnings and a complete lack of respect for Robin Williams and his family. It shouldn’t scream out at us on the front pages. But we don’t expect anything less from that rag.
But what I noticed was a small, shining light, peeking out from beneath this monumental tragedy. People’s attitudes to mental health are changing. And changing for the better. On social media, people discussed the situation with tenderness and reacted with caution. The issue was identified, help was offered, problems were shared, conditions were discussed. But all in a mature way, a way that showed that we as a society have grown up and accepted that those of us who suffer a mental illness are real, we exist, and require help. And from what I have seen recently, things are moving in the right direction.
The stark and graphic reporting affected me. Yes, happy-old me, laughing-old me, always-got-a-joke old me. What have got to be sad about, eh? It reminded me of the time I started to plan my own demise. I’ve written about this before and I still think the same. Was I really going to go through with it? I dunno. I planned a date. I planned a method. I planned a note. Was I really going to do it? Well, I’m not sure but I’m sure as hell glad I never got the chance to find out.
But then, way back then, when I was deep, deep down in the dark, shrouded in the shadows and lost in the bleakness, it all made sense. Of course! This is what I’ll do! And here’s how I’ll do it! And why yes, this date makes perfect sense! And boy, is that a clever note to use!
I’m lucky. I got myself/was dragged out of the darkness. Others aren’t so lucky. And that is why we have a moral duty, a civic responsibility to report similar cases with absolute delicacy and such fierce guidelines.
People still get in touch with me because of these blogs, and that’s something that I’ll always welcome. We’re all in this big club, you and I, and we get stronger and more supportive with each passing day. Folk I know and folk I don’t know contact me to say hello, ask how I’m doing and to tell me how they’re doing. I’m no trained therapist but sometimes a shoulder to cry on, a sympathetic ear or a simple “me too” means more than any therapy session ever could. But this doesn’t mean we miss our appointments, friends!
But sometimes it’s perhaps the voices who don’t get in touch that shout loudest. The vast, empty echo of something unspoken can often say as much as a thousand words. The cynics, the sceptics, the so-called non-believers. The ones who still think we’re at it. The ones who still think it’s all just attention-seeking. The ones who roll their eyes when we put messages of support on Facebook or updates of how we feel on Twitter. The ones who can’t see beyond their petty prejudices and call us out for frauds. Sometimes, just sometimes, they can shout the loudest.
But there’s a change-a-comin’. I can feel it in my own wee mental bones. I sense this almighty change in society’s attitudes. The tide is surging in, it’s roaring down wave after wave, crashing and cascading down on top of those people, wearing them away until they dissipate into tiny grains of sand. Until they almost don’t exist. Until they simply don’t matter any more.
And when that happens, you and I and everyone else in this most inspirational of clubs can get on with our recovery and be the person we know we can be again.
“TO QUOTE FROM WHITMAN, ‘O ME! O LIFE!… OF THE QUESTIONS OF THESE RECURRING; OF THE ENDLESS TRAINS OF THE FAITHLESS… OF CITIES FILLED WITH THE FOOLISH; WHAT GOOD AMID THESE, O ME, O LIFE?’
ANSWER. THAT YOU ARE HERE — THAT LIFE EXISTS, AND IDENTITY; THAT THE POWERFUL PLAY GOES ON AND YOU MAY CONTRIBUTE A VERSE. THAT THE POWERFUL PLAY GOES ON AND YOU MAY CONTRIBUTE A VERSE. WHAT WILL YOUR VERSE BE?”