When someone gets off the boat – Anna Spargo-Ryan

When someone gets off the boat

When someone gets off the boat

Beware: triggers lurk here.

I’ve never cried at a celebrity death. In fact, I’ve watched others do it with some disgust, like, Why are you making this about you? I’ve never read a celebrity’s death notice and thought, here is something that affects me personally, me, this person who is not a celebrity and never met you.

But today I did.

Today caught me on a downward swing. A kind of day when I slept late and didn’t feel the world pulling me out of bed. You know. The kind of day that isn’t really a day, but just some time between two other days. That kind of day.

And my dad said, ‘Robin Williams died.’
And I said, ‘Oh, how sad!’
And my dad said, ‘How did he die?’
So I looked it up, and the stories said, apparent suicide.

And you know, it just smashed me right in the ribs, and I cried in my car until the windows got steamed up.

I felt it there, laughing, laughing in my body. Laughing because it knew what would come after the crying. That after the crying there was the not-crying, the desperation. The relentlessness. That after the crying there was the eternity of the relentlessness. That once I stopped crying I would sit and I would think about the relentlessness.

I did sit and think about the relentlessness. I thought about how depression moves in minutes. That sometimes you just get through one minute. Sixty seconds. Sometimes you get through it one second at a time. Sometimes you get up in the morning or the afternoon or the night and you think, I just need to get through the next one second. That’s all I’ve got. All I’ve got is the resilience to tackle this one second.

And your whole body aches. You’re physically exhausted, like your brain is running sprints. You feel it when you sit in your chair and your body becomes the chair, and then you’re trying to hide inside the chair because the chair never has to tackle life second by second. And you’re looking out at the room from inside the chair and you’re wondering how many seconds you have to live through before you can go back to surviving one minute at a time. And how many years you can spend living minute by minute before you just get fed up with living minute by minute and you go back and climb inside the chair.

The thing about depression is, we are as good at it as we’re allowed to be. And maybe we’re better at depression, as a society, than we used to be. I mean, I can talk freely about it here on my blog, and we can have a day every year when we talk about it or whatever.

But it is an equaliser.

And the trouble with an equaliser is that it equalises.

This morning I was depressed in the usual way. I dragged my sorry self out of bed and got a hot chocolate and thought, well, here I go, out into the world for some reason or another. Off to the supermarket. Kid left her music folder at home. Feed the dogs. Notice the weather. Bring in the bins. Stand in the street. Listen to the clanging of the level crossing. I was depressed in the usual, equal way. The way we talk about. The way we are allowed to think about, collectively, in society. The black dog way.

Oh! I am being chased by the black dog! Like everybody!


And then, someone dies.

Most of the time, we don’t even know. Six people die by suicide in Australia every day. They do it in their homes and in their schools and at their workplaces and even in public. And mostly, we don’t know.

But sometimes, someone dies and we all hear about it. Sometimes it is someone we admired. Someone who was above the depression, someone who was running ahead of the black dog. Someone who wasn’t part of the equalising, but was instead part of the revolution. The depression revolution.

And suddenly, that person is us.

Sometimes, the only thing that staves off the snapping jaws is the knowledge that other people can do it. Sometimes you wait for your one second to pass, and then the next second, and the next second, and the only reason you can do that is because you know that someone else is managing to do it minute by minute. Collectively, you are winning the battle against it. Collectively, you can be hopeful.

And then, someone drops out. Someone forgets to pick up the baton.

And suddenly, that person is us.

The ground seems closer. The water at the bottom of the ocean clears and the way through is right there. It is a reminder of the battle, of the second by second. It is a reminder that our options are fight or die, and that fighting is such hard work, that sometimes the relentlessness of the fighting is more than we can bear and we stand to the side for just a moment

and that person might be us.

And who is leading the revolution?

And everything is dark.

Lifeline: 13 11 14. My email: anna@crinkle.com.au.

  • Kelly Exeter

    August 12, 2014 at 1:21 pm Reply

    Keep your spark alight Anna. The world needs it xx


  • james

    August 12, 2014 at 1:28 pm Reply

    For me, that moment was walking back from Mota Fix today after dropping off the car to get some tires changed. I was two hours late for my appointment because I opened twitter to that news. Walking home up Balcombe crying because every little thing seems to be closing in. The need to move house, worrying about my 16 year old son flying to London, money, work, the list goes on.
    ‘What’s wrong?’, she asks.
    ‘I’m feeling sad’ is the best I can come up with, because anything more will just make it worse. There is no answer because to answer opens the floodgates. Where do you even start?
    Not sure about the ‘enjoy’ part right now.

  • John James

    August 12, 2014 at 1:37 pm Reply

    Before I started blogging, most people would have been unaware that I am someone who is occasionally visited by the black dog. Mines a puppy compared to some. He comes for a visit, makes me feel like shit, then goes away, sometimes for years at a time. I’ve never felt suicidal, but I can definitely engage in some emotionally self-destructive behaviour when he visits.

    We all lie on a spectrum, and I know other people’s experience of depression is much worse than mine. Sometimes they can be Robin Williams worse.

    I don’t have a solution. I don’t think anyone really has one… if we did, we’d be able to stop people killing themselves. But I suspect the black dog is as old as human self-awareness… and no one has ever, in all that time, found the solution…

    All we can do is share our stories – share our experiences – so that we know we’re not alone. That’s why I blogged a lot about the black dog last year when I was in the middle of an episode. I wanted to share my story…

    So, Anna, thanks for sharing your stories. I have no idea if they help, but I reckon it’s more important to share our stories than not.

    • Judith

      August 12, 2014 at 2:38 pm Reply

      Yes, what James said. This is beautifully expressed, as always, Anna. Thank you.

  • Nic

    August 12, 2014 at 3:11 pm Reply

    Anna – so brave of you to share. As someone who has lost a very close person to suicide, we need more stories like yours. I have also been in tears today, all of my previous feelings are resurfacing.

    Keep fighting. Keep afloat. You’re needed here for all of us

  • Kate

    August 12, 2014 at 7:10 pm Reply

    I heard the news of Robin Williams death at the bank. From the teller. Wearing a bright pink Happy Birthday badge.
    She told me “they said it was suicide but I bet he just fell in the shower”.
    I said nothing so she continued.
    “Apparently his depression was very bad and he went to rehab but I don’t think rehab works”.

    I smiled and told her that this time last year I was admitted to hospital for depression and she looked at me weird and I felt a little jealous that she didn’t understand. How nice to be ignorant of depression and it’s strong, dark hold. Then I wished her a Happy Birthday again and walked off.

  • Priscilla

    August 12, 2014 at 8:12 pm Reply

    Beautifully written Anna. I felt exactly the same today when I heard. It has struck me in a place I had escaped for a little while. That feeling of ‘It could have been me’ for some reason rang so true with this news, so much more than any other celebrity death. Thank you.

  • nikki

    August 12, 2014 at 8:31 pm Reply

    I am usually not that touched by celebrity death either but I go tomorrow to get a mental health plan because everything is basically shit right now for this family…i am stunned and sad about Robin Williams death. My own struggles..I will call it a stray black puppy,too and I just need to know how to handle it.. But my husband has a full grown lifelong companion of the kind that will some days smother him in bed and moving,talking seems impossible…fact is, it just scares me when people who are so loved and can afford the best mental care STILL cannot fight fucking depression.

  • Mrs Fringe

    August 12, 2014 at 11:55 pm Reply

    Ugly for the reality, beautiful in truth. <3

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    August 13, 2014 at 12:13 am Reply
  • Chantell

    August 13, 2014 at 3:51 am Reply

    Anna, you express so eloquently what I, and so many others, struggle to put into words today…The loss of someone who brought so much happiness to the world, to the terrible darkness that is depression is devastating…And I
    guess it hits way too close to home for those of us who battle against this demon each and every day (minute by minute, second by second, just as you said)… I found myself right at this incredibly bleak point last week, yet again, and I can honestly say it was only my children who stopped me from crossing that line…Who can say what tipped Robin Williams over the edge of this line? I guess, more importantly, his death shows us that no matter where life may take us, in the end we are all only human and certainly not immune to emotional pain and/or mental illness ❤️

  • Leslie G Nelson

    August 13, 2014 at 4:08 am Reply

    (Hello from absolute write!)

    Like you, I never cried about a celebrity death until now. I think if he had had a heart attack, I would have been okay. But that black dog nips my heels as well. I have been suicidal, and so my heart breaks for his pain. And for his family because his black dog will now chase after them. :(

  • Lina

    August 13, 2014 at 9:09 am Reply

    It’s true. I read about it at work and I was surprised at just how much it shocked me to my core. I felt completely blindsided and my brain was ranting grumpily: “you didn’t even personally know him, he’s a celebrity! Stop being emotional!” My husband is suicidal and has been for some time now. Recently, the battle to remain alive has been one that he’s struggling to continue fighting. I thought I was doing okay at squishing just how raw my emotions are, until I read a quote from his wife:

    “This morning, I lost my husband and my best friend … I am utterly heartbroken”

    I spent 20 minutes hiding in the bathroom stalls weeping, trying to make sure my eyes weren’t too puffy when I went back to my desk. I am terrified that next time, the quote will come from me.

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      August 13, 2014 at 11:49 am Reply

      Oh, my beautiful friend. I don’t even know how to start to give you comfort. His suicidal thoughts are not a reflection on you or the way you support him. You are unquestionably one of the kindest and most generous people I have the pleasure of knowing. The brain lies. I hope his brain starts telling him some truths about how much he is loved. And if it doesn’t, I will keep telling you how much you are.


  • Stacey

    August 14, 2014 at 8:19 pm Reply

    Thank you Anna, such a perfect explanation of the second by second to minute by minute then suddenly seconds again, I can barely breathe some days and those lucky ducks who don’t know don’t get it.. I’m going to keep coming back to this page to remember that it’s ok to go second by second, others are there too. And I don’t plan to fall off the boat. Nope it’s not going to get me. Thank you

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      August 21, 2014 at 11:19 am Reply

      Thank you for reading, Stacey. There are many of us in this boat. I feel like that’s gotta help us stay afloat, right?

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