Stephen Fry – Only the Lonely

Stephen Fry has written on his blog about his attempt to commit suicide last year.

There isn’t any point in denying that the outburst of sympathy and support that followed my confession to an attempt at self-slaughter last year (Richard Herring podcast) has touched me very deeply.

Some people, as some people always will, cannot understand that depression (or in my case cyclothymia, a form of bipolar disorder) is an illness and they are themselves perhaps the sufferers of a malady that one might call either an obsession with money, or a woeful lack of imagination.

“How can someone so well-off, well-known and successful have depression?” they ask. Alastair Campbell in a marvelous article, suggested changing the word “depression” to “cancer” or “diabetes” in order to reveal how, in its own way, sick a question, it is. Ill-natured, ill-informed, ill-willed or just plain ill, it’s hard to say.

Depression is something that no one can really understand until they have experienced it. People think that depression is a feeling of deep sadness…for me it is not anything like that at all.

But, most people, a surging, warm, caring majority, have been kind. Almost too kind. There’s something a little flustering and embarrassing when a taxi-driver shakes you by the hand, looks deep into your eyes and says “You look after yourself, mate, yes? Promise me?” And there’s something perhaps not too helpful to one’s mental health when it is the only subject people want to talk to you about, however kindly or for whatever reasons.  

I am glad people like John Kirwan, Mike King and Stephen Fry have the courage to bring the illness into the open…but Stephen Fry is right, sometimes the kindness is debilitating.

But I have nothing to complain about. I won’t go into the terrible details of the bottle of vodka, the mixture of pills and the closeness to permanent oblivion I came. You can imagine them and I don’t want to upset the poor TV producer and hotel staff who had to break down my door and find me in the unconscious state I was in, four broken ribs thanks to some sort of convulsive fit that must have overtaken me while I lay almost comatose, vomit dribbling from my mouth. You can picture the scene.

The episode, plus the relationship I now have with a magnificent psychiatrist, has made made my mental health better, I think, than it’s ever been. I used to think it utterly normal that I suffered from “suicidal ideation” on an almost daily basis. In other words, for as long as I can remember, the thought of ending my life came to me frequently and obsessively. But then it’s the thought behind the most famous speech in all history. To be, or not to be.

Stephen needs medication…for me no medication worked, it in fact disabled me. Ask anyone who has interacted with me on medication and now off and the difference is stark. The problem many people suffer form is the inability of others to understand that one size of treatment does not fit all.

I am lucky that my psychologist saw very early on that medication was of no use for me…the problem though came convincing an insurer and their doctors that their answer wasn’t the right one…that will of course be explored in court shortly.

Take time to read it slowly to yourself or out loud. I don’t have Hamlet’s wit (or Shakespeare’s of course) but every logical or doubtful step from line to line expresses better how hard I thought about the advantages and cursed (as I thought) disadvantages against suicide. The speech, for the most part, stayed my hand. As it did Hamlet’s.

But medicine, much as some don’t like to hear it, can help. I am on a regime of four a day. One is an SNRI, the other a mood-stabilizer. I haven’t considered suicide in anything other than a puzzled intellectual way since this pharmaceutical regime “kicked in”.

Again Stephen is right…for him.

But I can still be sad. Perhaps you might go to my tumblr page and see what Bertrand Russell wrote about his abiding passions (it’s the last section of the page). I can be sad for the same reason he was, though I do so much less about it than that great man did. But I can be sad for personal reasons because I am often forlorn, unhappy and lonely. These are qualities all humans suffer from and do not qualify (except in their worst extremes) as mental illnesses.

Forlorn, unhappy and lonely…I can identify with that. I have explained to more than a few people that though I am surrounded by people that mostly I feel terribly alone.

Lonely? I get invitation cards through the post almost every day. I shall be in the Royal Box at Wimbledon and I have serious and generous offers from friends asking me to join them in the South of France, Italy, Sicily, South Africa, British Columbia and America this summer. I have two months to start a book before I go off to Broadway for a run of Twelfth Night there.

I can read back that last sentence and see that, bipolar or not, if I’m under treatment and not actually depressed, what the fuck right do I have to be lonely, unhappy or forlorn? I don’t have the right. But there again I don’t have the right not to have those feelings. Feelings are not something to which one does or does not have rights.

In the end loneliness is the most terrible and contradictory of my problems. I hate having only myself to come home to. If I have a book to write, it’s fine. I’m up so early in the morning that even I pop out for an early supper I am happy to go straight to bed, eager to be up and writing at dawn the next day. But otherwise…

I so understand what he is talking about there. Except in my case in many respects I am not alone physically…I still feel alone.

It’s not that I want a sexual partner, a long-term partner, someone to share a bed and a snuggle on the sofa with – although perhaps I do and in the past I have had and it has been joyful. But the fact is I value my privacy too. It’s a lose-lose matter. I don’t want to be alone, but I want to be left alone. Perhaps this is just a form of narcissism, vanity, overdemanding entitlement – give it whatever derogatory term you think it deserves. I don’t know the answer.

I suppose I just don’t like my own company very much. Which is odd, given how many times people very kindly tell me that they’d put me on their ideal dinner party guestlist. I do think I can usually be relied upon to be good company when I’m out and about and sitting round a table chatting, being silly, sharing jokes and stories and bringing shy people out of their shells.

But then I get home and I’m all alone again.

Though not in the same situation as Stephen Fry, again he imparts profoundly the feelings that sometime overwhelm me. I may look tough and act tough to other observers, but inside often I just want to be left alone…and like Stephen I don;t like my own company very much either. So I erect walls that very few get behind, and those that do often leave me wondering why I bothered to let them behind the walls…and so the walls get built higher and higher as a form of protection…and results in more isolation.

I don’t write this for sympathy. I don’t write it as part as my on going and undying commitment to the cause of mental health charities like Mind. I don’t quite know why I write it. I think I write it because it fascinates me.

And perhaps I am writing this for any of you out there who are lonely too. There’s not much we can do about it. I am luckier than many of you because I am lonely in a crowd of people who are mostly very nice to me and appear to be pleased to meet me. But I want you to know that you are not alone in your being alone.

Again…very similar. I blog about this and write about it so I may help others by sharing experiences. Unfortunately there are some out there who do not want me telling of my experiences and so I have to be very careful what I write because if I get too close to the truth then the legal letters start flowing. One day soon though the truth will be told, and I will write a book about it all.

The strange thing is, if you see me in the street and engage in conversation I will probably freeze into polite fear and smile inanely until I can get away to be on my lonely ownsome.

Make of that what you will.

Ditto…thank you Stephen Fry…for sharing that which is so painful and personal.


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