Like many Australians I was stunned to read the news yesterday of the passing of celebrity Charlotte Dawson.
Dawson, a stunning and vivacious woman ended her life at the age of 47.
On Friday evening (the same night I was having suicidal thoughts) this beautiful woman was doing exactly the same thing. It wasn’t the first time she had entertained these thoughts but it was certainly the last. In September 2012 her name became headlines after her first suicide attempt. On this occasion she was saved by a tweet showing a handful of pills and the words “You win x”.
There were no tweets to save her life this time. In actual fact it was the absence of tweets that alerted friends to the fact that something may be wrong.
The media is now full of eulogies and stories about the life of this woman who counted celebrities such as Russell Crowe, Jennifer Hawkins and Alex Perry amongst her friends.
They remember her as a vivacious and vibrant person with an acerbic wit. A person who had a genuine love for others. An angel.
She was a champion of social issues and spoke out in the media against cyber bullying and harassment (more so after her first suicide attempt) after becoming a victim of trolls on Twitter some of whom called for her to ‘hang herself, stick her head in a toaster or told her that they were glad people like her didn’t breed’. The things said were vitriolic and horrific and those that wrote these words hid behind the anonymity of their keyboards.
Her blood is now on their hands as calls are being made for social media to create harsher penalties for people who allow their hatred to spill through their fingers.
Charlotte Dawson came out publicly and told the world that she suffered from depression. According to one online newspaper, it is believed that her depression was brought on by an abortion whilst she was married. Other stories say that it was the breakdown of her marriage to disgraced Olympian Scot Miller that started it all. However by all accounts, she suffered numerous setbacks in her personal and professional life. Unfortunately this all played out on the pages of newspapers and in the general media. Such is the life of a celebrity.
Many are searching for the trigger to her suicide. I wish they wouldn’t, because nobody will ever know. It may have been a passing comment by a stranger or a distorted conversation within her own mind that tipped her over the edge. The mind of a depressive does not function in the same way as that of a person who is whole and ‘well’. The world at large does not realise this. What if they do find the trigger? It’s not as if it will bring her back is it?
By all accounts I identified with this woman. Whilst I don’t have the life she led or the connections she had, I too have suffered setbacks in my life. I too suffer depression. I too believe in social justice. I too am a similar age. I too entertained thoughts of not being good enough for this world on the same night that she did. The difference here is that I woke up on Saturday morning.
On television last night (during an interview) a person was heard to say “I just saw her yesterday and she was laughing and smiling”.
Why is there a common misconception that if you suffer depression you don’t smile and laugh? Laughter and tears are so closely connected after all. They are extreme emotions.
Just because you smile and laugh, it doesn’t mean you are happy. Inside, your heart may be breaking and your soul sinking deeper into a black hole you feel there is no escape from.
The last photo taken of Charlotte Dawson (on Thursday) shows her “carefree and happy” (according to one source) and the photo she posted of herself on Twitter on Friday morning as she was about to appear on a tv show shows a beautiful and poised woman who for all intents and purposes looks perfectly ‘normal’. Let’s get this straight: Depressives don’t walk around with a flashing sign above their heads so that people can identify they have a mental illness. Depressives are normal people who laugh, smile and communicate with others. It’s what is going on inside them that sets them apart – and that can’t be captured by a camera!
Discussion of news is inevitable amongst people and I heard an opinion offered “She should have got help”.
The short answer to this is – she did.
However, therapists are there to assist a person in making choices in their lives. They can’t stop anyone from thinking and feeling the way that they do. They can offer suggestions and alternatives but they can’t fix a person. The person responsible for that is the one suffering the depression.
I also heard the comment “Why didn’t she just close her Twitter account”? Good question. However to put that into a little perspective – social media is the new way to advertise and Charlotte had a public profile. she not only appeared on tv, she was an author. The push these days is toward self promotion. And how do you do that? You maintain social media accounts (including Twitter). Publishing companies encourage you to do this. It’s called ‘building a platform’. Maybe she spent a little too much time on Twitter. Who knows? I certainly don’t. We can’t judge the woman for having a Twitter account.
Celebrity or not, Charlotte Dawson was human. She suffered human emotion and therefore trolls had an impact on her life. I’ve said before that the old rhyme about sticks and stones is completely untrue. Name calling does hurt – especially when you are already vulnerable.
I think that it is a tragedy that Charlotte Dawson took her own life. I think that it is a tragedy that the general public have a distorted view of what they believe depression is. I think that it is a tragedy that social media can be held responsible for the part it played in this outcome.
But the biggest tragedy of all is that this sort of thing happens every day however it doesn’t make the news because those it happens to are ordinary, every day people like you and me that don’t live their lives in the public eye.
Depression sucks for anyone who suffers from it – regardless of your status in life.