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When an Unstoppable Force Meets an Unmoveable Obstacle: Mental Health in Vincent and the Doctor

If one ignores the invisible Krayfish and all that stuff about hair colour and accents, Vincent and the Doctor is about the genius of Vincent Van Gogh: a man so in tune with the world that he could hear colours sing to him; yet a man who struggled with his mental health. The Doctor, at this stage of his timeline, is the ultimate optimist. Vincent was chronically, and terminally, depressed. Try as he might to sympathise with Vincent, the Doctor could only understand on a very limited level what the painter had to endure. The Doctor’s response to Graham’s attempt to share in Can You Hear Me? is not so out of character after all – notwithstanding the latter scene was handled in such a heavy-handed manner. Matt Smith’s Doctor tries to understand what drove Vincent. He is unable to help, but at least he tries.

Mental health issues affect much of humankind, including several contributors to The Doctor Who Companion. Including me.

Mental health issues affect each of us differently. I could not and would not attempt to write about how it affects everyone; I can try to explain how it affects me. Let’s hope this can help someone.

First some background: I am 58 years old and a Licensed Conveyancer. I have been a Doctor Who fan since at least 1966. Last May, I was encouraged (read ‘coerced’) to take early retirement on health grounds. These grounds were not specified and were not the real story. I have not worked since early September. I had a relationship break up about a month ago. I also drink too much.

I have not been diagnosed with depression. Nevertheless, I do suffer from depression.

Not every day. Some days are fine. Some days, I am able to function normally.

Some days are very much not fine. Some days, I do not want to wake up. It can be a real struggle to get out of bed and leave my flat. Some days, I do not manage it. I can be surrounded by people, friends even, and feel totally alone. Like being in a box or the First Doctor inside the Animus’ hair-dryer/communication tube.

Sometimes, it seems as if there is no future or, if there is, there is no place in it for me, or I have no wish to be part of it.

I have not sought medical help. At the moment, I would rather not.

It must be really difficult for onlookers to know what to do to help. Thankfully, no one has asked me what I have to be depressed about (it is often not ‘about’ anything). Neither has anyone told me to get over it, to pull myself together or that many people are going through worse.

Spending too much time online is a very solitary lifestyle. Real relationships can grow online but they are usually somewhat limited in their scope. Solitude is a curse.

So what does help? For me, people help. Being among people. Chatting with friends. I am a Christian. My faith sometimes helps. Sometimes it doesn’t. But two things specifically work: being able to chat to fellow Christians and the knowledge that there is better to come.

Selfishly, it helps to know that others go through this. Don’t get me wrong: I wouldn’t want anyone to feel how I do. But it grounds me to know that I chat with people who will believe that I am not making it up.

A A Milne is reputed to have described two ways of assisting someone who is sat in the mud. Either help them stand up or sit down next to them.

Which brings me to The Doctor Who Companion. Despite what I said about the limited nature of online relationships, I do regard you all as my fam…ily. The love and support I have received from you has got me through some very difficult times. I am really grateful to you for it.

Best way to help this particular depressive? Be a friend.

I hope that the above has not been either: a) too depressing; or b) self-indulgent. If you suffer from any mental health issue, I cannot promise to know what you are going through. I probably won’t. But I will at least know that you are going through something. If you are sitting in the mud, budge up and I will sit next to you.

If you identify with any of the issues raised in this article, please don’t be afraid to speak out. The NHS has a great list of mental health charities that may be able to help too, as does CALM, for international readers.

Tony Stokes

When an Unstoppable Force Meets an Unmoveable Obstacle: Mental Health in Vincent and the Doctor

by Tony Stokes time to read: 3 min
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