‘I’ve spent my whole life getting ill at the wrong time, watching others take my place.
‘It gets boring, watching life from the touchline,’ DI Neville Parker (Ralf Little) said in a recent episode of Death in Paradise.
Death in Paradise, a show created by Robert Thorogood, follows life on the island of Saint Marie and is currently nearing the end of its 10th series. Each episode someone is murdered, and it’s up to the police force led by an English detective to figure out who the killer is.
The islanders of Saint Marie have struggle to understand Neville and why he’s so meticulous and dedicated to his routines, but as someone living with OCD, anxiety and has past experiences of depression, I understand it completely.
Neville arrived on Saint Marie in series nine and within seconds we established the type of person this new detective would be. Neville was dressed in a suit perfect for a boring office, contrasted hilariously with his new colleagues dressed in uniform that makes working in the 30-degree heat semi-manageable.
Neville was determined to leave the island the minute he had signed off on a case of what seemed like a woman ending her life, but his plans were thrown up in the air when he figured out the woman had actually been murdered.
After the case was over, Neville became trapped outside of his comfort zone after developing deep vein thrombosis and was forced to stay on the island until the doctor allowed him to fly home.
As Neville took on his second case to distract himself, his situation escalated once more when he became trapped on a neighbouring island due to a bad storm.
What came next was something, truth be told, I had never seen depicted on a television drama.
Neville’s inability to do his usual routines when kept away from his familiar surroundings sent him into a meltdown, and he described himself as ‘out of whack’ when he’s in a situation where he’s unable to complete his rituals.
As someone living with OCD, an illness that controls your life, I was taken aback watching this scene.
This was a character like me; someone who was so committed to his routines, and panicked at the thought of not following them.
Having OCD, the ‘obsessive’ part means I must complete my rituals every single day. Back when I had depression, even a mere thought about not doing them would make my mind race.
If I were five minutes, 10 minutes or even half an hour late to starting them for whatever reason, I’d send myself into a paranoid state, convinced the house would catch fire, or someone would be put in danger and it would be my fault because I didn’t complete my routines on time.
My situation isn’t even as half as bad as what it once was but watching Neville with the Commissioner (Don Warrington) during that episode made me relate to this character. He made me feel less alone.
This was the first in a long line of challenges that Neville has had to face and the island threw new things at Neville that a life in Manchester would never have.
He was sleeping in a shed (although the Commissioner would call it a bungalow) on the beach, he was getting bitten by all sorts of critters and bugs, he was going on helicopters, boats, even the sun made Neville uncomfortable!
I related; when I had depression, I had agoraphobia too, and at first the thought of even leaving my house to go to the shop became terrifying. Now, as I watch Neville face his fears three years on from the worst year of my life, I can see his – and my own – journey as inspiring.
An episode during this series saw Neville spend time in hospital for a reaction to an insect bite. While the plot focused on what happened following the death of a nurse, it gave us time to learn more about Neville after the Commissioner instructed him to be removed from the case because he was unwell.
We established that even though Neville seemed his usual passionate self about solving the case in his dressing gown and finding clues from his hospital bed as opposed to his desk, it was more down to his desperation to be part of the team.
Neville explained how he had a ‘deep-seated fear of missing out’ and within that moment he had put into words something I had often struggled to convey.
Having depression, anxiety, agoraphobia, a chronic illness, you feel left out all the time, and being so consumed by something you can’t control makes life a lonely place. I understood Neville’s need to take part in the case completely.
The people of Saint Marie live a different life to Neville, but one person who has helped him embrace island living is his colleague DS Florence Cassell.
From the first episode of this series, she began to encourage Neville to step out of his comfort zone, and it’s working! Despite Neville’s confusing feelings towards Florence, tonight she managed to help him face another one of his fears and he swam in the sea.
Overall, Neville’s work colleagues, past and present, have changed his life in more ways than one. Back in series nine, Officer Ruby Patterson (Shyko Amos) helped Neville to really embrace island life, which eventually led him to dance on the sand to reggae music and drink rum through to the late hours of the evening.
Now Florence, JP (Tobi Bakare) and Marlon (Tahj Miles) have got used to Neville and his character traits, they have made him comfortable and he’s doing things on the island he never even gave a moment to think about when he stepped off that plane back in his first episode.
Yes, the Commissioner still hasn’t quite managed to accept Neville’s ways, calling him ‘quite brilliant, if a little annoying’, but he challenges him.
Neville’s life on Saint Marie has taught me that being surrounded good people in a healthy environment means you can really live, thrive, and – most importantly – you can discover who you really are without being trapped in the endless cycle of routine, safety and familiarity.
I’m a new fan of Death in Paradise, I’ll admit. Episode one of the 10th series was the first ever episode I had watched, and as the series continued, I went back and watched Neville’s opening episodes to discover more about him.
‘He makes me feel normal’ I said to a friend who also watches the show. The power of this character means he’s helped other people to understand what it’s like to live with an illness that’s hard to control.
Although we don’t really know how Neville’s traits came about, if anything that’s a positive thing, because each of us can watch and relate to him in our own way.
Many of us struggle to explain how we’re feeling, myself included, but Death in Paradise has managed to show people what living life with an illness is really like; they’ve managed to explain it perfectly in a TV show watched by millions.
It’s important to acknowledge a character like DI Neville Parker, because we never see someone like him on our screens. His journey has helped me believe that living a normal life and doing things I was never able to do because they were too terrifying is completely possible.
I’ll certainly take a lot away from this series of Death in Paradise, and when the world finally opens up again, I’ll look back on my years of being gripped by depression, anxiety and OCD and remember one quote from Neville himself:
‘I could’ve gone through my whole life and never known I had it in me to feel this happy.’
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