I’m a firm believer that people enter your life for a reason. Sometimes they carry you, sometimes they hurt you, sometimes they only want you for your endless cupcake provision, but nevertheless, I believe we can always learn so much from the people in our personal worlds. Writing this blog has taught me so much about the innate strength and resilience of the women I have in my life. And today’s Guest Post is certainly no exception.
I met Bess about 10 years ago (omg we’re old Bess!) when we were studying art together fresh out of high school. Something between us clicked and we began to navigate “adult” life together in between life drawing and café breaks. Bess is an amazing person who is kind and warm and gentle and sweet, but also strong, honest, resilient and brave. She is also an incredible photographer, highly creative, and super-duper smart.
Anyway, life happened and Bess and I didn’t see each other for a number of years, so it was only when we reunited recently that I heard of her struggles with depression and suicide. Suicide is something that is so scary and so stigmatized that it’s almost impossible to discuss without fear or prejudice. But, we have to try. And so that’s why today, on National Suicide Prevention Day, I am so very humbled and honoured to share Bess’ story with you.
Personally, as someone who has only touched the tip of experiencing depression and suicidal ideation (and *that* was horrific enough), Bess’ words have helped to give me insight into a world that I don’t understand, as well as tools to help me know how to respond. So thank you, beautiful Bess, for having the courage and the ability to speak so candidly about your journey. I’m certainly so so grateful to you.
Firstly I would like to say that I am honoured to be asked to be a guest on this wonderful blog. The honesty and courage that has been shown on these pages is an inspiration.
Today is World Suicide Prevention day. In the wake of the recent passing of Robin Williams much has been said on the topic of suicide; we have seen compassion but of course we have also seen ignorance. His suicide has been labelled selfish. To label suicide as selfish is to completely misunderstand the extreme and unrelenting pain that person is in.
In our society, unless it is a celebrity, we talk about suicide in hushed tones it is blanketed in silence. The media doesn’t report suicides for fear of copycat behaviour. This culture of silence perpetuates the grief and alienation felt by those who are left behind when someone they love suicides and it isolates those people who may be feeling suicidal, further from society. We need to start being more open about Mental Illness and suicide and recognise that these illnesses are real and acknowledge peoples experiences without fear or judgement. We need to do this so people feel they can speak out, to seek help, before the tragedy that is suicide occurs.
I can only speak from my own experience but the decision to suicide is not one that comes lightly. For me, it came after many months of agonising emotional pain. It was not a rational decision. It came out of desperation and despair. Of feeling utterly useless and out of control of my own life and mind. It is a terrifying feeling to have lost complete control of your thoughts and emotions and not one I would wish upon anyone, even my worst enemy.
I have battled with Depression since my teenage years but not having a name for it I found myself trying to cope through self-harm and alcohol abuse.
When things in my life were going well this darkness seemed gone for good, however as I grew into my twenties I could see the slightest upset or disappointment and the beast of Depression would be stirred out of the shadows.
As a side note: people with Depression do not ask for it, they do not bring it on themselves and they are certainly not given a handbook on how to deal with it! I cannot explain how terribly frightened of these feelings I was and exhausted by them. Because Depression is not a tangible illness we look for ways to illustrate it for those that might find it hard to understand, the black dog, the darkness etc.
I like to think of the rain cloud overhead. At first it appears just a slight drizzle and you haven’t got a raincoat or umbrella. The cloud follows you everywhere, even inside so you are continually getting wet. You can’t shake it and the rain gets heavier. Your clothes get wetter and heavier. You keep trying to keep up with life, with work and you wonder why everyone else seems to find it so much easier. By this stage your soaked through and frozen to the bone. Sometimes there’s thunder and lightening that roars and cracks right through your body, causing pain and making it hard to hear what else is going on around you. Still you try to keep going. Until it becomes too much. And maybe you collapse under the cloud. Or maybe someone offers you their umbrella to share or maybe you ask someone to share their umbrella. Acknowledging the cloud is there and telling people is the only way you can learn to deal with it.
My journey to understand my Depression and learn to manage it in my life is an ever-evolving process to say the least, and of course there are good and bad days. I am extremely lucky to have a wonderful network of dedicated friends and family who help to carry me along. And who have learnt to be patient with me. I know it can be frustrating for them, trying to understand and know how to support me. I know I can shut down and forget how to be honest and open. Of course this comes from not wanting to burden them but in the end not being open often worries them more and I, in turn, suffer alone.
Sometimes people worry about upsetting a depressed person by asking them if they feel suicidal. And I can sympathise with this. I have also had friends who are Depressed and felt unsure whether to ask them, but on the times I have and they have laughed and said ‘No Bess, I’ll be fine’ I have walked away thinking ‘Well better for me to be wrong and laughed at then not asking and being right.’
I also know the times when I have confided in someone that I was feeling suicidal, I felt a huge weight had been lifted and it was no longer just a taunting thought in my head that only I could hear, I was distanced from it by verbalising it.
It’s important for people to understand that people who are struggling with a mental illness are fighting a battle at every step. I try to acknowledge the little achievements. For me, some days, just to make it to work is one of these achievements. And I am lucky I often have a text from my Mum saying, ‘Just try to make it until lunch time.’
The smallest things become difficult when you are depressed so an offer of cooking a meal for someone or taking them out can make a world of difference. I also think in this busy world the ‘check-in text’, to tell someone you are thinking of them, can go a long way. But I guess the most important thing for both supporters and sufferers is patience. And yes, this is definitely still something I am learning! Like with most things in life: nothing is certain.
There is no quick fix for Depression. And whilst medication can help, for me and I think for many others it has not been medication alone. There is different therapies, identifying triggers and making life changes.
I hope that sharing this helps people to better understand the experience, helps them to feel confident in assisting friends or family they know to be suffering. I hope it also helps those people who may be struggling to feel brave enough to reach out and know you are not alone.
In the dark times I try to remember ‘This too shall pass.’ I try to remember that feeling of coming out of an episode. When you see the world with a new fresh gaze. When you can take comfort and see hope in the little things, a blue sky, a dog’s enthusiastic leap, a lie down in the sun.