I was surprised at the level of support we received in the first six months after my 19-year-old daughter’s suicide. Wonderful friends, thoughtful and always open to talk. Then slowly it became more uncomfortable talking about it, people started to shut down the conversation, not ask and so on. One or two precious friends understand how it is for me, but everyone else wants us to keep it to ourselves now. It’s not that they lack compassion for us, I think it’s because they don’t know what to say and they want to see us ‘getting over it’.
I was angry at first but I’ve thought about it a lot. So many relationships are run on habit, on surface exchanges about various subjects – kids, jobs, careers, holidays, and so on. The real deep stuff is kept for more intimate relationships (if you are lucky) like spouses or very close friends. We don’t really know each other. We don’t know the other’s inner world. We don’t know if they are planning to kill themselves or if their husband hit them that morning or if they battle with private phobias or a myriad of private personal stuff. We don’t really know. We can’t know. And so often we don’t actually want to know because we have more than enough stuff to deal with in our own lives.
I was surprised by those who rose to the occasion and those who couldn’t. I’ve surprised myself. I didn’t know what was inside me. I don’t know what’s inside them. We don’t know until we are tested. What has shocked me is the level of ignorance and prejudiced thinking that I’ve encountered regarding mental health. And it worries me, because if as a society we can’t even cope with grief – a natural phenomenon-how can we cope with the depression and anxiety that led our loved ones to their deaths and left us floundering?
Humans are problematic creatures. We’re real status animals, and we don’t like to show weakness and we don’t like to see it in others. We don’t want to be around sadness. We don’t want to be infected by it. We don’t want to take it on board unless it overwhelms us. Thus, those who suffer, like ourselves are left to turn to each other. It’s all we can do.