Silent Footsteps

I’ve been trying to get out  of the house more lately. It’s good for my mood and my mental health. Luckily, Tullamore town park is only around the corner from us so on Friday evening, Alison and I walked down, as we often do. I had read in the paper that there was to be a gathering that evening for families who had lost loved ones to suicide, and that those affected had been invited to bring a pair of shoes with them to represent those who had died so tragically. Thinking it’d be a tiny affair (Tullamore is no city) we bought a pair of runners to represent my childhood neighbour Paul and another childhood friend, Frank. When we arrived at the park, I was taken aback by the depressingly sizable crowd in front of us. I had explained to Alison that we were honouring those who had died.

“Like my nannies?” she’d asked. (She loves hearing about her nannies).

“Er, not exactly,” I replied.  What the hell was I doing, bringing a child to this event? “We’re remembering people who died because they were just tired of life. There’s sickness of the body, and sickness of the mind. Sometimes your mind gets so sick that it believes it can’t get better… and sometimes it kills people.”

I reflected upon my pathetic explanation. Don’t explanations like mine only serve to perpetuate the problem, that we have become so ashamed to vocalise our feelings that sometimes we just… don’t? We don’t want to be a burden, so we spend day after day alone, saying nothing to anybody. We worry that we won’t be believed. Or we keep quiet because we know Mrs So-and-so is going through their own shit and she has it way worse. Whoever coined the phrase “first-world problems” should be shot.

As I listened to the prayers, my eye wandered to the line of shoes in front of me. The line was so long that I couldn’t see the end of it. That frightened me. These shoes belonged to people in our town – ordinary people with ordinary lives – who were living with a massive gap in their lives. Suddenly, I became overwhelmed with an emotion that almost suffocated me. It was sadness, mixed with pain and self-hatred. Suddenly I realised why I had subconsciously wanted to be there, even though I wasn’t representing an immediate family member.

I was representing… me.

It’s almost been five years since I had deep, suicidal thoughts. Five years since I took a handful of pills, despising my own cowardice when I couldn’t bring myself to take enough to kill myself. Five years since the night when I told my husband I didn’t love him and wouldn’t he be better off without me and didn’t Ali deserve better. Five years since I bashed and cut every inch of myself in a bout of self-hatred so inexplicable that I can’t explain it accurately now that I am calm. In my eyes, I had failed. I was a crap parent, and shite at my job. I felt constantly tired, even though “I only had one child”.  Some people couldn’t even have children and here I was acting like an unbelievable knob, ungrateful for what I had. All I had wanted was to be dead.

And sitting there, looking at the shoes, part of the reason why suddenly occurred to me. We have distanced ourselves from each other. The cost of living is ridiculous, so in an average household both partners must work, often ludicrous hours. Where is the time to have a meaningless natter with your neighbours? And speaking of neighbours, we don’t know our neighbours anymore (stupid housing crisis). We keep ourselves to ourselves. My parents bought a house back in the ‘eighties and that was our forever home, but people can’t do that anymore. And we knew most of our neighbours; in fact, all of us kids had best friends who were also our neighbours. People are not able to put down roots: not those in houses where the rents are constantly climbing, and certainly not those in hostels or hotel rooms.

I began thinking: if things are so bad (and make no mistake – we are beyond crisis point here) then why are we too proud to reach out to each other? Why are we wasting time trying to  pretend we have the perfect lives on social media when we need to be talking more, empathising more, encouraging each other more? When will we learn that the perfect life we aspire to has been airbrushed into existence, and that happiness is more important than perfection? And why, in spite of the “It’s ok to be not oks” and “mental health is real healths” are we still not taking it seriously?

I resolve to take mental health more seriously because those empty shoes frighten me. So let’s go for coffee. Come over for dinner, or chocolate – or both. If you ever need to chat, I will not judge. I will listen as best as I can.

Don’t assume that what you left unsaid will be heard. Trust me, people will be glad you said it.

It’s those unsaid words that haunt us the most in the silence.

 

 

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Post Election Manifesto (Poem)

 

You knocked on our doors wearing a smile,
Said that you wanted to talk for a while,
Assured us that you understood our pain
and that in trusting in you, we had everything to gain.
Then as the door closed with us safe behind
Did we really remain in your minds?
Could you really know what our smiles were hiding
As your manifestos through our letterboxes you were sliding?

Black eyes by a fist who wanted to show who was boss;
An empty cot owned by a mother suffering a loss;
A child who didn’t have breakfast that day;
A young man who can’t make those voices go away;
A lonely but beautiful lady who can’t seem to stop drinking –
When you were ringing those doorbells
What were you thinking?
How were you going to gain our trust
In an Ireland viewed by many as cold and unjust?

You could promise the moon and the stars
But we won’t believe you’re not running up your tab at the bar.
While you attest that things will change in your name
for many of us our reality stays the same,
We still struggle to keep the roofs over our heads
(the lucky of us that is – spare a thought for those in hostel beds),
while working our fingers down to the bone
and spending our evenings feeling overwhelmed and alone.

And that – mo chara – is the biggest problem right there –
That people these days just don’t seem to care!
Young people in nursing homes, families with nothing to eat,
Thousands of people out on the street!
For a country obsessed with unity, all we do is divide –
Never has the gap between ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ been so wide.
And it’s so hard to believe that the country is broke
When the powers that be get six-figure paychecks
(unlike ordinary folk).

So if you are in government, and you’re reading this crap,
It’s time to stop letting Bertie and Enda take the rap,
The future of this country rests in your hands
And we’re counting on you to meet our demands.
Don’t say it’s impossible, that your hands are tied,
Instead think of the tears your people have cried.
One person can’t change the world, it’s true,
But if you speak up for the voiceless, others will too
And maybe, just maybe, our faith in Ireland will renew.