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.