Trigger Warning: this post contains shizzle about suicide, depression, grief and sex abuse.
Still with me after that tempting intro?
Today is national Time to Talk Day.
I know. Another day of awareness.
I would like to propose that tomorrow, February 3rd, be national Fuck All Day. A whole day when we are encouraged to think about fuck all, talk about fuck all and be aware of fuck all.
We need this national day of nothingness for our mental health and well-being. If we are any more aware of any more important things, we will all end up in mental institutions (aka pubs) for the rest of our sorry lives.
But before we allow ourselves that blissful day of empty minds, let us focus on the purpose of this Time to Talk day.
The idea is that the simple act of conversation can be a powerful tool in the maintenance of good mental health.
This is not an alternative fact. We know this to be true (although I find myself feeling increasingly mentally ill about the pervasive use of the term ‘mental health.’ I think what we’re referring to when we say mental health, is really just feelings).
We really do all need to talk about our feelings. Not talking about how we feel is what can lead to us being properly mental. And if we’ve experienced something, or are troubled by something which nobody wants to hear about, the mentalness can be even worse.
Things nobody wants to talk about include:
- Rape/sexual assault
- Childhood sexual abuse
Things everybody wants to talk about:
- House renovations
- If The Voice is better on ITV
- If our bums look big in this
On Tuesday evening, I travelled into my city centre and met with a group of strangers specifically for the purpose of talking about suicide.
I went because it featured this fella:
Michael Mansfield QC. An evening with a living legend in a brilliant suit could not be missed. But this night was not about his incredible career defending high-profile cases of extreme injustice. This was about a very personal trial.
After his daughter Anna took her own life in 2015, he set up the organisation Silence of Suicide (SOS) to try to break the silence and get us all talking about everything to do with suicide.
It is the biggest killer of men under 50.
It is the biggest killer of women aged 20-34.
And every time someone dies by suicide, a tremendous torrent of grief and confusion is bestowed on their loved ones.
That’s a lot of needless suffering.
Yet you won’t see a colour-themed charity march to raise awareness of and funds for suicide prevention. You won’t find a Just Giving page set up by the family of a suicidal person, to help them ‘fight the disease’ and save their lives.
Because it’s a murky, frightening and misunderstood business, buried in shame, guilt and silence.
Even the way we refer to it is rammed with badness. We say someone has ‘committed suicide’ like they’ve ‘committed murder’ which harks back to the days when to take your own life was actually a crime, punishable by being barred a burial in sacred ground and your family being banished.
My mum died by suicide. That’s the term we would prefer you to use please. Or ‘killed herself’ is ok but a bit brutal. Some folk like to say ‘took her own life’ which is fine by me but still feels a bit criminal, as if she stole something she shouldn’t have, which I suppose she did in that she took my childhood with her and my trust and a good deal of my joy…
I spoke about her at this public meeting. I got on the mic and told my sorry story and even now, twenty-eight years later, the shame lashed me all over again. I felt grotesque and exposed. I cried. I apologised. I said I still felt responsible.
I can testify that on this occasion, talking categorically did NOT help me.
As the conversation moved on and more people shared their stories of suicide, their thoughts about how we could prevent such a high death-toll, how we could spot the signs better and support each other better, all good and useful discussion, I sat there feeling hot and shaky, my tongue thickening, my scalp crawling.
I texted Gwyneth who’s working away and told him I’d made an appalling mistake and would have to leave. He texted back to say he had no idea I was going on my own and was there someone I could call to come and meet me?
Then this fella started speaking. He was young and intensely beautiful. He had a hipsterish beard which framed the most glorious smile, a smile which stayed in place all the time he spoke about how he had a good job and lots of friends and family, everything going for him, but that he thinks about killing himself every day. For years he’s been smiling and maintaining his life, but honestly, he can’t see the point of living anymore.
Still smiling, he said he’d never told anyone how he feels because he knows they will try to talk him out of doing it. And he was sorry for all our losses, but he thought us selfish. He said people think suicide is selfish, but it’s selfish for us all to want, to need, our suicidal loved-ones to stay alive for us. Then he repeated: if I need to die, I should be able to make that choice, because it’s what I want to do.
We’d already been introduced to the Samaritans who were standing by if we needed them at any point. Somehow the conversation moved on and away from this fella, but I could see the Samaritans keeping an eye on him and at the end they chased after him as he tried to make a sharp exit.
Suicidal thinking is not always caused by mental illness. In fact, many of us consider suicide at some point in our lives. That fella was not obviously mentally ill. But he really does need to talk about how he feels.
One of the biggest signs of suicidal thinking is an overwhelming preoccupation with the present; the idea that what you’re feeling now, experiencing now, will never change and is inescapable.
Talking about that can really help. Releasing those thoughts and feelings out loud. Seeing a flicker of a chance that one day soon, or maybe even in a minute or two, you could feel differently. To give yourself that small chance.
I hope that young fella found some solace that night. I hope he talked. I couldn’t stop thinking about him and the whole experience laid me out for 24hrs. But today I’m alright again, alright enough to tell you about it (at extraordinary length!) without my head feeling like it’s going to fall off.
So today, may we all try to find time to talk to someone who may need it. Or begin that conversation about how we’re really feeling. No shame. No expectation.
Tomorrow is for feeling fuck all!
You can watch a brill film made by SOS, featuring Mansfield here
Watch the fab bafta-nominated BBC doc ‘Life After Suicide’ here
The amazing SOBS (Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide) can be found here
The UK charity dedicated to the prevention of young suicide can be contacted here
The Samaritans are here
Ps. This is what I drew during that SOS meeting to try and stay calm. A doodle favoured by my mum. I hadn’t done it for years. It was very soothing and nostalgic. So if you can’t talk today, I say doodle instead! It will in no way make you appear more mental to those around you…