Despite not owning a TV for about four years now, my top three TV shows (in no particular order) are Grey’s Anatomy, Suits and, more recently, A Million Little Things (which unceremoniously pushed Madam Secretary down the list).
A Million Little Things is in it's first season and is about a group of friends in their early 40s from Boston who bonded under unusual circumstances when one of them dies unexpectedly and they discover that friends may be the one thing that can save them from themselves.
Near the end of the first episode (and I don’t think any spoiler alerts are necessary here so you can keep reading), the friends are all together trying to understand the unexpected and devastating death of one of their best friends. Why hadn’t they seen it coming? How could their friend do this? Unsurprisingly, they’re all grief stricken, angry and confused.
Then out of the blue one of the characters confesses something that arrested me. He shares that if they hadn’t been sitting there talking about John's death they would have been talking about him as he was planning to commit suicide the same day John died. "I thought that maybe if I just stopped it wouldn't hurt so much." Not one of them had suspected anything. No one knew.
Sadly, this resonated with me. I have never attempted to take my own life but I have, like this character, suffered from depression and I’m pretty sure no one really knew what I was going through at the time.
It’s February 2019 and two people I know ended their lives this year. Two months. Two men. Two suicides. No one knew.
For a number of years, I struggled with depression which, now that I know the symptoms well, started long before I actually realised what was going on.
I first noticed patterns of depression when my marriage ended. It would start off with a deep, inexplicable sadness. This would lead to me withdrawing from friends and family and spending most of my time alone which didn’t appear unusual to those close to me because I'm an introvert who enjoys her own company - so how could anyone have known?
I grew up in a household where it would have been indulgent to give any attention to your emotions, not because my family didn't care but because of what they had endured to create a better life for me, so I kept things bottled up. I was emotionally immature and had no tools for dealing with the assault of negative feelings that were coming at me like a torrent. And, ironically, at a point in my life when I really needed it, I turned my back on my Christian faith of 20 years.
Motivation to do the simplest things, like getting out of bed, required the strength of Hercules. I would call in sick often and soon became that flakey employee in the workplace. From the outside looking in I'm pretty certain I appeared lazy but this was far from the truth. However, if you have ever suffered from depression you will know that sleep becomes the BFF that helps you to escape the black hole of hopelessness.
Because I love to write my journals became my "psychiatrist couch". I could express myself on paper in a way I was unable to do with loved ones. The stigma associated with depression kept me silent. I feared their judgement (would they label me "crazy"?) and shame (how could this be happening to me? I have a home, family, job and I'm attractive - because good-looking people are NEVER depressed, right?). Then there was the thing that once they knew they couldn't then un-know it and I didn't want them to treat me with caution once I was better. So, when I needed someone to talk to I would email the Samaritans.
I haven’t experienced severe symptoms for years now but from time to time, like a familiar toxic friendship, depression tries to pull me in. Why am I telling you this now? Two months. Two men. Two suicides. No one knew.
I only have authority over my experience of depression as everyone’s experience with mental health is unique. What I am hoping this post will highlight is that sometimes everything is not all that it seems. What appears to be a moody friend or unreliable colleague could be someone who needs help. Please initiate a conversation with questions like “I noticed XYZ, is everything okay?” or “I haven’t seen you in a while - how are you doing?” - questions like these show are interested and that you care. Sometimes a hug will be enough. As a community let's do better at being more present with the people around us.
The causes of suicide are complex and there’s no single reason why someone takes their life. However, the rate of suicide is alarmingly high - one person would be too high - and according to the Samaritan’s suicide statistic report, there were 6,213 suicides in the UK and Republic of Ireland in 2017 and for every one of these people, there are friends, partners, children, relatives, carers and colleagues left behind.
Two men. One could have been my husband and the other my son. Both loved and missed. This. I. Know.
If you recognise any of the symptoms of depression I have shared in your own life please speak to someone, visit your GP or contact the Samaritans. You are not alone.