I’ve been holding off on writing this. I pride myself on my way with words. I teach English, I write poetry. Words are my life and yet, sometimes, words aren’t enough. I’ve been holding off on writing this because I’ve been afraid of getting it wrong, of not doing justice to the people it has impacted. In the novella “The Body”, which became the film Stand By Me, Stephen King wrote:
The reason our language keeps expanding is because there will never be enough words to articulate our feelings nor to explain the world around us. Whether you’re consciously aware of it or not, most of what we know is defined by what we know it’s not. Don’t believe me? Try explaining what hot is without giving reference to cold, or give a meaning for darkness that doesn’t use the word light; it is part of the reason similes and metaphors exist – because they allow us to explain things we otherwise couldn’t.
As I said, I’ve been holding off on writing this. With good reason too, I’m already concerned about how far off topic I’ve gotten and I haven’t really started. This is meant to be about mental health.
There’s a stigma attached to mental health that exists only because it’s a largely invisible illness. Many people discredit the resilience of the current generation and, at times, I agree with them. But there is clearly something affecting our youth and, just as clearly, not enough being done to support them.
Near where I work there have been 5 suicides in as many weeks.
What does it say about us when suicide is the leading killer of Australians aged 15 to 44? We preach ideals of this being ‘The Lucky Country’, of a fair go for all. I don’t think we can still claim that “she’ll be right” when this many people choose death.
I’m no stranger to suicide. At a time when I was struggling to find my place in the world and my sense of self-worth was practically non-existent, my uncle and aunty took their own lives. While my mum was crying over their loss my dominant feeling was jealousy – I wished I had their strength. I know now that strength is the wrong word and I have seen the effect their deaths have had on their children but at the time I cursed them for completing actions that I had dreamed of and occasionally prepared for but never attempted.
I was in my teens and there was a darkness inside me. There still is. My life is better than I could have ever hoped for and yet I still imagine my own death. I don’t feel the emptiness anymore, however. For much of my life I had struggled to articulate how this felt but a student of mine recently described it as like an apple without its core – it’s still an apple but it lacks that part that gives it life.
With that simile I’ll hark back to what I was getting at towards the start of this blog post, that many people lack the words or understanding to comprehend what people with mental illnesses are going through. Another student confided that his relationships with his friends fell apart because he turned to drugs to combat his depression. His friends labelled him as stupid for putting his physical health at risk but they didn’t necessarily understand the ‘need’ behind the drug taking, in that they made this student feel normal – something that had become unfamiliar to him. In our conversation, this student identified that people don’t understand depression because they “can only empathise with the saddest they’ve ever felt”. If you’ve never felt the lows of depression, how can you possibly understand what people are going through?
I’m not saying I was ever clinically depressed. I had a low point that was pretty damn low but, for all I know, it could have been just a portion of what others go through. I don’t pretend to understand mental illness. I’m not a doctor. What I am is an empathetic human being with two functional eyes. Any idiot can see that too many people are taking their own lives.
I don’t have solutions.
But if you have anxiety or depression or any other invisible illness, what I can offer you is advice. The saying ‘time heals all wounds’ is false but time does provide many things. Mental illness is still relatively new, it has only recently been accepted as reality and, as such, the medical industry and the general populous are still coming to grips with what it means and how it may be treated. Time will provide greater understanding and, with that, greater support. Time will also give you a chance to grow. What incapacitates you now may only aggravate or annoy you in future; you will develop strategies to cope and greater resistance to the things that currently trigger a response.
Time won’t heal you but it will help if you let it. In the words of Dylan Thomas –
“Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”