We lost a friend this week.
She was a very talented artist, and mother, who struggled with mental illness. Despite the absolute best efforts of health professionals, her friends and family she was not able to survive her illness. And she fought hard.
This is not the first, not even the third friend I’ve lost in this way. In fact, we have a family history of mental illness in my own lineage. I say that matter of factly because it’s true, and also because openly talking about it is potentially life-saving, not because I take it lightly.
I could well have remained on a path of self-destruction if it weren’t for some extremely fortunate circumstances that led me to where I’m at now. That was some kind of magic. Still, I never take it for granted. Any piece of mind I might acquire presently, I value for the precious, fragile golden thing that it is.
According to the World Health Organisation, ‘One in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill–health and disability worldwide.
Perhaps even more relevant is the comment made on the release of the report.
“Mental illness is not a personal failure. In fact, if there is failure, it is to be found in the way we have responded to people with mental and brain disorders,” said Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of WHO.
The challenge is that there is no single way that a struggling mother, young adult or child will present. There is a huge variety of different things that could be going on. Even health professionals can have difficulty diagnosing exactly what is happening for someone who is not coping day to day. And not all of us will have the courage or support to reach the level of even getting help.
I would hope that if you are like me, and are doing reasonably well that you might have the capacity to stop a moment and check in if you observe someone who is not doing so well. It might be that they appear disconnected or withdrawn. It might be that their behaviour is erratic or unusual. Maybe your spidey senses are telling you something isn’t right. I would hope that we can evolve to the point as a society that rather than passing judgement, we are able to reach out and step in when we sense something is wrong. From this place of compassion, we have a good chance of making a real difference to those around us. At least, we can try.
And this is why I want to encourage us, as women and mothers particularly, to learn new ways of responding to those amongst us who struggle – whether it is within or beside our own families, I want to get better at showing a loving response, one of intimacy and compassion. I want to be more aware of the fact that if a person appears shut-down or withdrawn, or perhaps reluctant to connect, that it could possibly be a function of their own difficulties. It could potentially be that they are not doing so well. And well, there’s no harm in asking, ‘Are you OK‘, is there? Or better still, let them know you see them suffering, and you are still beside them and holding a space for them. It’s so important for people to be acknowledged and seen for where they are really at, and know that people can still stand close, even in the darkest of times.
For those who have lost people close, who did all of the above and it still didn’t help, my heart goes out to you. There is no sense to the creeping dark that is mental illness. The black dog shows no mercy. I only hope that you are held by your communities ever closer while you endure the storm of grief.
And to the family of the precious one we lost this week. I’m so sorry there wasn’t more that could have been done to save your mother, wife, and our friend. I hope her children grow up knowing how much love she had for them. Knowing she did all she could to survive. Knowing how many people admired, respected and were in awe of her. I certainly was, and still am.
Let us all wake up to the preciousness of our intimacies with each other. Let us all love a little harder now, and move a little closer to those we hold dear. Vale SR, you brightened up our world with your intense passion.
If you’d like to offer practical support, there is a Go Fund Me campaign for Sammy’s boys here.