“Are you worried about me?”
A friend who is in deep pain recently asked me this very important question. It started an inner dialogue that has not only dialled up internally but also turned up the volume on mental health around me. While it’s a topic I’m attentive to at all times, particularly in my commitment to supporting entrepreneurs, I have rarely shared my own experience with it, which I believe is an essential first step towards destigmatising mental illness as a public discussion.
To paraphrase Jung, I recognise someone else’s darkness insofar as I have experienced it myself. I’ve been through the tunnel of depression, and lived in it for quite long periods at a time. I have always got out of it — but it sure didn’t feel like I would when I was there. My recollection of these periods is an oscillation between a state devoid of light or hope, anything that might suggest it was temporary, and being overwhelmed by feelings I didn’t understand and couldn’t manage; the relentlessness of one dark, heavy day trudging into the next, interspersed with panic attacks brought on by not knowing how to live with the intensity with which I experienced life. I suffered a sense of worthlessness so extreme that I genuinely believed my existence alone was a burden to others, that everyone would be better off if I wasn’t around and that my absence would be more valuable than my existence.
I’m filled with such self-love now that it breaks my heart to recall my complete lack of it. Fortunately, I have people who, when I needed it, loved me enough for both of us — while it didn’t convince me of my worth, it made me concerned enough about hurting them that I was at least suspended in my existential void. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to die as I didn’t know how to keep on living, and I didn’t care if I did. But I stayed in this limbo long enough for it to pass, so now I know that it can — at least for me, and I’m committed to doing whatever I can to helping others believe that their voids too shall pass.
It’s important to note that it didn’t pass on its own: there was serious proactivity on the parts of loved ones who stayed present every day, giving me a consistent baseline that kept me steady when I couldn’t even sit up, and sometimes reached in and pulled me out of the environment, both mental and physical, I was trapped in. Others did for me what I couldn’t do for myself, and they did it daily. This part is important:
Not only could I not do what I needed for myself, I couldn’t even ask for it.
So many people whom I’ve heard speak about losing someone to suicide have said they didn’t see it coming, and I’m never surprised by this. I don’t believe I told anyone how bad things were when I was at my lowest. I was ashamed of my own perceived weakness; even speaking about it long after the fact is frightening, so the fear of judgement then was even greater, as well as the aforementioned reluctance to be burdensome. I believed my problems were not legitimate and frankly would rather have done everyone a favour by relieving them of me than asking for help.
The people who know me and love me saved me simply by being present and constant. They didn’t ask anything of me and only gave; they knew me well enough to recognise my need by my absence, and they never stopped showing up. They held me, helped me get back on my feet and walked with me long after I needed them to. I’m where I am now, thriving, the best version of myself I’ve ever been with even better still to come, because of support I didn’t even know how to ask for.
I’m grateful my friend asked me, in her own way, to worry about her. I wish that she will keep asking and keep sharing, because it means she hasn’t given up. I want her to know she is so much more than her pain, that she is loved, that she is important, that we need her. I want her and everyone else going through their own struggle to keep going, to believe it will get better, to know they matter and for the rest of us to keep showing up and showing them that they do.
I want this to be a conversation no one is too afraid to have, whether you’re asking for help or offering it. If you’re struggling, please don’t do it alone: we need you around. If there’s anyone you’re worried about — even if you think they haven’t quite been themselves lately— please check in on them and let them know they matter to you. We’re all in life together.