...I was devastated by the death of my friend Alan who committed suicide.
On one hand it was just a dreadful, dreadful shock. Yet on the other, I now realise that the signs that he had been depressed had been there for a while. I just did not know how to recognise the severity of how he was feeling and what that might really mean - it simply did not occur to me that he would deliberately harm himself.
I miss him terribly. I recently bought home a letter that he wrote to me last Spring. It has been sitting in my Captain’s letter tray in the Clubhouse for all this time as I have not been able to bear to throw it away. My heart catches each time I see the wide, flamboyant arc of his signature.
As you will guess from this, I knew Alan through my sport. Since before I took it up, in fact. My father and I are involved in the same sport, Alan was about the same age as my father and they were so strikingly similar in looks that they could have been brothers. They were constantly being mistaken for each other, which amused them both endlessly - particularly if they managed to wriggle out of something as a result of it! As a result, they knew each other fairly well.
Now I took up my sport up in my early twenties. If my father was not around, I used to give Alan a hug and joke that he would have to stand in as his surrogate – i.e. put up with hearing about my awful scores over lunch or a cup of tea. I do not remember ever discussing my scores, instead Alan would distract me with fascinating anecdotes from his professional life.
This tradition continued right up until almost the last time that I saw him. I miss his stories, his occasional company over lunch, his most infectious, distinctive giggle and also, I miss his delighted to be of service, stand-in father hugs. It upsets me endlessly that someone I cared about ended up somewhere unfathomable in their head - a place where such a lonely, awful exit appeared to be the only way forwards.
Over the course of the past year, I have noted a number of people who have been open about their depression and blogged about it. I am so very glad that this is the case. It's important that people feel able to be honest, know that it is okay, receive the support they need and have the best possible chance to own what is happening, rather than feel to feel isolated, alone, frightened and overwhelmed.
You see, before Alan’s death, my father and I both noted that he was feeling down. We even discussed it. I kept checking on Alan, gently probing and trying to give him every opportunity to talk. However he always managed to put me off or explain it away. Alan was both kind and jovial. He was also a very private, proper and polite man. While I wish very much now that he had managed to reach out to someone (anyone), I do realise that this is easier said than done; he may have found that a very difficult thing to do. Many people had no idea that there was a problem at all, they were truly stunned by his exit.
His death does make me realise that social convention (not to mention fear of stigma or being seen as weak?) can be a real barrier. My father and I knew that something was wrong, yet neither of us felt able to push our probing beyond what we felt was acceptably polite. We may not have been his first choice anyway but Alan did not feel able to tell us what was wrong.
It has also made me realise that people can bottle problems up inside until they have grown into items of overpowering, towering magnitude that appear impossible to solve. Sometimes, I do this to myself, so I know that it is an easy hole to fall into - I value my friends greatly, as they have the ability to hoik me out of my hole and show me the thing for what it really is, at it's actual size.
It also makes me realise that I could be faced with the same situation again in the future and I just would not know what to do differently, that might make a difference - I wonder what advice people can give?
You see, I would love to be able to end this post by saying something like, 'If you read this and you have someone in your life who appears to be down, then please - take some extra time out for them. Just to let them know that you are there for them if they need you - so that they know that you care and that you are there if there if they need to talk. Most problems have a solution.'
Yet that is glib. I would not know whether this is the right thing to do. Perhaps it would just make things worse? Would your well meaning attention simply be another pressure that they cannot cope with?