First light didn’t bring the weather I had been hoping for – it was overcast and wet. I had prayed for glorious sunshine for the day of his funeral, but perhaps overcast and wet were better suited to the misery I felt.
[Photo credit: www.wallallies.com]
Two weeks earlier I had learned that my former work colleague and friend, Bruce, had died just weeks after his 56th birthday. As we gathered at the crematorium to celebrate his life, I recognised many of the faces but never before had I seen them etched with the bewilderment that I, too, was experiencing. In the week or so between hearing of his death and attending his funeral, we had learned that he had suffered with depression for many years and he had eventually taken his own life. His death was a tragedy in itself, but it was utterly devastating to hear of his depression. How did we not know? Even his closest work colleagues had no idea. Why didn’t he tell people? Could we have helped? Where were the signs? What are the signs? Endlessly replayed conversations and revisited events brought no answers, no clues. As the questions continued to come thick and fast, the reality dawned – we would never hear the answers from Bruce. The one person who would have all the answers was gone forever. We were left only with swirling thoughts and guesses bouncing around inside our own minds.
To many of us it seemed that Bruce had it all. He lived well and had everything to live for. Or so we thought. We were completely oblivious to the sad truth that he had something he didn’t want – mental illness. An illness which turned a determined, capable, funny, thoughtful, resourceful and intelligent man into someone unable to cope with life any more.
Since Bruce’s death, I have started to look at mental health statistics and to learn of the horrors endured by so many people every day. Perhaps the biggest eye-opener has been the realisation that people with mental health problems don’t look depressed all the time in much the same way that burglars don’t all look like Burglar Bill. The smiling girl in the bank; the helpful man at the supermarket; the chatty and trusted neighbour – their outward appearances and demeanour give little away. They aren’t all archetypal black-and-white representations of themselves, clutching their heads in despair.
The sun eventually came out that day and the sky brightened somewhat. Perhaps it was an indication that Bruce was finally at peace. As we listened to some of Bruce’s friends talking of his early life and career it reminded me of the need to talk openly with family and friends while we can. A life can end in the blink of an eye, and when it’s gone, it’s gone forever. But it’s hard to talk about this sort of thing. We fear being stigmatised or being discriminated against. And even if those fears are unfounded, they are very real fears which hold people back, confining them to a life of secrecy, compartments and solitude.
I don’t pretend to understand mental illness. Indeed, until now I have been living in a parallel universe, seemingly unaffected by it and not knowing of anyone suffering from it. I had naively assumed that I would know if that were the case. Bruce’s death has reminded me that you just never know what is going on in the lives or minds of others. Only last month I had posted my thoughts about this – little did I realise at the time how poignant that post would become.
If the statistics are to believed, it is inevitable that some of my friends are suffering from some form of mental illness. The chances are that I won’t find out until it is too late. Until Bruce’s death, I didn’t believe this to be possible. His death and the posthumous revelation of mental illness has reminded me of a few truisms:
- One never knows what other people are going through. Don’t jump to conclusions without knowing all the facts.
- “Celebrating life” is best done whilst alive. There is little merit in guaranteeing one’s absence at a time when others are sharing great memories.
- Life is too short, and it’s not a rehearsal. Make the most of opportunities.
- This is what teen depression looks like
- The face of a mom with depression
- Mind – the mental health charity
- Mental health statistics, facts and myths
- Rethink mental illness
- Friends. How well do they really know you?
- New Year’s Resolutions – think big and eat more chocolate