One of the reasons I started this blog was to share my photography with others. Another was to have a place to share my thoughts on what I see and hopefully encourage others to think and see differently as they go through their lives. Sometimes my blogs are light and whimsical. This is not one of those times. Maybe it would be easier, safer, to consider this my "Seasonal PSA".
Right now, all around you, people are suffering. Days are shorter and colder. The weather is nastier. School terms are ending and exams loom. And then there is the minefield of holidays and family expectations that must be navigated. All of this can take a toll on "normal" people but for people who struggle with mental illness, this time of year can be a real killer.
Recently, one of my Instagram contacts posted that the commuter train she was riding on struck and killed someone who had apparently jumped onto the tracks. She said something I hear so often, "If you're feeling at all suicidal, please reach out and get help. I promise you you're not alone and it can get better. People care about you and love you." This is what I hear all the time in these kinds of situations and, to most people, it sounds reasonable and compassionate. Except it's not.
Here's how I responded to my contact's post: "I'm someone who 'wrestles with the dark side' and, for me, the issue of reaching out is complex. I've discovered that it looks different to me than it does to people around me. We'll never know but it's possible that this person thought they had tried to reach out and it wasn't recognized. It's possible that they were so immobilized that they just couldn't do it. It's possible that signs of struggle were there in this person's life and were missed by friends and family. It's just really complex and it's hard."
If I were really honest, I'd say it was likely that this person thought they'd tried to reach out and it wasn't recognized. It's possible (I lean towards "likely" here, too) that they were so immobilized they just couldn't do it. And it's almost certain that signs of struggle were there in this person's life and friends and family missed it. "Normal" people don't seem to be too good at recognizing signs of struggle or of responding to it if they do. My husband once suggested to me that I needed to teach him, and those around me, how to recognize when I was in trouble and what to do about it. Which sounds fine except that when I'm drowning I don't really have the resources to come teach someone how to swim so they can help me.
What's really frustrating is when I make the effort to tell people that I'm struggling, or my husband quietly messages friends and tells that I'm struggling, and many people still don't respond. They'd say lovely things about me at my funeral but they won't take a few minutes on a regular basis to just touch base, let me know they're thinking of me, and ask how I'm doing- and really want to know.
So here's the deal, folks: Yes, people who are struggling with mental illness need to try to reach out but they need to be met at least half-way. If you know someone who's struggling, and you don't want to be one of those regretful people at a funeral, take a few minutes to keep regular contact with the people you care about. I promise that you're not too busy to find a way, even at this time of year. Especially at this time of year. It's important. And I feel quite certain that if more people reached out to those in need our lives -and our deaths- would play out much differently than they tend to do now.
© Karen Opp James. All rights reserved.