17 Jan The right time?
My 15 year old son asked me recently: “Why don’t we learn more about real life at school?” What an insightful question.
In the midst, of his Prelims, he was wondering why he was having to learn some of these seemingly irrelevant things, yet at the same time feeling there were important life lessons that weren’t even considered for the school curriculum.
Did you get taught to reach out to others at difficult times?
What did you witness growing up about how adults looked after their emotional wellbeing and mental health?
At the moments, I most needed help I retracted inside my head away from others. I didn’t totally disappear from life it was more that I went missing internally.
Between the ages of 14 right through to 23 years old – I frequently went missing.
Looking back, sometimes I literally did go missing, sneaking out at night and staying out till dawn drinking, later when I was a student then a volunteer, there were many days where I would stay inside all day disappearing inside my bulimic cycle.
The missing that I seemed most drawn to was binging on Ecstasy and Cocaine and dancing all night simultaneously trying to escape from myself and connect to something beyond me. Then there was the acceptable disappearing, outwardly ‘keeping fit’ swimming 100 lengths but at the same time, severely restricting my food intake.
But despite these disappearing acts, I would resurface at regular intervals and continue with life, I would put on a ‘face’ and carry on, but I had not truly returned. It was as if I had an understudy playing my role. My closest friends knew that I ‘wasn’t myself’ but I realise now that they did not know to the depths that I had disappeared to, because I had got used to hiding.
I became an expert in playing a role, playing the part that I thought I was expected to play. I had been rehearsing this since being sent to boarding school at the age of 8 years old, believing I needed to cover up my true feelings, to be acceptable and survive in the world I found myself in.
So that’s what I did and that’s what many of us do. This ability to be able to ‘pull yourself together’ and get on is a real strength, but our strengths can become our weaknesses when out of balance.
It’s like you’re hiding right in front of people. Presenting yourself to the world, greeting people, even smiling, but the whole time, the true you, is hiding in a corner of your mind, curdled up in a ball frightened of the world; or like you’ve been blasted out into space and you are looking down onto your life but you feel too far away to reach out to anyone and nobody seems to know you’ve gone.
And for many, the weight of all the expectations is too much, those that are being put upon you, those that you are piling on yourself, and this excruciating gnawing inside that you are a failure, and always have been. Each time you speak to someone or catch their eye you feel that they can see this ‘truth’ about you. You feel the only way to protect yourself from being discovered, is to have your understudy play your role, as they know every line, every movement.
And this works, for a while, but each time you are alone, you berate yourself for being a fake, a fraud. The more time you spend hiding and the less you connect to anyone, the easier it is to lose your way – to forget your path home. It gets more and more frightening, feeling trapped in this alternate reality, you feel limited in your options, to keep going, completely numb out or, for some, decide on a permanent ‘solution’.
Suicide is a permanent solution to what is a temporary problem, but this is so hard to see when you are trapped in this place.
Thankfully, the majority of people do not kill themselves. Unfortunately, many stay, trapped in the wings, watching someone else play their part.
I am grateful to myself back then for finally breaking free, taking a risk and reaching out before my suicidal thoughts moved to action. I am deeply grateful for my ever-steady friend who was there, just waiting for me to let her in.
There never is a right time to ask for help, the only time is this moment.
It feels frightening to reach out, sometimes it feels like too much effort. It does require a lot of strength and courage, but once this step is taken, it sets in motion the possibility of transformation to finally step out from the wings and onto the stage of your life.
The process is an unravelling, a gradual revealing. It can be exposing, liberating, upsetting, freeing, challenging, uplifting. It can be all these things and more. And the journey continues, for all of us – our lifetime is the journey.
As a therapist, I feel deeply honoured when a person asks me to facilitate their intimate journey of rediscovering themselves. This is a journey of trust. Together we build a bridge of trust between us and they rebuild the trust with their true selves.
All of us within the helping professions, must never lose sight of what it took for this person in front of us to be here in this moment and to respect the journey they have travelled because within it they hold the keys to their own rediscovery.
I am currently involved in a new piece of research ‘Whose Supporting the Supporters?’ about workplace support systems for those in the helping professions. If you are involved in the helping professions in any way I would ask that you take 5 minutes and complete my survey to contribute towards this work in this important area:
This is an extension of the research I carried out last year where I spoke with people living in North East Glasgow about what does and doesn’t help them feel safer from suicide in their communities, if you want to know what people said, check out the honest, real and noteworthy things people said in my report ‘Listen & you might Learn’.