This blog post was written by London-based PAPYRUS volunteer, Chay.
In August 2019 I was on holiday in Cuba with my family when I got the news that the body of one of my best friends (who I had known for more than 16 years) had been found. Before I received the phone call that would change my life forever, I had been sitting on the balcony in my hotel room and I remember feeling so happy and grateful for the summer I had had, that I thanked the heavens for my blessings and my life. When I got the phone call, it felt like someone had pulled the earth out from under me and I was falling into a nightmare. It felt like someone up there was saying “sorry you don’t get to be that happy, let me give you a dose of reality.”
I just kept saying to my family that it couldn’t be true. Until that moment, I had no idea that she had been struggling with her mental health.
I immediately began to rack my brain trying to think of any conversations I had had with her in the months preceding her suicide that would have indicated that she was struggling, but nothing came to mind. For the longest time (at least nine months) I simply refused to believe it. My brain couldn’t process it. She was bubbly, easy going, always smiling. She acted as though nothing ever really troubled her – in fact she was always the one giving me advice to try and see the positives in my own life when things got me down.
No one in my immediate circle of friends or family has lost anyone (to whom they were this close to) to suicide. Understandably, it was hard for them to know what to say to console me. Not only that, but being from an Asian community, suicide isn’t widely spoken about or acknowledged.
Friends around me kept saying that it was understandable if I felt guilty for not picking up signs that might have been there, but I didn’t feel guilty because there were no obvious signs that she was feeling suicidal or even struggling with her mental health. I think this is one of the biggest misconceptions around mental ill health, that there are textbook signs that someone is suffering. From my experience, often the people suffering the most show it the least.
It was only when we were in the throes of lockdown in the summer of 2020 that I was finally able to process her death and accept it. It took a global pandemic for me to pause and actually sit with my emotions and my grief. I was in a low mood which lasted for a few months. I struggled to find enjoyment in anything. I was engulfed in a depressive rut that was triggered by the heaviness of finally accepting my friend’s death.
When lockdown hit it was therefore quite an isolating time for me, mentally, as I felt that no one really understood how I was feeling. This was of course ironic as that is probably how my friend felt when she was suffering with thoughts of suicide.
However, it took a few months for me to realise that it was okay that no one could say anything to take the pain away. I realised that rather than expecting everyone around me to automatically know what to say to make me feel better, all I really wanted was for them to listen to how I was feeling and give me a hug now and again.
Looking back, I realise that I had been quietly retreating further into myself because I thought that no one around me would understand how I was feeling. I realise that this only served to send me further into the darkness. I’ve learnt that mental ill health thrives off of isolation and silence. Talking to my family made me feel more connected and less alone. The continued feeling I have now is just immense sadness that my friend went months and possibly years without telling me (and others around her) how she was truly feeling.
Since her death, I try to be kinder to myself when I’m having a bad day; I try to let myself just be where I am, mentally and physically and allow myself to feel it all. I think so often we try to control how we are feeling which only serves to exasperate our pain.
You may think you are alone or unique in your feelings of hopelessness but you are not. The reality is, everyone is struggling to some degree underneath the surface. All it takes is digging a little deeper and starting the conversation on mental health.
I now try to approach people with kindness at the forefront of my mind and less judgement. You never really know the true extent of how people are feeling or what inner demons they are fighting, even when they tell you what’s bothering them. Nowadays I try to remember to check up more often on that friend who always tells me they are “fine” or who masks their issues with humour. I’ve also gotten into the good habit of telling the people I care about that I love them more often. My friend’s death serves as a daily reminder to take nothing and no one for granted as nothing in life is promised.
I now try to live life more fully and presently. I try to see the beauty in the mundanity of life and in the small things. When I do experience periods of darkness, I try to remind myself that nothing lasts forever, the good and the bad, and that actually that can be a blessing in disguise.
My friend’s death has taught me to be more open about my own mental health struggles and to ask for help when I need it. Being Asian I know that the stigma associated with suicide and mental ill health is still sadly alive and kicking, but I hope this blog piece will at least aide the conversation on this important topic.