I met her when I was seven years old. I have no idea why or how we ended up befriending each other, all I know is that we met in catechism class on a Sunday morning and that after church her and I begged and pleaded with our respective mothers’ for her to come over to my house for lunch. We won.
That afternoon was spent in giggles as we actively dodged hanging out with my younger siblings (so uncool) and also tried our hands at potion making. Our magic potion involved mixing freshly squeezed grape juice, from the juicy grapes in my family’s backyard, with generously heaped teaspoons of Nestle chocolate powder and water. It was disgusting – hilariously so.
Why am I writing about her, you might ask?
Because it’s September, which means it’s Suicide Prevention Month…and she took her own life a few years ago and today I really miss her.
The call came on a Saturday morning in early December from a mutual friend of ours. That should have been a warning in itself as this friend of ours is notorious for her dislike for talking on the phone. I remember her returning my greeting with less gusto than I would have liked, her asking me where I was and then…gently, telling me the dreaded news.
I remember my blood running cold and forgetting to breathe. I remember a wail coming out of me that didn’t even sound like it was mine. And I also remember crying out, “I knew this would happen.”
My friend who took her life was a larger than life personality. What many people saw as odd eccentricities, irrational behaviour and erratic impulses, whilst growing up, were all part and parcel of what made her “her” to me. However, in our 20’s that behaviour got more volatile and paranoid that it eventually landed her in a mental health facility, for a bit.
Africa, in general, is notorious for its disregard of mental health issues. A diagnosis for depression, schizophrenia or manic disorders isn’t always taken seriously – in most cases, those closest to you will insist you are intentionally acting out or orchestrate some sort of non-medical intervention. Sadly, this was the case for my friend.
She became harder to find and the stories that would reach me became more bleak and ominous. Two months before she took her life she resurfaced from oblivion in a frantic state and her loved ones ignored our pleas for her to get help. A month before she took her life my Dad was visiting the city I was staying in and I broke down crying over dinner and shared my mounting fears that something bad was about to happen and I felt helpless to intervene.
So when my fears were sadly realised and I received news of the horrific way she had taken her life I felt sadness…guilt…anger…regret…and relief. That last emotion caught me by surprise. She had been suffering for so long, surrounded by individuals who weren’t taking her cries for help seriously that I was ultimately relieved that she didn’t have to endure such helplessness, disdain and bullsh*t any more. It was not the outcome I had wanted. It was the one I had feared most.
A year after her death I was back home and made the sombre journey to visit her grave. It was one of the most surreal experiences of my life. Many hot tears were shed, a few smart-aleck comments were delivered (“Trust you to have the most palatial and bougie grave site in here”), some of our favourite Alanis Morissette tracks were sung (she would have loved that instead of hymns) but mostly, I apologised over and over again. I had failed her. Us, her friends and family had failed her.
I know I titled this post “How To Save A Life” but it’s not because I actually have the answers, it’s because I am constantly trying to seek out the answers. Losing a friend has taught me not to take Life for granted and has made me hyper-sensitive to any sentiments expressed around me in passing or full-on seriousness that allude to “Maybe it would be better I wasn’t alive” or “My life really sucks and it won’t get better”.
I’m not professing to be some sort of saviour a la “Touched By An Angel” who has a well meaning but misplaced martyr complex. No, what I’m saying is that I am more vigilant about identifying tell-tale signs in those who are struggling. It means I am willing and open to sit with you in silence…or conversation and hear out what is going on with you inside – even if it sounds crazy and frightening to you.
I know first hand the power of reaching out from wading through and navigating some of my own low lows. The strength to reach out beyond your own void of isolation and alienation to speak to a trusted friend or empathetic family member and off-load the ugly thoughts and feelings swirling around in your head; in the full knowledge that they can’t fix or save me, but their willingness to hear me out (non-judgmentally) from a place of love, is everything. Especially when I find myself personally entertaining a negative and destructive train of thought.
If I had to put together a winning formula for life saving, it would be:
- Pay attention.
- Be present (in the capacity that you can – whether physically, telephonically or.via homing pigeon).
- Reiterate your love.
If you are reading this and feeling super low and don’t feel comfortable reaching out to people you know, I’ve listed some resources down below of organisations who would love nothing more than to hear from you and be there for you.
We are all loved, cherished and appreciated more than we can ever know…especially when we find ourselves struggling in the darkness. So reach out.
- International Suicide Hotlines: http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html
- International Association for Suicide Prevention: https://www.iasp.info/resources/
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This gave me chills. Such an in depth and personal perspective. If we all really think about it. We all have that friend we’re a little worried about. we need to stop talking about it and do something. You’ve made me more aware. Wow. Thank you for sharing. I can do more. We need to do more, especially as Zimbabweans.
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Thanks for dropping a comment, means a lot. We do need to do more about mental health awareness and treatment in Zim, there’s still too much stigma attached to it.
In the meantime, let’s all keep an eye on each other 🙂
I just discovered your blog and this post really struck a chord with me. I deal with depression on a daily basis, yet I try to write about positive things that have helped me through those bouts of despair. This post really stopped me and made me think. It was so sad and so true as it resonated with me how depression and suicidal thoughts can end up taking someone’s life. Thank you for writing this post. For being brave enough to share your story to all of us. I hope you find relief in friends and family that might help you to cope with such a loss. And if you by chance get the opportunity to look at my blog, I hope that I can help you as well. I try to write posts that have helped me through the worst and most darkest times.
Have a great day.
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Thanks for stopping by and leaving me a comment. My story isn’t half as brave as those who must deal with and overcome depression on a daily basis. May you and your blog continue to be an inspiration…everyone needs that reminder and loving affirmation that they’re not alone.
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*huge sigh* This was a difficult read for me because 5 years ago I lost a close cousin to suicide and to this day, I still ask myself what could we have done to stop her taking her own life? Mental health needs to become a priority in Zim cause a lot of people are suffering in silence.
Thank you for being so open in writing this.
I’m sorry for the loss of your cousin, Colleen. Mental health and emotional hygiene issues are definitely things that need to be taken more seriously around the globe and in Zim specifically. Attitudes are already shifting but we need to do better as a nation…baby steps, I guess.
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Thank you. Last week there was a Twitter discussion I was following on depression. I was utterly shocked by some of the responses people gave saying depression is a white man’s disease, just tell the person to get over it. We certainly need to do better indeed.
I’m so sorry, not sure how I missed this comment. I think some African’s are of the mindset that depression and its ilk are not real…UNTIL it becomes a reality for them in their life, one way or the other. Good luck to them.
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