“Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.” ~ Mother Teresa.
When you grow up in a large family, you never seem to have any time to yourself. Certainly, you wouldn’t have your own bedroom, and there would always be a sibling or two, cousins, friends, to make any event a party. It was hard enough to be alone, never mind feeling lonely – it was not a concept I ever experienced.
There was the time when I was perhaps six that I got left at school on a foggy foggy day. Because of the poor visibility we were not allowed to walk home from school (normally my brother and I walked to and from school each day). On this day, back before the clean air act had reduced pollution and therefore the severity and frequency of foggy weather, we were made to sit in the auditorium until our parents came for us. A friend (whose mother had a car) offered to take me home with them, but my brother said no, since our mother was already on her way (walking) for us.
Unfortunately, when my mother arrived, someone told her that they had seen me getting into the car, and so I must have gone home already. Meanwhile I was waiting patiently (I picture myself sitting cross-legged on the floor – our usual pose when having to sit in a room without chairs!) as one by one the rest of the kids were collected and taken home.
Soon it was only me and one teacher. I don’t know how long the drama continued – it seemed like hours, though the teacher read books to me and kept me distracted. At home my mother was on the phone calling different friends to see if I had gone home with them, and my brother was alternating between being angry at me for not following his instructions, and being scared that he had lost his little sister! Eventually they called the school and found that I was still there (not sure if the school called home, but perhaps the phone would have been ‘engaged’!!) and my father came to get me – on foot, as the fog was now too thick to drive through. And I got a ‘piggy-back’ ride home on his shoulders as he sang our way through the fog. An excellent adventure indeed!
Perspective is everything in life, how you see the things that happen to you whether good or bad. In mental illness, that ability to change your perspective, to see a more balanced point of view is lost. Even when we are mentally healthy, it is possible to go down rabbit holes, losing sight of the big picture. Depression is one of those illnesses that becomes all-consuming, with a person being unable to pull themselves out of the depths of despair, hopelessness, helplessness. And despite having people around, there is the terrible sense of aloneness.
I learned recently of the death by suicide of a young cousin of mine (my cousin’s son). Since I have lived apart from my extended family for most of my life, I had never met him, and have not seen my cousin (his mother) since my mother’s funeral over seven years ago. Suicide is so devastating, so suddenly final, for those left behind. More than other illnesses it leaves family members with feelings of guilt, of regret, of resentment and anger even. And yet it is the second leading cause of death among adults between the ages of 10 to 14 and 20 to 34. In 2020 there were nearly twice as many deaths from suicide as by homicide in the US. In other words, it is something we should talk about.
Here in the US we are surrounded by gun-loving individuals who tout the second amendment as justification for all manner of unnecessary weaponry. Add that to a divided society where alienated people feel they have been wronged and feel justified in gunning down human beings in malls, schools, medical centers and more. Imagine that there are twice as many individuals choosing to end their own lives and we don’t talk about it.
Mental health professionals are struggling to keep up with the demand, and yet for everyone who is seeking professional help there are others who don’t know how to ask, or don’t have insurance. Then there are cultural taboos against admitting to mental ill-health. We seek help for aches and pains and injuries, yet are expected to push through, pull ourselves out of depression, get over these overwhelming feelings that can overtake us, until we can’t anymore.
I don’t know what words of comfort can help those who lose a loved one to suicide. I remember once reading that for those with chronic depression, it is a terminal illness. Those who suffer from it genuinely feel that their loved ones would be better off without them. But family members often don’t have the tools to help someone, or even to know what to say.
We know that the pandemic brought about more isolation, more loneliness, and provoked increased anxiety and other phobias for those who already had those traits. And we are learning that technology and social media are having a heavy impact on the social development of our teens.
So what can you do? Reach out and contact those you know who may have those tendencies. If you know someone who suffers from depression, ask them if they have thoughts of harming themselves, and if they say yes, you can call for help for them. Don’t keep in touch by text – you may need to hear their voice to be able to know if they are in a bad place. It is easy to fool people with a ‘K’, or an emoji. And just like you would with any other chronic illness, find out if they are taking care of themselves, are they eating, sleeping (not too much), taking their medications. We do it for those with diabetes and hypertension, it is just the same for mental illness.
This Friday morning I am sending out love to my cousin and her family. I cannot imagine the pain they are feeling. And for those who may be feeling lonely, call someone, knock on your neighbor’s door and invite them for coffee – maybe they are feeling lonely too!
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!