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Don’t Isolate Yourself

Sally and Tracy

‘Don’t isolate yourself’, she said. 

‘I won’t’, I promised. 

I didn’t know what she meant.

I even felt it as a reprimand, as if she was telling me off for lazily staying on the couch all day. I had friends for goodness’ sake. I saw people at work, in church, I had a house full of kids and their school mates, students, and a family of blood relatives and in-laws. Of course I wasn’t isolating myself. 

That was 8 years ago for me, right before I tried to take my own life. I got the help and support I needed, and I’m happy that now I’m flourishing, enjoying life and it’s ups and downs. 

However, this week, heartbreakingly, a friend and colleague of ours lost her battle with suicide. It’s 3am as I’m writing, it’s difficult to sleep as I reflect on her life, her loss, and what she might be teaching me for my own onward journey. In remembering her life with sadness, I realise now that she was a masterclass in isolation. To my knowledge she never said that she was thinking about suicide. But then again, most people who are struggling, don’t. 

Why would they? Why don’t we tell people in the clearest way possible that we are clinging on to life by a thread? Stigma? Embarrassment? Feelings of stupidity, worthlessness, and perhaps worst of all, guilt and shame? All misguided of course, but when you believe in your heart that you should be ashamed to be alive, you self-isolate to protect yourself. On the surface it’s a reasonable response to trauma, rejection, hurt and abuse. 

Plus there’s the language we use, we say ‘committed suicide’, as if ending our own unbearable emotional pain is a crime, like committing murder, committing burglary, or perhaps a moral sin like committing adultery. It’s not easy to confess to ‘committing’ anything, let alone thoughts of suicide. Thankfully the language we use is changing, and you won’t hear that phrase in the media any more. 

But suicide is less about wanting to die, and much more about needing help to live. If we can only get the right help to recover from that inner pain, that ache of the soul, we can all live and thrive. And so despite not telling people explicitly, we let others know in other, sometimes very subtle ways that we are screaming out for help, and for connection.

At Christmas she gave up on her degree. She was caring for a relative. Her partner had simply ghosted her. When I saw her last, she had lost lots of weight. In this modern gluttonous world, thin is something we aspire to be, so rather than hear what her body was trying to tell me, I congratulated her on her weight loss. When I asked how she’d achieved it, she said “I’ve been doing weights and, [hesitation], ‘other things’’. I do wish that I’d read that message she was trying to send. 

She was passionate about mental health and about suicide prevention, she brought kindness and smiles to everyone around her, unceasing in helping and cheering others on. She giggled at balloons and bubbles, she volunteered when she wasn’t helping others through her work. She didn’t look isolated. 

It’s taken me 8 years, but her life and death has taught me that isolation isn’t about the number of people you see in a day. It’s about the precious few that you let in each day, even if that starts with reaching out to only God. 

As for the rest of us, let’s keep welcoming people into our lives, let’s be confident and comfortable talking about suicide, let’s be the ones that can be trusted with the most precious and vulnerable thoughts of others. Let’s be the ones that notice, that say hello to strangers on the promenade and are interruptible in our busy lives. 

And I promise I will not isolate myself. This time I mean it. 

Much love


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