For this week, instead of answering one of your letters on my column, I will be writing a piece on mental health and one of which is also very close to my own heart. I have chosen to do this because I love my city, because I see people are feeling isolated, and because it is through sharing that we can feel connected again. And the messages I have been getting over these recent months have shown me how we are longing, yearning and reaching out for that sense of connection that has been disrupted recently. I have been touched by many instances of kindness and compassion during this pandemic, and like many of you, I have felt a huge range of emotions throughout lockdown. However, one issue in particular has touched me deeply. That is the amount of our loved ones who are dying by suicide.
It has been 20 years since my brother Colm took his own life. 20 years might sound like such a long time, and in a way it is of course. However, bearing witness to the continued pain and suffering of the people of Limerick, who are still losing their loved ones to suicide, it sickens my stomach that in the last 20 years it seems not much has changed at all. We are still killing ourselves at a spine chilling rate. There appears to be more support than ever around mental health, suicide and self harm; so why are our loved ones still choosing to die by suicide? It breaks my heart that there are people still suffering this gut wrenching loss.
Losing a loved one through suicide is such a traumatic loss that I cannot even put it into words, but to anyone reading this who has lost someone to suicide, you will know. Death will come to us all, and before that, grief will come to our door too. And while I am not measuring who’s grief is worse, I will say that grieving a loved one who has chosen to die is one that we cannot comprehend in the depth of our souls. It truly goes against all of our instincts for survival, love and belonging. It is the ultimate contradiction in life.
I remember when I worked in Pieta House, we used to say that we would hold the hope for our clients, when they were unable to have hope for themselves. And for me, that is what life is about. Holding hope for each other when our loved ones just don’t have the strength to. That is how we have survived so long. Because we are not lone entities, we need each other, we need community and most of all, we need each others’ strength and hope when we cannot dig deep enough to find it on our own.
So how can we help make positive changes? Start looking at each other through loving, compassionate eyes; even when that proves very difficult. When we treat each other by judging, comparing, criticising, being full of bitterness, greed, hatred, resentment and holding grudges, we only widen the gap between us which is killing us slowly. It is time to come back together in love, compassion, vulnerability, and forgiveness. That is when we will have true strength in numbers.
Enough with trying to portray the “perfect” version of ourselves. That is nothing but smoke and mirrors. It’s time to wake up and start minding each other, because “There, but for the grace of God, go I”. I have struggled with my mental health during my life, and no doubt will again in the future. Why? Because I am human. Enough thinking that those who suffer with their mental health are a select group of people. It is not them and us! Every one of us will at some point struggle with our mental health. For some it may be getting through a tough few days or weeks, while for others it may be a lifelong battle. But none of us will get out of life unaffected so it’s time we hold our hands up and admit that we are all vulnerable and in need of each other.
We are going through such a challenging time, globally as well as locally, and I have witnessed a lot of people suffering. But like I always say, life is all about balance, so while there is suffering, I also see hope everywhere. In Limerick we are a city of contradictions, a city of life and death, of old and new, of joy and sorrow. The edge and the embrace!
In Memory of my brother, Colm Moloney (10/12/1967 – 03/07/2000).
If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm please call Pieta House on 1800 247 247 or Text HELP to 51444.