By Caitriona McMahon
Last week I found myself staring at a computer screen frozen to the keypad. Not from the freezing temperatures mind you but from fear. I needed to write, I needed to release how I was feeling but instead I experienced a kind of emotional constipation.
I couldn’t find the words not even the appropriate gestures to explain myself. My fingers tapped the laptop frame with anxiety as it gushed through my every pore without a care. What would I do?
I needed to write this article before the weekend, then I had to get administration done I’d not had a chance to do, then it was onto performing my important role as a suicide responder that night, travelling to anyone suicidal across west Limerick.
The anxiety was building and building and my chin was dropping and dropping. How could I let others depending on me down?
I decided after much deliberation to refrain from writing a piece for my column in the interest of self care. This was a first for me. There was an almost instant sensation of relief! But from what ….? was it myself putting all this undue pressure on me – yes it was!
On a normal day this pressure motivates me but on a poor or what I like to call SHIT mental health day it sinks me into a deep despair.
This got me thinking how many others out there acknowledge and admit that today I feel like shit? What about those on the frontline helping others? Doctors, Therapists, Teachers, Responders, Peer advocates etc. Do they feel able to say today I FEEL LIKE SHIT?
As co founder of a mobile suicide intervention team many may assume I no longer feel depressed or have suicidal thoughts.
Recently I watched a live panel discussion from this years Electric Picnic Festival which took place on the mental health and wellbeing stage.
A lot of people spoke but one quote in particular has remained with me and it came from Dr Malie Coyne, clinical psychologist, who said: “I think professionals need to start coming out and saying I deal with this shit too.”
I wish some of the professionals I met in the early days had said this to me or even acknowledged they had seen or experienced it. It would have created an instant common ground and understanding.
Even hearing her use the word SHIT packed a punch. From experience I know what it is like to sit opposite a professional that is distant, seems more interested in ticking boxes than making eye contact and seems not to relate in any way with the story you share.
You may as well be reading a chapter of Harry Potter for them. As a suicide responder I refuse to put on the stereotypical mask.
The poker faced, bright eyed and bushy tailed mask so many still wear day-to-day. Many may say “She wouldn’t be much help to others when she can’t help herself.”
To them this is what I have to say. I am human, I have feelings and thoughts, just like everyone else and to those I travel to they respond immediately to that real approach.
This is what Dr Malie means by saying an open honest approach is needed. No one person is above another regardless of title or status we are all the same.
I also acknowledge that these thoughts and emotions will pass and even though today I feel like shit tomorrow I may be back to normal.
I couldn’t agree more with Dr Malie that it’s time everyone, including professionals and those helping others drop the “I’m fine” act.
We all experience shit days with a capital “S” sometimes. We all at some point will become overwhelmed so let’s all help each other remove the masks.
I will finish with this beautiful quote I stumbled upon this week. “Being honest about our struggles, our fears and our hopes is the best gift we can pass onto others” – Sister Stan.
If you ever feel the need to speak to someone call for immediate support on the Samaritans’ 24-hour helpline on 116 123 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are in Limerick and feel the need to talk, call Caitriona’s group, the Community Crisis Response Team here on: 085 1777 631. The group offers suicide intervention response in Limerick.