This post contains references to suicide and mental health struggles.
I often see posts on social media saying something along the lines of mental health issues are nothing to be ashamed of, share to show someone is always listening, etc etc. A general increase of awareness around mental health issues is a damn fine thing.
But what does it actually mean for the people who are having a big old moment? Are we to log on to Facebook and scroll through to see which friend posted that and contact them out of the blue in our most vulnerable moments? I appreciate the intention in sharing such things but that has never occurred to me to be a safe option. Safe connections for me come first and foremost from knowing and being known.
I would like to offer a language that has worked and is working for me and my circle. We call it March, April, MAYDAY.
In March, things are okay. There’s some stuff going down but we’re resourcing ourselves through it with the tools we each have (we collectively use writing, Yoga, pets, a good cry, TRE, meditation, EFT, walking in nature, a hot bath with candles, music, medication, therapy session, available hugs, inspiring podcasts, cold water swimming and more) and as the sufferer I’m ok but it would be good to talk to you this week.
By April, things are getting full on, there’s overwhelm happening and it would be really really good talk to you in the coming days. The resources are starting to run thin.
By the Last Week of April, we’re on the phone and need to talk. We are not ok right now, we really need support. This is our most often used language. This is when we need someone to show up in the next hour either in person or on the phone. This is please get through what you’re doing and call me.
The talking that happens in the last week of April is deep truth. There are often showers of tears and deep fears revealed amid uncensored rants and uninterrupted witnessing in silence. We don’t get off the phone until the energy has shifted and we might finish off with smiles or even laughing together at the wildness of our lives. This is the realm of vulnerability and for me to share in this space, it is essential I am safe and talking to the right person.
Anything beyond the last week of April is a MAYDAY.
The word itself doesn’t have to be exclaimed in the moment, and often we only use the word when reflecting back on what has happened. Mayday if you’re having one means lift the phone right now and text or call all the Mayday friends you have. It might go out as a scrambled text message that suggests a panic attack is happening, it might be in a call, it might be a facebook post or message, an email, a slump or a slide down the wall, it might be in refusal to answer the door or the phone, retreating from contact, or crying for help.
As sufferers, we need to be able to send those messages to people we trust. And as supporters, we need to understand that a MAYDAY requires immediate action. Drop what you are doing right now and go to your person in need NOW.
If you know someone is suffering, check in on them regularly. Me and mine, we are an even carousel of helpers and helpees. Nobody has the monopoly on rude health or always being down. It’s an ongoing journey, it’s life, and we’re in this together. The M.A.M. language has been integrated by us now to such a point that shame is spoken about, melted away and dissolved.
When car-pooling to work a couple of years ago during a very hard time for me, (see centre pic on my previous Authenticity note) a close friend would call me every morning to talk me out of bed because I was not winning the battle to get up by myself. One morning when I didn’t answer the phone her mum suggested she go to catch the train but she knew there was a great possibility I was really not ok. She was getting in her mum’s car to come down and break into my house when I finally returned her call.
When an email arrived from a friend who was suffering, she didn’t ask for help but her language had me very worried. I was out of the country but I recognised it as a MAYDAY and a few of us who love her, video called with her that day and only held back from further action because we could see she came around from the connection. A few months later, after another worrying email came and there was no answer from the phone, I searched online for her relatives, sent them all Facebook messages, left her stepmum a voicemail on her landline, and the non emergency police line was already ringing when I heard from her daughter that she was ok.
Does that seem excessive?
Well, so is suicide. And I don’t doubt you’ve noticed, that particular long term solution to a short term problem has become pretty prolific around us, and it only takes a minute. There’s really no time to pause and think, hmmm, will this inconvenience someone? I’m not saying we need to call the cops every time we don’t hear from someone, but I am encouraging actual honest sharing between friends and an awareness of each other when we are struggling.
My last MAYDAY was summer 2018. Here’s how it went down.
Doing pretty great generally, I was slowly weaning off the medication that had been part of my own mental health support plan, when I was the surprise recipient of a steaming shit show of someone else’s projections. It’s a hazard of my work and I’m normally pretty good at managing it. This time I felt like I had sticky tar all over me draining my energy into an abyss. I don’t mind saying I am a fairly skillful communicator and have many tools to navigate all manner of dramas. NONE of the tools I had were working with this situation. My resources ran out. My daily joy was dissipating gradually over the course of about 2 weeks before I hit the bottom. The bottom manifested as what I can only describe as the utter absence of joy. If you have experienced this, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, I’m not sure it’s even imaginable.
Voices in my head were telling me that even my closest friend did not want to see me, that this whole depression thing was too much for anyone to be bothered, that I had failed massively in my life, that I was a fraud, a loser, pathetic and a massive burden to those around me, who were all getting sick of the sight of me. It was coupled with a near phobic fear that my mum would die suddenly and before anyone could get to me, I would kill myself.
These thoughts were not rational, they had no basis in truth. But there was no space between them and they were relentless. I did not even vaguely resemble my normal self. Only because I managed to focus on the friend in question and remember they are at their core a human diamond and that they love me and that we are joined by the golden thread of authentic connection, that I caught the down spiral and reached for my phone.
I messaged 5 people at the same time. One was on the phone immediately, one was at my house within 20 minutes, another replied within an hour. Two didn’t get the message but the 3 that did, they caught me. It was the closest I think I have come to understanding why in those fraught moments people walk into the bathroom, put the dressing gown belt around their neck and lean into the tension until it’s over. That’s suicidal ideation right there.
My heart has broken for every one of the friends and well known people who have ended their lives. It is so shocking and it’s happening with a rattling regularity.
No single one of my Mayday people was or are responsible for me. They all know I have struggled with grief, depression and PTSD the past few years and they know I have occasional terrible, horrible, no good very bad days. They are my trusted and true friends. They know me at my absolute best and they know me at my worst. They will answer my MAYDAY if they possibly can. And they know they are not the only person on the list too. My own Mayday list has a top 5 and probably 10 people on it in total. Some are here in Ireland, others are spread out over many time zones around the world. There is safety in my knowing that I will be able to reach someone when I need to.
I’m mostly stable right now and I haven’t gone past the last week of April in many months. Last week of April might be the most important aspect of this little system that is working for us, because when we catch things there, Mayday doesn’t seem to arrive.
Sometimes there are reasons for me to go down, I haven’t rested, I haven’t taken care of myself, I’m honoring my experience of motherhood and the grief of losing that, I’ve worked too hard, I’ve been caught up in some bullshit, whatever it might be. Sometimes it seemingly comes from nowhere. Invariably, however it arises, it comes back to the same thing. Failure, shame and lack of worth.
To summarise, this is what has been working for us.
March - I’m not great but I’m resourcing myself and I'm ok.
April - I’m having a hard time, call me when you can.
Last Week of April - Things are really bad, please finish what you’re doing and call me.
MAYDAY - Get to me now, I'm in a dangerous space and I need help.
I offer this up in the hopes that if you or one of your loved ones are suffering, this might help you communicate and ground again, the way it has for us.
Try it on. See what happens. If you like it, share it.