In the Midst of Life

Dear Readers, this week I had a phone call from mum. I knew from her voice that there was something wrong.

‘I’ve got some really sad news’, she said.

I steeled myself.

‘What?’ I asked, ‘Tell me’.

‘Mary* killed herself on Monday night’, she said.

When Mum first moved to Dorset ten years ago she had a reflexology practice, and Mary was one of her first patients . Despite the age gap between them Mary and Mum became friends but life intervened, as it often does, and they’d  drifted out of touch. Mum really wanted to invite Mary to the party, so I managed to track her down. I was so happy when she and her husband were eager to come, and even more delighted to meet them.

After the party, Mary wrote to say that she’d enjoyed the party, and was very glad to see mum and dad looking so well.

And then this.

Some things really do surpass our understanding. My first feeling was complete disbelief. How could this shy, gentle woman have been alive on Thursday, in her best party dress, and gone today?

Mum had had a little more time to think about it.

‘You know, she was depressed for a long time. She was fighting it the best she could when I knew her. Who knows what she’d been going through, and for how long?’

We were quiet together for a few moments.

‘At least, she’s at peace now’, said Mum.

What to say, or do, that isn’t trite when you hear news like this? Maybe the old forms are there for a reason – they hold us when everything wants to break down into chaos.

I wrote to Mary’s husband.

‘I am so sorry for your loss’ I said.

And he also told me that Mary was finally at peace after a long time in the darkness, and that he was being supported by family and friends. It was clear that he was devastated.

I could rail about our underfunded mental health services, but I know nothing about Mary’s circumstances, what she’d tried and hadn’t tried, what her life had been like. I sense that she had been loved, and that people had tried to help, and yet all this couldn’t make her stay.

How much I wanted her to stay.

Oh we are losing too many to this disease, our brightest, our kindest, our most sensitive, and for every person gone there is a great hole in the web, a severing of ties, a chorus of friends and family asking why and forever wondering.

I have suffered from depression, and know how this disease draws us away from everything and everyone that would help and support us, puts us into a windowless cell and closes the door. I know how it turns our food to ashes and bleaches every colour to grey. I know how it can take hours to summon the energy, the courage, to put a foot to the floor and to start another day.

I step outside, take a breath.

Along the bottom of the wall at the top of the road is a tiny garden of weeds, smooth sowthistle and the starry faces of chickweed and the pale pink buds of broad-leaved willowherb, forcing their way out of the damp pockets of soil.

The seedheads of the shepherd’s purse are perfect hearts, and the plant is covered in blackfly  that will feed ladybirds and lacewings.

On the sunnier side of the street, there is sun spurge. It doesn’t grow where it doesn’t get full sun.

In the cracks in the old walls, bellflower.

and yellow corydalis, always.

The tree pits are full of bird-sewn berries and new grass.

Between the paving slabs, moss, and the smallest plants, plantain and bittercress

In the midst of life we are in death, but the opposite is also true. We are absolutely woven into nature’s cloth. Yet we so often feel isolated, both from one another and from the plants and animals that are, truly, everywhere, a feeling exacerbated a hundredfold by depression.  And yet, just opening a window and hearing the birdsong can make a difference, if not today then the next day, or the day after. We are not alone, it is impossible – nothing in nature can exist without the great chorus of other living things around it. I offer this in all humbleness, knowing that what helped me might not touch somebody else, but in the hope that it may resonate, that it might feel like a hand stretched out, which is what it is.

Above all else, please stay.

The Samaritans are available always if you need to talk, or if you are worried about someone that you love – just click here.

*Mary is not her real name

13 thoughts on “In the Midst of Life

  1. Rachael

    A wonderful piece of writing. I so like how you combine the story of ‘Mary’ with your experience of depression. And then you ‘open the door’ and remind us of the beauty of these fragile and ‘insignificant weeds’. A triumph

    1. Bug Woman

      Oh, thank you, Rachael! Much appreciated. And I was so worried about striking the wrong chord with this piece that I almost didn’t write it, but somehow I felt Mary’s story needed to be written, for all those walking the same desperate trail.

  2. Katya

    It may be the grander things – mountains, sunsets, the moon, that most keep our great family of brothers and sisters in awe, upright, on an even keel. But as you gently remind us, there is plenty of determination to admire in a clump of “weeds” in flower, pushing its way through an unforgiving sidewalk crack.

    1. Bug Woman

      Thanks, Katya – it can take effort to find a mountain, but those little weeds are a daily reminder about resilience, which is why I love them so much….

  3. Toffeeapple

    I, too, have suffered depression in the past and it is a horrible disease. It is sad that your friend could not stay but as you say, she feels no more pain.

    I like your piece about the weeds though, very interesting.

  4. limnerc

    How do you know “she feels no more pain?” If Heaven is a state of bing, then surely Hell is too. I believe we “battle” depression because suicide is not something we want to see win. Suicide means we forfeit the most wonderful gift of all–the gift of life. I’ve also learned that every episode of depression “came to pass.” It never came and stayed forever. So I set out on a road to discovery. It rhymes with re-cover.

    Not everyone dies from depression. That’s the biggest key we’ve ever discovered. And it led me to believe there’s a way to overcome depressive states.

    Hearing Annie Lennox sing of how “Dying is easy it’s living that scares me to death” always gave me courage to hold on a little longer. When there’s fighting going on, there’s always the knowledge that someone has to lose or die. Battles seldom end in a draw. When I came to terms with depression, accepted “it” as an intruded that I never invited in to take over my life, and concentrated on my need to thrive with or without it, then sought ways to live beyond it, I’m here to say that it’s possible. We cannot thrive if we cannot survive.

    I’ve lost too many to the darkness along that path I once traveled. We need to speak up and speak out about our success. My heart breaks for every person who falls down and doesn’t have help getting back up again. Thanks for this post. All those flowers born of weeds are strong. I’m one of them.

  5. Veronica Cooke

    Depression is a devastating disease. My grandmother was hospitalised with it; my mother suffered from it and my brother co tinues to do so

    I’m so sorry to hear of the death of your mum’s friend.

    I’m so glad nature helped you out of the darkness and I loved this very beautiful piece of writing.

    1. Bug Woman

      Thank you, Veronica. So sorry about those in your family who suffer from depression – my mother and brother have also had serious bouts of the disease, and I do think that there is a genetic predisposition, though there are lots of other factors at play, I’m sure. I’m just glad that it’s becoming less stigmatized – my grandmother was diagnosed with ‘nerves’ and put on valium, with terrible results. I hope that one day it will be better understood, and easier to treat.

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