Why we need to tell our stories

I wasn’t going to write any more posts about depression and suicide, but I’ve been thinking this week about a writer I knew, Jonny Zucker, who killed himself last year.

Jonny’s family have just announced the Striker Boy campaign, in which they are donating all proceeds of a new edition of one of his books to the mental health charity, Mind.

When Jonny died, the tributes and memories that poured in all said very similar things. How generous he was, how full of energy and enthusiasm, how funny, and how very loved.

So often, those who take their own lives seem to be bright stars like him, people who have touched other people’s lives in one way or another, but don’t seem to have understood how amazing they are.

So here I am, thinking and talking about suicide again, wishing like everyone must, that there was some way of reaching across the dreadful chasm that can open up around a person and swallow them down.

I don’t think we can convince somebody thinking about suicide how wonderful and loved they are, or how much they matter. Even if we could, would that be enough to reach across the chasm and hold onto them?

Certainly, we can make sure the people around us know we are there for them, and will listen in a non-judging way, if they ever need someone to turn to. We can avoid saying unhelpful things that will make the person feel even worse, such as ‘I don’t know why you’re so hard on yourself’ or ‘Why don’t you just snap out of it?’ But not everyone is actually able to talk about it when they’re struggling with depression.

My feeling is that the biggest thing we can do for each other is be honest and not hide our own darkness. Sadness, feelings of pointlessness, even despair, are all part of the human condition, although that goes against our cultural assumptions.

We think we should be able to be happy all the time and every kind of pain is – or certainly should be – fixable. In our culture, unhappiness feels like failure, and we’re ashamed of owning up to it.

But the golden life is an illusion. We shouldn’t be claiming it while hiding our own darkness, because that make the darkness even more terrifying and lonely for people currently going through it.

What we need to recognise and especially to teach our children is that everyone experiences sadness, fear, despair… it’s natural. Life can be hard, but we can learn to handle it. This is the message in all my kids’ self-help books, including How 2B Happy.

I don’t mean I think we should bang on about our problems all the time, but just be real with each other. Real life stories belong to all of us; they lift us above our own situation and show us our wider human condition. They give us a sense of belonging.

A member of Jonny’s family commented, ‘Mental health needs to be discussed in the open and these personal stories need to be shared.’

I could not agree more.

If you would like to buy a copy of Jonny’s book, the new special edition comes out on October 6th. 

 

 

 

 

 

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6 thoughts on “Why we need to tell our stories”

  1. I read with interest your new post Jenny. My father suffered with depression in the 1970s and eventually took his own life in 1977. He was indeed a bright star who was snuffed out far too early from my life and my biggest regret is that I never told him how much I loved him before he died. He was artistic, clever and funny but he was also a very private man. He would often sink into his own world where no one could reach him. He was a big influence on our lives but sadly, my youngest daughter never knew him, but she feels close to him when I tell her about his opinions and the things he loved. I have mentioned him in my memoir, ‘No One Comes Close’, which I hope to publish in the coming weeks.

    1. Oh Julie, how tragic – I’m so sorry to hear about your father. I think that someone who has sunk so far into their own world often can’t hear when we say we love them – and that’s the most devastating thing for everyone who really does love them. I’m glad you’ve managed to share your experience in your memoir.

  2. Dear Ms. Alexander, this is one of the most poignant, honest essays I’ve read about suicide, depression, and the writing life. Manic depression is a weave in my life and my own writings. Reading your words, it was a warm balm for the soul. And such a tribute to Jonny Zucker.

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