Soak up the views. Take in the bad weather and the good weather. You are not the storm.Matt Haig
I’d just come out of the shower when the knock came. I threw my dressing gown on and rushed to the door. I assumed it was my adult son visiting and he had probably lost his keys. It was the police.
I can’t remember exactly what they said after telling me my son had committed suicide, “your son, Morgan, has taken his own life, we are really sorry ….” Everything I did after that was on autopilot. I remember screaming and cursing God. My phone rang endlessly. I remember walking into a shop later that day to buy whisky and cigarettes. I was devastated. Nobody could visit me because of lockdown but the phone calls were relentless, however it is hard to remember what was said. I didn’t want messages of condolences, I wanted answers, I wanted the reasons why a seemingly healthy and good looking 26 years old man would take his own life.
Before they left, the police officers left me a piece of paper with a number, “please call this for support,” they’d said. I wish they’d left a manual instead, or a guide on how to cope, or on what to do after a loved one takes their life, or a name of a person to blame, or a million other things that could offer some relief.
The funeral was a lonely affair thanks to COVID-19 but the outpour of love from my Kenyan community was immense and reassuring, although not reassuring enough because no one could tell me why this had happened.
According to the Office of National Statistics, suicide is the biggest killer of young adults (15-29 years old). Astonishingly despite an overwhelming percentage of mental health problems presenting between the age of 14 and 24, mental health remains a taboo subject not openly discussed in schools or in homes. My son had serious mental health issues I knew nothing about – I found out when going through his stuff to clear out his flat.
He suffered from a condition called body dysmorphia – I’d never heard of body dysmorphia before. According to the NHS UK website, this is a mental health condition where a person spends a considerable amount of time worrying about flaws and imperfections in their physical appearance. These flaws are often unnoticeable to others. Damn right! There was nothing wrong with Morgan. He was perfect, at least in my eyes, but obviously not according to him. Apparently, he developed this condition in his late teens, I had no idea. Due to this, he also developed social anxiety, I had no idea of that either. As I discovered other things about my son, my guilt and shame increased exponentially. Since he moved out 5 years ago, I saw him at least every week, even during the lockdown and I couldn’t see any distress or stress or anxiety (maybe I didn’t want to see). This guilt is killing my spirit every day. Endless questions about my skills as a mother plague my mind and corrupt my soul.
I’ve tried to honour my son’s wishes by not telling the world of his struggles with mental health, but I feel telling his story is one small way to raise awareness in my community. Keeping secrets about mental health issues that plague our community is the surest way to compound shame: the cry is now loud enough that these issues need to come to the surface.
At first, this disorder didn’t sound like a real problem to me (this is partly due to my conditioned upbringing that only white people would consider this a problem), and because I reasoned that many people worry about their appearances anyway. However, I’ve since discovered that for many people the worrying is not just on the surface, but a debilitating worry that affects every aspect of life and plagues the mind with worst-case scenarios, with little or no hope of light at the end of the tunnel. This was what my son went through and never once thought he could talk it with me. The one thing I know now and I am ashamed of it, is that he knew I’d most likely dismiss it with an unhelpful comment, “there are worse problems in the world,” or, “you look great, there’s nothing wrong with you,” without a second glance. I grew up in a world where talking about silly issues like these led to severe beatings; maybe, somehow over the years while raising my son, I transferred this fear to him – consciously or not.
The most painful thing is the realisation that my son has probably been battling this since before his teens. I remember little things he’d say, “mum, I don’t want to go to this party,” or, “mum I don’t want to wear that,” – I never paid attention because I dismissed it as silly things children say. Little did I know there was a dormant volcano bubbling underneath.
My advice to all parents (people), pay attention to what children say. I don’t mean we need to digest and critically analyse every conversation, but if we are more consciously active in these conversations maybe we can see if the behaviours match up.
If you have been affected by this story, please don’t stay silent. There are organisations ready to help
Photo credit: Lamar Belina – pexels.com