Recently, I was in the room when a conversation began between some people. Normally, it wouldn’t have been a conversation that I would’ve been interested in as one of the participants of the conversation, a girl, was talking about getting something cosmetically done to herself. What has made this conversation stick to my mind was because part of the conversation touched on the topic of mental health – more specifically, on the topic of suicide.
It was a harmless enough conversation when it began. Girl said she wanted to get a piercing done but had to skip class to do so. Girl was worried about the excuse she would have to come up with in order to skip class. She and everyone else in the room started brainstorming things she could tell her Professor. Even I chimed in with a suggestion that she just tell her Professor that she can’t attend due to personal reasons – why go into specifics, right? That was my reasoning.
Girl wanted to use the excuse that someone in her family had passed away. I told her that it was a weak excuse unless she could produce proof that she had attended a funeral. Besides, I said, who wants to use such a terrible excuse because it would mean condemning some family member to some death – even if said family member was fictional, I felt that it was pushing things too far.
After a somewhat lengthy discussion between her and the other people in the room about what excuse she should come up with, someone said, “You know what you could do? Just say that your friend committed suicide.”
Just as the words came out of his mouth, I felt like I had just been punched in the gut. Those words were impactful, even if he hadn’t meant it at all. “Yeah, someone I knew had committed suicide once and I was here working. When the call came, I went and told our director that I needed that day off and when I told him why, he asked no further questions. So if you told your Professor that, you’ll be off the hook for sure! No one wants to talk about suicides…”
“I’m sorry you had to go through that,” I said to that person. I didn’t know how to feel at that point. I was taken off guard.
“Yeah, it wasn’t really someone I was close to but you know, part of the family and all…”
I excused myself from the room after that. I couldn’t hear anymore. I felt like I should’ve said something but between being taken off guard and feeling fearful that people would want to know more about my own mental illnesses and whether I too was suicidal, I had to leave. I don’t know why but at that moment, I felt ashamed and fearful. I was afraid that someone would say, “Hey Jules! Don’t you have mental illnesses? Are you suicidal too?” I can’t explain it but at that moment, I had to flee.
And flee I did because I left the room, while feeling my heart pound in my ear. I had to tell myself that the person who had said that didn’t mean it, that it wasn’t personal, that I wasn’t the one he was talking about.
Despite telling myself that I am unashamed of having mental illnesses, when it comes down to it, a face-to-face interaction is difficult to do. I know now, that when it comes down to a verbal confrontations, I really still don’t have the courage to face up to the person who had said whatever stigmatizing thing they said and tell them how I really feel about the situation. It makes me feel small and weak.
At the same time, I also made made me wonder if they would have said the same things had they had known that I was suicidal or whether it was something that they had said because they didn’t think through their words. If I had been better prepared, maybe I would have said something about the comment.
I might not have been mad – I don’t get offended when people talk about mental health topics in a negative way – but I might have used that opportunity to just shed some light about mental illnesses and mental health. It might help the students realize that mental health topics aren’t jokes to be thrown around.
I am disappointed by how I reacted but I hope that in the future, should something like this arise again, that I would be better prepared to give a more positive response. I hope to shed the fear and shame – it is still an ongoing thing that S and I are working on.