I have shame filed away somewhere at the back of my brain and emotions and amn't I lucky. I've dealt with it, been through it, processed, and by some grace have come out the other end somewhat intact.
I'm not saying I’ve never felt it, I have. At one stage in my life I weighed twenty stone. I ate my emotions and was deeply ashamed and mortified by the human I was and how I looked. Ending my own life crossed my mind a couple of times because I couldn’t cope with the humiliation I felt about and towards myself. I couldn’t see the me from the trees. I hated who I was. I was lost. It took years of working on my mental health and myself to finally be able to be proud of who I was. I was lucky I had the support to see me through those darker days, lucky that I had the ability to talk to friends and professionals, lucky that I had access to those frameworks that helped me.
Many aren’t so lucky. Many don’t have the ability to seek or access help. Many do and are turned away from our institutions because they don’t have the resources or ability to help those in their darkest times. Many live in shame and fear of themselves and what they are and what they might do. Many take their own lives.
In the past five years I have lost two dear friends to suicide. Two very different people from different circles of my life.
It was a Sunday in June 2011. I was living with my friend Mo. She was in her early 60s, full of life and vibrant to her core. I had noticed a change in Mo. She became reclusive. Her moods would swing. She was ashamed of growing old. You’re fabulous I would tell her. Her style, her chicness - she was a gem. She was troubled. In hindsight I knew that perhaps one day she would be gone, beyond the point of rescuing. That Sunday I came home she had hung herself. In the months and year after her death I felt so much shame that I hadn’t helped her enough, that I didn’t tell her to ring the Samaritans enough, that somehow her death was at my hands too. It took a long time for that shame to subside and for me to reconcile with how she took her life and how involved I was in her last days. That shame ate away at me. Her sister wrote to me and in that letter she said that this wasn’t my fault, that if one doesn’t face one’s own demons they will remain. Mo ended her life the only way she knew how, it was just a sad fact that she couldn’t see herself the way others did.
It is a shame that those in their darkest moments can’t see the hands that are reaching out to help them, but it’s also a shame that we can’t let them go and see that their only way to continue, albeit desperate, is to be on their way out.
To lose one friend to suicide is a misfortune but to lose two, now that’s a shame.
I’d known Sean since what feels like forever. I was barely out of the closet when I met him at The George. He was one of those humans you’ll never forget. Gentle, mannerly, and full of divilment. We meandered in and out of each other’s lives, bumping into each other out on the scene or in the streets. We always talked and laughed. Sean was a creative soul, so we were naturally drawn to working together. Sean was trans, he was female to male, and we often discussed body dysmorphia and image and being your true self. A journey that I was all too familiar with, battling with my weight and losing nine and a half stone. Battling myself and finding my true identity. We started working very closely and writing a play that delved into who we were, how we got there, and how happy we were with our journeys. Both of us embraced ourselves and our pasts. Sean at that time in his life was an advocate for trans visibility, he was outspoken and very proud. Sean was some man for one man.
Sean’s life took a u-turn two years ago. Something in his head went. He lost himself and his mental health went from under him. He was steeped in shame. This was not the Sean I knew, the Sean I loved. He wanted to disappear. Wanted to move away and never come back. He sought help and was turned away several times from the institutional doors he knocked on before finally getting a room on a ward.
That summer we had planned to put our play into full production, but instead it was punctuated with visits to him in hospital. Bringing him writing materials, or bottles of diet coke. Talking with him, walking and hugging it out. I am so glad to have told Sean I loved him many times over that summer because if I hadn’t, that would have been a real shame.
Suicide, he told me, had crossed his mind. He knew I was well versed in the matter, and I knew he was serious.
It was a Monday in April this year and there was a voice message on my phone. I knew immediately by the tone of the voice that something had happened. My head knew but my heart hoped that it wasn’t true. In the taxi on the way to the hospital his life flashed before my eyes. The things he’d done, the places he’d seen, his laugh, and those eyes. In the ICU department his body lay there being kept alive by tubes and machines, his brain was gone though. He had jumped into the river. I felt him there beside me, whispering in my ear that his pain was gone now too.
Sean passed away a few days later surrounded by his friends and the endless love that we all felt for him.
He lived a full life and while we’re all still shocked at his sudden passing, he did it the only way knew how, his way.
As I left the funeral home with his death fresh on my lips from kissing his forehead one last time, I took a wrong turn and ended up past the Strawberry Beds and at a part of the Liffey I’d never ventured to before. I followed the flow out and down the quays all the way to the East Link Bridge where Sean took his last breaths. I pulled over to take a moment and remembered a conversation we’d had when I was visiting him in hospital two summers previously. He said, “I won’t do that to you again Vickey, I won’t.” I looked him in his bright blue eyes and asked him to not make promises he couldn’t keep. As much as he may or may not have realised it, I was there for him, I wasn’t going to judge any of his actions.
I am so glad to have told Sean I loved him many times over that summer he spent in hospital, because if I hadn’t, that would have been a real shame.