Even on the darkest night there are always stars

No one is immune to depression. I learnt that this week when a friend died by her own hand.

Her stunning renovated home in an idealic enclave of peace didn’t keep the black dog at bay, nor did her perfect skin, her glorious smile, her impish humour, her size 10 body, the ideal job and her big generous heart. None of it was enough to plug the rabbit hole she fell down and lost herself in.

While the world envied her the ideal external life, she lived an internal life that was far from ideal. At her memorial service today her brave, amazing and big hearted father revealed her final anxiety ridden days were filled with thoughts so far from the reality of her life but that had become, to her, real.

Yesterday I found myself triggered by a minor event in my life that sent my mind into obsessive crazy story making that honestly had nothing to do with what was in front of me and everything to do with a fear, a thought, a message, a pattern played out from long ago. Thankfully I climbed out of it but it took a number of hours and this is far from a common occurrence.

I can’t imagine living like that twenty four seven. Though I suspect there may have been a time long ago that I could. My friend’s father’s words reminded me how many of us still do.

This is not my first suicide in my life. Some suicides come with a knowing nod. “Of course, that is how that person’s life would end” we think. This was not one of them. Perhaps to those in her absolute inner inner circle but not to the rest of us. The real tragedy is how truly loved my friend was, how her passion and humour and talents impacted so many in a genuinely positive way and how few of us knew the real demons she was wrestling.

I have another friend, thankfully alive, who just can’t deal with death. Bring it up and she changes the subject. She simply cannot connect with death, grief, vulnerability and all that comes with it.

But when someone kills themselves, talking about it is what we should be doing in the hope we can help someone else who has also had the black dog come to play. I learnt that even more today when my friend’s father spoke openly about his daughter’s depression and anxiety and when a guest stood up as a fellow parent who had lost an adult child and practically begged the audience to talk about the person that is gone, if only to keep their impact on the globe alive.

“Don’t not bring it up, don’t avoid the person’s name, say it out loud, we do every day” she said and in that brave vulnerable sentence we could hear the depth of loss when someone leaves before their perceived time.

I first met my friend on a plane bound for Fiji, two writers on a review trip to a luxury island. We bonded over champagne and wine and drank until dawn, climbing the island’s mountain to watch the sun rise with some locals.  She played the guitar around the pool while I made up silly words for lyrics and we laughed the entire week away with our fellow writers on the same trip.

I felt alive in her presence that week, the same alive so many others felt when she was near and a friendship was born held together by occasional raucous phone calls, emails, catch up and Facebook as the years went by. A person’s impact upon another person’s life isn’t just measured by hours or weeks, months or days it is measured by moments, memorable moments whether one or a hundred.

But those who will feel the long dull and persistent aching loss for a lifetime will be those that had her forever in their presence. For them my heart breaks in the way my heart broke for her and what darkness she must have been in when I learned of her suicide.

Her father said it best, bless him truly, when he finished his memorial eulogy with “remember even in the darkest night there are always stars” because even in his own grief he so honourably found a way to make good of his life’s greatest loss and inspire those around him to confront the black dog.

I wish you were still here and together every one of us who now know your struggle because of how it ended would stand by you to confront those demons together. Though I am foolish to think it is about safety in numbers as I know many did already try.

The truth is the world lost a great spark but the sky gained an even brighter star. Shine on missy, shine on.

In Australia, it is estimated that 45 per cent of people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. In any one year, around 1 million Australian adults have depression, and over 2 million have anxiety and on any given day at least six Australians will take their own life. For more information and to seek help please visit www.beyondblue.org.au 

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