Someone I know died this week.
I would love to say a friend of mine, but I’m not sure I ever earned that privilege. Social media has created a situation where you can be constantly in touch with someone and still not be sure whether you are a friend, or just a voyeur.
She took her own life.
I feel like a voyeur, not a friend.
I was with my dad when I heard, and he said (as he has many times before in similar situations, where we’ve heard news of a suicide amongst colleagues or distant connections) “It’s so awful for the family, and for her friends. I always think it’s such a selfish thing to do”.
But I was thinking. I knew this person. She was not a selfish person.
She was a happy positive person. She talked about friends and family. She empathised. I was also thinking that the person I knew would not do this.
Which raises two points. Firstly that I didn’t ever know the real her, and secondly that I am not good at seeing beyond the cheerful disposition people show to the world, because clearly there was more.
There have been several articles on the radio recently about the harm of our social media image. That fictional us we portray to the world, showing our best selves, our cheery dispositions. I don’t know how guilty I am of that (my sister helps keep me real by posting unflattering photos of me eating or talking with uncanny regularity).
She had reached a point where suicide felt like the logical thing to do. Life had concentrated itself down to one option.
I have no idea what that feels like, but I know this. I have felt down. I have felt lonely. I have talked about it here, and on social media, and endlessly to unsuspecting new mothers in my village, and people have offered me help. A coffee date, an offer of a visit or a playdate with children, the freedom to call them at any hour.
I haven’t taken up any of those offers, because somehow they didn’t fit in with the gap I was trying to fill. The quite probably Mum-shaped gap.
I have really appreciated the very good friends who just turned up, or emailed, or called, but most of my very good friends have small children of their own, and full time jobs, and live far away, so this is understandably rare.
The point is that these cries for help, and responses, my rejection of those responses and sulky petulant wish for better, closer connections with the people I love, made me feel like a terrible person. Like I couldn’t mention it again.
My cries for help led me to feel worse about myself, and not find the help I was after. I can see how that spiral can start. I have never been anywhere near where it ends.
I’ve been considering recently whether I should reduce the number of connections I have on social media, because the idea saddens me that I might meet (one day in real life) someone I haven’t seen since university, and I might not ask how they are, how they’ve been, what their life is like now, because I already feel like I know, because I’m keeping a low level background surveillance on them, checking in from time to time. I already know all about them.
And really, obviously, I know nothing.
Wouldn’t it be nicer to actually know nothing, and to ask, and to listen to the response?
I can’t decide.
Someone I know died this week. I’m not even sure I can claim that.