Jamie Druitt, @thejdexpress
Friday I was sitting in a black cab in London with a terrible head cold. I was on a mission to get to work quickly and preferably without too much communication. The driver and I exchanged Brexit banter, we talked about Uber, Euro 2016 and then he asked, what do you with yourself?
Although I was coughing and spluttering, I managed to get out the basics. I work for a small start up and we try to help young people in mental health. The driver sat silent, I assumed my start up lingo had put him to sleep and thus so we had passed the chit chat stage. We spent the next few minutes in silence.
At the next jam in traffic, with a teary expression the driver turned and muttered something about his godson. I made out through the crackling intercom that his godson had taken his life four years ago, leaving two young children and he wanted to know why.
He shared with me that he had so many questions, and if he could just have another five minutes, maybe he and his family would be able move forward. A few years back this would have been one of those dear God get me out of here moments, but I sat there and listened. I didn’t say anything, occasionally adding an oh or sigh.
I have no idea how I started having these conversations. I often feel like the least qualified person to be listening to a cabbie. Six years ago, in fact, I had a stable career, a dog and a desire to live a comfortable life. I had a challenging moments growing up, everyone does, but I believed most situations could be overcome with proper goal setting, planning and determination.
It was around this time when my life was properly thrown into turmoil, catching me completely off guard. It was rough, the world seemed to amplify my failings everywhere I looked and the little empire I built around me fell to the ground. I vividly remember one night sitting on my cold slate kitchen floor, the house empty, waiting desperately for my phone to vibrate, for the universe to alert someone of my need.
Logically I knew what I needed to do, eat, sleep, swim and work — do this, and you’ll be okay my brain repeated. My body, however, woke up feeling drained, my legs heavy with a pesky dark cloud that seemed to follow me everywhere I went.
For the first time in my life, I felt isolated; when I woke up my brain would quickly remind of my failures, that I deserved this and I would never overcome it. Social events became hell and when I managed to venture out, I maintained a facade that life is going great. Inside an insecure wreck desperately wanting someone to pull me aside, break down the layers and ask me how I was really going.
It was during this period that some of my closest friends drifted away, and some I could see were uncomfortable catching up. They had that squirmy look in their face of not wanting to say the wrong things and at times avoiding the situation all together for risk of not knowing what to say.
I think this is one of the major reasons why we so often struggle to ask our friends, family and colleagues ‘how are you really?’. We simply don’t know what to say once they start talking. We’re afraid that they’ll wait for us to respond with some groundbreaking wisdom or that we’re obliged to add insight to the change their situation. We tell ourselves that we are neither trained nor equipped to deal with this and therefore avoiding the awkwardness of it all is probably more beneficial for everyone involved.
This is where I think we need to begin. After years of working alongside young people and hearing thousands of stories, I’ve learnt that there simply isn’t a right way to be of help. There is no such thing as a mental health superhero nor a right or a wrong thing to say — it’s being there that’s important. Shutting up and not trying is our powerful first step.
People often ask me, why this? Right now there are people all around us living the kitchen floor moments, fighting off their own pesky dark clouds and waiting for someone to sit down next to them and show them they’re not alone.