It is easy to get lost in jargon when talking about mental health. I endeavour to keep conversation comfortable; I talk about my husband’s mental health issues. Issues. It is such a delightfully benign word to use. Issues. It suggests an easy to read pamphlet. Bullet points, perhaps? Issues. In my attempt to be delicate, I fear I am being misleading.
There will always be times when it is necessary to talk about how mental illness is a part of our life. I try to be delicate because, outside of conversations with professionals involved in Mr. Juniper’s care, mental illness can be difficult to comprehend. A diagnosis may as well be in Latin. Symptoms may as well be a case of “pin the label on the dictionary.”
To drop mental illness into a casual conversation feels like a lexical nightmare. What do I say? Oh, yes, he was totally suicidal the other night. I mean, I was trying to read Fifty Shades of Grey, and there he was wanting to end it all! Perhaps not. Mention the word “suicidal” and some people will spontaneously start talking about their new coffee machine, others are already dialing 999, and a select few will say, “What’s new?” I don’t mean to diminish the horror that is living with suicidal thoughts and actions. It’s about being able to express what’s happening and hoping for an appropriate response.
I’m not desperate to thrust Mr. Juniper’s suicidal ideation upon others, but there are times when I yearn for the freedom to be honest about our home life. I fear making others uncomfortable. And that doesn’t feel right. I don’t have a desire to turn a coffee morning into a therapy session. Mentioning suicide shouldn’t derail daily life. Suicidal ideation is, for so many, a part of daily life and yet, heaven forbid it be mentioned.
The perception of self-harm exists in a nearby space. I’m not going to share grim details, it is neither appropriate nor fair. There is something strangely private about Mr. Juniper’s self-harm. Though, now I think of it, the privacy of the action isn’t peculiar at all. It is a moment of intense vulnerability. It’s the culmination of everything that has led him to that point. It isn’t a moment of sharing and audiences. There is no pillow fluffing, but the aftermath is a time for gentleness and protection. The vulnerability doesn’t disappear; his defenses need time to recover alongside his body. To share the particulars of what he has done is rarely of use. To share the basic fact can be a desperation to be honest for mere seconds.
To talk of mental health issues, to be delicate, is so appealing for some. To use brash words like suicide and self-harm is to be crass. One must be polite in conversation and one must be considerate to the feelings of others. To speak of mental health issues is valid. It encompasses a huge range of topics. Within that, however, I think reality risks being lost. Mental health is so much more than benign issues. It is life and death, sectioning and crisis care, therapy appointments and waiting lists. Mental health is recovery and stability, relapses and episodes. Issues is a good word and it is important to see it for the magnitude of struggles it encompasses and not as a tool to be dismissive.
So, would it really be so bad if I said my husband was suicidal? Would it really be offensive? Would hearing that life isn’t sunshine and daisies really make the world a darker place? Because it’s already dark for him. A mention of suicide isn’t blot on his day, it’s his life. Suicidal ideation is horrible. Acknowledge that. Acknowledge that one facet of mental health, and we can move on to cake and coffee makers. Allow me to be acknowledged. Allow me, for one brief sentence, to not be delicate. Who am I kidding? I will say with a sweet smile of optimism and a sigh of acceptance that my husband has mental health issues, and before the admission is under the rug, we will be talking about espressos and lattes.