“And he turned out just fine…”

It strikes me sometimes how far-reaching and entangled mental health issues can be and how it impacts me in so many ways.
How it alters so many aspects of life. How Willie, and his life and his death are enmeshed in even simple interactions that seemingly wouldn’t have any connection.

I was talking with a colleague today who is in the process of working out details of coming back to work after a maternity leave. As it happens with a couple of people who have the common bond of having had children, talk turns to commiserating on sleepless nights and teething and general craziness of infancy and toddler behaviour.

She is the new mother of her first child, a son. Her and I have a good work relationship with a friendship bond as well. She is one of the very few people at work that know that I have lost a child, and that it was to mental illness ending in his suicide.
Amongst the laughter and the sharing of frustrations and story telling of common moments shared of parenting, I offered the simple encouragement that it does get easier. That while the nights of no sleep and the endless-feeling days of wondering if you made the right decision are taxing, it’s all so worth it – and that even the hardest and most challenging kidlets turn out just fine. A simple and heart-felt – and sincere – shared thought.

There was a moment when she said that she wasn’t sure he would ever sleep through the night… I started to say that Willie was the worst sleeper I had, he was awake every night for hours and it went on for months but that eventually he settled out his rhythm and became a great sleeper… I started, then stopped…. and purposely changed it from “Willie” to another sons name. Why? Because the stigma still sits heavy. Because I am too scared of what her reaction will be when I tell her that Willie had the same behaviour as her son has. Because I’m too scared that I will put that thought in her head of “what if?”. Because the I don’t want to risk the look on her face that will say “but he DIDN’T turn out ok, did he?” So I changed the name… and she didn’t notice, why would she?

It strikes me that maybe I shouldn’t have changed the story. Maybe I should have spoken up and taken that moment to help force the acknowledgment that how Willie was as a baby wasn’t indicative of what was to come. Being a rough sleeper is not at all uncommon and not something to think of as a herald of mental illness. But the fact remains that I couldn’t utter the words “and he turned out just fine” now could I? Because he didn’t.

So another encounter that has no apparent relation to mental health or suicide plays connect the dots again for me. Leaving me wondering how and when and if it will ever be different. Or easier. Or better.

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