I’m planning to go to a fund-raising concert in Belfast on Saturday. It’s for PIPS – Public Initiative for the Prevention of Suicide.
Northern Ireland has one of the highest suicide rates in Europe, particularly amongst young men. And we have the highest prescription rate for anti-depressant drugs.
My friend Anthony will be playing. He’s lost family members and friends to suicide. He’s a powerful singer and guitar player. And a rough diamond. Mixed-race, brought up in a tough and deprived part of Belfast. He has a fast tongue and a fast temper.
But he has a heart the size of Ireland. And he’ll go far out of his way to help anyone who needs it.
First impressions certainly don’t reveal his hidden depths. As I got to know Anthony, I learnt a lesson in not taking people at face value.
Suicide has also taken quite a few friends of mine during my lifetime. Even in the past two years I’ve lost friends in San Francisco and in Northern Ireland. Both women in their forties, both beautiful people.
Jennifer was as witty and acerbic as they come. The life and soul of the party. Passionate in all that she did whether saving unwanted stray animals, or talking about Bruce Springsteen.
Julie was very different. Gentle and quietly caring, she loved canoeing and swimming, and was proud of her new little house and the garden she’d begun planting.
I spoke to both of them a matter of days before they took their own lives. I knew they were both facing stresses and strains. But there wasn’t an inkling of what they were about to do.
Again I realised there were hidden depths I hadn’t realised.
I was with another musician friend last week. Brian Houston’s a well-known singer and songwriter from Northern Ireland. He’d asked me to play some blues harmonica on a new song he was recording. (You can find him at brianhouston.com)
Brian wrote something about himself in a recent blog, about how people might perceive him. It stopped me in my tracks.
“They see the outside and they see Facebook and they see the photographs and they think they get it. But really all they get is the veneer. The nice photos I like to share and the happy endings I like to reveal.
I deliberately keep them in the dark about the self-doubt and the gut wrenching fear in the middle of the night and the anxiety that drives me to walk up the big hill in the mornings to try to get some peace in my soul.
Unless you’ve done it yourself, it’s actually impossible to know that all creatives are almost crippled by self-doubt and a critical voice nagging at the back of your brain screaming, “Who do you think you are?”
As a sometime musician and performer myself, it reminds me of the times I’ve taken to a stage sweating in nervousness, and with trembling hands cupping my harmonica, my brain telling me, “You’re not good enough to do this! Who do you think you are?”
We never really know what’s going on at a deep level with anyone. We don’t know their doubts and their fears. We don’t know what they may have suffered on life’s journey that’s had an effect on shaping them into the person they are today.
Last week six women I know got together for lunch, the first time they’d met in years. It’s half a century since they all met as schoolgirls. By all accounts they had a hilarious time reminiscing and catching up.
But they talked too of the cruelty of one authority figure who, they realised for the first time, had scarred every one of them. Someone who demeaned them, made them feel worthless, crushed their ambition and their passion.
Each one of them carries that hurt today, even after 50 years.
I spent Saturday at a seminar with my friend Kim Soulo, a body builder, life coach and nutritionist. (dynamitenutrition.co.uk)
Among other things she talked about people who are harmful or negative to our wellbeing. ‘mood Hoovers’, she calls them…people who suck up our good mood, our positivity and enjoyment of life. People who can be unknowingly negative, or wilfully harming.
We all come across them and we all have to deal with them.
I had coffee yesterday with a very modest man for whom I have huge respect. He’s something of a visionary, highly placed in public affairs. A negotiator.
He’s someone who keeps his cool and doesn’t let himself get under pressure. Even dealing directly with people opposing him. Sometimes unpleasantly. I asked him how he does it.
His answer? He reminds himself to be compassionate. He accepts that someone may have had huge negative influences in their lives. Someone may not even like themselves. And it comes out in unpleasantness to others.
He’ll never know what it’s like to walk in their shoes. But life has taught him to at least consider the possibility that they may not have had the benefits that he has had. That they may be dealing with grave issues he knows nothing of.
So I’m taking on board what he said. I’m going to cut other people some slack. And cut myself some slack.
Just getting through a day can be a real struggle for some. Perhaps they have to deal with the ‘black dog’ of depression all their lives. Others can face short-term situations that push them to the brink.
I want to be a mood enhancer. Not a ‘mood Hoover.’