Amongst my many vices (cracking my toes, copious amounts of reality television), I love British soap operas. Chief amongst them, Emmerdale, Coronation Street and Eastenders (notice how they are in chronological order by airing time?) What I appreciate most about soap operas here in the UK is the the realnesses, the lack of filter. You see every pimple, the bad makeup jobs (hello, Kat Slater!), the real life situations. They differ from the over the top dramatics of US soaps where women wakeup airbrushed in evening gowns to have breakfast or have died 15 times and miraculously come back from the dead to have a baby that comes of age in 6 months.
In 6 years, I have watched scenes that have brought me to tears and made me understand and appreciate my experiences. There was the Corrie storyline of Pancreatic Cancer (shortly after losing two loved ones to cancer, I took a break from the show) which resulted in assisted suicide. There were the battles with mental health issues, grooming and male rape.
But last night, I felt an affinity with a character that I have never felt…. Aidan Connor shares his last moments with his loved ones as he struggles with every fibre of his being to tell them he loves. He will be dead in the morning. Dead by suicide. For the past few months he has been behaving strangely. A few weeks ago we see him rescue a letter from the post with no further explanation. It turns out he saved a suicide letter addressed to his family after changing his mind…..
Many years ago when I was in my mid-twenties I spent time in an inpatient mental health hospital (is that what they call them?). I walked out of my office on lunch break, drove to Walgreen’s and took a bottle of Advil PM. This is the first time I disclosed this so clearly. I called my best friend to tell her goodbye and sat in the car and waited to go to sleep. I was in physical pain, walking, talking, thinking, looking someone in the eye was torture. I wasn’t successful. Obviously, because I am still here. My view at that time was that I was a failure, in life, love, work, in general, a waste. In a twist of fate, when I returned to work from the hospital, I was promoted (depression can really skew your self esteem and perspective).
Upon my release, there were rumours of what happened. Boston is small and people like gossip. I denied the truth to most and glossed over what happened to others. It was shameful to have attempted such an act, to be black and tried this. This was before it was cool to be expressive and mournful. The few people that did know I was clinically depressed simply told me to get over it, get out of the doldrums like I was wearing a pair of stinky shoes I could simply change for a shiny pair of Louboutins.
Watching Coronation Street last night, I felt a liberation, a freedom to be myself, to feel awkward for no reason whatsoever. When Aidan is in the pub while everyone is celebrating and he is disconnected, I felt as if I were him, standing in a Reggae club in Boston surrounded by all of my friends wanting to die, to slit my wrists and drop on the floor like a sack of potatoes.
I haven’t wanted to throw myself in front of a bus for two years. This is progress! Things that would have broken me months ago, years ago give me perspective now. I want to thank the writers, actors, directors and producers at Coronation Street for having the foresight to recognise this problem and the delicacy to portray it so accurately.
I am not advocating suicide or suicide ideation. I am merely appreciative of the space to discuss mental health issues and that it is expanding, lessening the stigma and hopefully saving lives at the same time.
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