This article was first published in print in November, 2017
I received an anonymous letter recently, typed out and addressed to me personally but otherwise unmarked. It was posted to our newsroom in Casemates. The Chronicle has a policy of not publishing anonymous letters. We read them, naturally, but nine out of 10 end up in the bin. Occasionally though, even anonymous letters require a response, and this was just such a case.
The letter was written by a man who was deeply unhappy with life. He had been prompted to put pen to paper after reading about Gib Sams, a new local group offering a service similar to that offered by the Samaritans in the UK and other countries around the world. It was a service he did not want to use.
In the letter, my anonymous correspondent described how he was living silently with depression, often barely able to face the daily challenges of life. He spoke of feelings of despair, of boredom, of wanting to rest forever.
But this was his personal, secret torment. Viewed from the outside, he described himself as happy, outgoing and content. He had, in his own words, “a wonderful family which I love to bits and they love me back”. He also had a good career, a busy social calendar and great friends, everything you would associate with a happy and accomplished life. His Facebook profile, he noted, gave the appearance of an outgoing, vibrant man with lots going on.
Inside though, there was something missing. In his bleakest moments, my correspondent wrote, he had even contemplated ending it all. But he had always stepped back from the brink.
So why was he writing to me?
It would be simple to describe this as a plea for help, and on some levels I suppose it was. Why reach out otherwise?
But my correspondent came across as a man fully in control of his own situation. He was clearly aware that he had a lot of positive things in his life. He was also aware of the impact that his feelings, if acted on, would have on his family and loved ones. And yet there was this darkness.
He entitled his letter ‘No, I don’t want to talk’. “What is there to say?” he seemed to be asking. This was his reality, his own inner torment, his alone to deal with, and his message was stark.
“Do not assume,” he wrote by way of conclusion, “that the person that you are sharing a drink with, enjoying a football match together or you come across with a big smile on their face wants to talk about their problems. Some just wish that they don’t wake up the next day.”
I received this letter several weeks ago and I knew I could not ignore it. But it has taken me all this time to put pen to paper. In getting my thoughts in order, I showed the letter to Marielou Guerrero, who set up GibSams following the deaths of two good friends last year.
“It’s the worst kind of isolation, to feel all alone in a crowd of people,” she said.
“To be surrounded by people who are unaware of the sadness inside you.”
“This is precisely why we set up GibSams, so that people who have these feelings of darkness or isolation can have a safe place to talk, anonymously and confidentially, without fear of being judged.”
“We want people to know it’s OK to talk to us.”
In setting out his thoughts, my correspondent was describing a pain so deep it is hard to fathom, so bleak there seems no point in sharing it, no hope that someone out there might listen and even understand.
But in sharing his feelings, and despite his insistence that he had no desire to talk about them, my anonymous correspondent also put his finger on an inescapable fact: there are others who feel just like him.
Don’t assume the person next to you is as happy as they might seem, he wrote. And that is precisely the point.
In these mad-hat, super-rushed, over-hyped and materialistic lives we all lead, feeling isolated and alone is not, unfortunately, a rare thing. In fact, it is all too common.
Often we don’t talk about these things, fearful of social stigma or wary of laying bare our deepest emotions and doubts. Often, it is easier to bury feelings, to get on with things under a thin veneer of apparent normality.
But we must learn to open up, to share. And as a community we must signal that to do so is a sign of strength, not weakness.
There is no easy answer to the issues raised in the letter I received, but I’ll leave you with this last thought.
I wish I knew who my anonymous correspondent was. If I did, I would reach out to him and tell him he’s not alone.
If you are in Gibraltar and affected by these issues, please contact GibSams on the free, confidential helpline 116123.
Photo: Hichem Deghmoum/Pexels