Don’t Tell Me to "Try Harder"
CW: Mentions of suicide.
When I was younger—in fact, up until a year ago—I never would have imagined that this phrase, which had had no impact on me until then, would utterly destroy me.
A while ago, I was struggling with interpersonal relationships and the weight of too much self-imposed pressure. The more complicated those issues got, the worse my mental health became, until I could no longer bear with it all.
Despite not being deft enough to juggle multiple things at once, I am bad at asking for help, which is how I end up painting myself into a corner.
It was then that I asked a friend for advice on something, or rather, vented to him. After discussing various issues, he told me, “you might feel alone, but I want you to try harder.”
Let me first clarify that I fully understand that he intended no harm. If anything, he probably meant to encourage me and said what he said as advice.
However, the fact remained that those words pushed me over the edge when I was desperately trying to keep it together. Hearing him say that made something snap inside of me, and I felt empty. Nothing mattered anymore. And so I gave up completely and thought of ending everything.
I’ve tried to stay strong all this time, but things didn’t work out, and I couldn’t ask anyone for help. When I finally managed to tell someone, this is what I got. Try harder? How? I can’t take it anymore.
At the time, his words somehow felt irresponsible to me, and the disappointment akin to despair at not being understood had probably dealt a final blow to my already weakened mental state.
After that, I called and texted another mentor and my best friend, my body trembling and my breathing shallow and rapid. Thankfully they answered, and I managed to calm down.
I also told myself crying, “I can’t give up now since my younger sister and parents were all in another country”, until I was hoarse as I talked to myself in the mirror. That had probably been a significant help as well.
However, it still scares me to think about what might have happened if my friends had not picked up the phone.
One thing I want you to know is that it was not just my friend’s fault that I broke down. It is just that his words were the last straw on top of everything else that had already happened.
I still find myself in disbelief when I think back on that incident, and it is hard to believe that that one phrase could affect me to that extent.
Since then, I have stopped telling people to “try harder.”
Instead, I have started saying things like the following:
“You’re doing enough.”
“Don’t push yourself too hard.”
“Tell me if you need anything. I’m always here for you.”
“If you ever need help, just say it. I know you don’t really say it out loud, but don’t try to solve everything by yourself.”
These are words that I wanted someone to tell me back then and the words that my best friends said to me after that incident, which is why I’m still here.
That friend may come off as a bad guy in my writing, but you could say I am grateful for him now (that was not until a few days ago, though), the reason being that I have personally experienced just how much a single word can push you down into the pits of despair. However, I still do not want to read what he said to me, so I have not opened our chat since.
This is why I would like to emphasize the following: words can kill someone too.
At times, words are capable of becoming invisible daggers that tear people apart.
Mental health is important. Because you cannot see them, those wounds go easily undetected and take time to heal. That is why you have to pay closer attention to it than physical health.
I am still living shamelessly today because I was blessed with a supportive network, but many people in Japan continue to take their lives. I would like to become a shield to prevent those lights from going out.
You can live unapologetically. You can inconvenience others every now and then. You are valuable.
You might not know it yourself, but I guarantee it.
So please, keep that light burning for as long as you are alive.
Translated by Yuko C. Shimomoto
Edited by Emiru Okada
Graphic by Ayumi White