don’t older people

express their despair

as much as young?

Do we numb ourselves so much?

Shame? A mask we don

to pretend we’re well

when everyone knows

ageing doesn’t bring respite

from demons.

It is the singular reason

aside chubby cheeks

I wish to be

16 again

for all the friends

who unknowing of pains

to come

had the tenderness

of a hundred, 40-year-olds

who have seen

and are


into their

steel eyes.

It interests me to recall how much time a young person will give someone who is upset. There’s visible difference between what a young person will say and do, versus an older one, that I think has nothing to do with becoming more mature. Older people have little tolerance for depression. You would think, based on this, older people suffer it less, though we know this isn’t true. Is it to do with hope? Societal shaming of seeming weak if over 25 you still give it your time? I always wonder what those over 40 do by way of finding support and people ‘hearing’ them, when the entire world seems to shut you down by a certain age, including yourself.

31 Replies to “Steel eyes”

  1. I wonder whether when we are young we think we can change it, somehow fix someone’s depression, beyond just helping them survive the current flare up, and become older and leaned its persistence, many give up the fight, or even come to fear it could be contagious with too much involvement, a reaction, perhaps, to the grief over those lost to the demon. Or, could there be in this a different sense of time? The youthful illusion of immortality having given way to the sense of less time ahead and more behind? Such is the power of the poem that I can’t not wonder and ponder this, and strive not to give in to growing eyes of steel.

  2. In order to survive what life throws at you, you have to be tougher than life itself. Then living is easy because life becomes afraid of you.

  3. Surely age is relative. I like to think that when younger I had some sort of empathy for older folk, but I really had no idea what it was actually like.

  4. I think that this is very true, Candice. It helps to have someone with whom you are close, but also I find (personally) that you learn to read the signs early and try to embrace (strange word I know) depression and even harness it’s creative power. I wish that there were a magic cure but I do think that it is a very personal journey.
    Plus I think that there is the notion of a) a ‘get on with it’s attitude and (b) well death is closer than birth so…!

  5. I think it simply has to do with the fact that, past 25, you are supposed to have a life of your own, and other people you must put first. Like your own children and partner. It’s not that you are less sympathetic to your friends’ troubles and needs. It’s just that you also realise that you also need to take care of your own, and make priorities. If you must first take care of yourself, then second take care of your aging parents, then your children and spouse if you don’t want your partner to divorce you, you will have less time for your friends.
    If they need time to have a quick 1-2h coffee, you can give them that once in a while. If they need some groceries, or some food, you can do that, while you do your own shopping/food.
    But they cannot come and crash on your couch any more, and expect you to disrupt your whole daily routine to fit around their schedule, because if you don’t stick to your schedule, then your children will start to unravel, and then YOU will lose it. And then who will take care of YOU?

  6. I agree with you about the reasons. I often wonder though, for those who were held up by their friends, and still suffer, what do they do? I think you are absolutely right about the reasons it’s just really interesting to see. I think that’s why people like me get clients, because people resort to therapists because their friends aren’t there for them.

  7. Yes you are probably absolutely right. I see a lot of lonely people who come into therapy and literally do not have a friend to call on and it just struck me that this wasn’t true when we were younger – friends were always there for you – and so I thought a lot about why so many people have no one to talk to. It saddens me because for many, depression seems to worsen with age and they have literally no outlet. I think that is why I try to always be there for my friends. The attitude of ‘get on with it’ it both realistic and a little brutal.

  8. Is that it? Ok! I think that would be hard for people suffering from extreme mental illness from my experience working with them I see they try ever so hard but sometimes it’s just too hard and they really benefit from having friends. But I understand in America there is that ‘be tough’ attitude, sometimes it seems a little judging to those who fall short though.

  9. I agree so much. I think when young we want to help because we truly do think it’s temporary or can be changed. As we age we realize, no this person has been depressed for twenty years, they will likely always be depressed. I think we should have empathy and time for them irrespective, but that’s just my view. I know life probably gets harder for all of us as we get older, maybe it’s too close to us we can’t find the energy to but I would say, this world would be better if we could. Maybe I’m naive, but the idea of people having nobody to talk to when they suffer, really bothers me and doesn’t make me think they are weak and should just toughen up. But what do I know.

  10. You know a lot, and hard earned knowledge at that. And that idea of people having nobody to talk to when they suffer is tragic and frightening. I think of the people dying of COVID cut off from family or their chosen spiritual care givers – horrible! – and such a load on the nurses who are there and exhausted.

  11. My prediction is many will leave the medical industry if they have not already. They don’t earn enough to put up with the onslaught. Same with ‘caring’ professions like ours. And there will be no replacement. And that doesn’t bother most people because they are focused on well paid jobs that do not help others, as they see that as a choice rather than a necessity. I agree. More than ever there are people dying alone, being ill alone, or just suffering mentally or physically alone. It grieves me to think of the increasing apathy toward this and I often ask why as we age, we seem to care less what happens to others, when life experience should teach us to care more. But the apathy toward those who would die from Covid 19 has shown clearly, few think beyond themselves and their survival. I am glad you are one who does, you are a light in this world my friend.

  12. It is particularly hard for people like me, who got thrown from here to there following someone, had to rebuild a social network every time, losing it all over again every time we were moved overseas again.
    And then when I divorced, I lost both the social circle and the class circle as well. I can’t do things I used to do financially, things our friends are able to afford. Add to that the fact they are busy as can be, and I was doubly busy with trying to reinvent myself, survive, live, heal, and often ill because I’m trying to heal.
    It’s all too much for the friends. Especially the ones who haven’t had time to know you a lot.
    Don’t get me wrong, I am lucky, I have a lot of good friends. But as I said, they have their own lives, away from their own families, because none of them have grand-parents around like families used to either, or aunts and uncles. So we help each other as we can. But they all know how much I’m struggling already, and don’t want to impose I think. They don’t get that helping makes me feel like I belong.

  13. You are so right. I understand a little of your experience because I went from France to the UK to Canada to USA. I know it’s not the same but I do get it a bit You are doing SO well considering everything and I so admire you for your fight and you should only do what you can do and never feel badly for not doing more. I think you do so well and I admire that very much. But don’t feel you impose because that truly is what a friend is for.

  14. I don’t remember the source, but it is true that when one person suffers or dies, it is a tragedy, but when a million suffer or die, it is a statistic. I think many are simply overwhelmed by the enormity, especially of the pandemic, but of other huge things, like climate change, or the reasons people from some countries will walk a thousand miles or risk drowning to get to a place that might, just might offer some hope.

    The helping professions, similar to the teaching profession, have long relied on people who either feel a calling to be in them, or can afford to be in them because there is another income in the household.

  15. Yes that is so true. I believe this will lessen and change and not for the better though I hope I am wrong. Teachers are treated so badly nowadays also. It is such a shame because those people all of them, they do such valuable work but are entirely unappreciated.

  16. There is something both encouraging and sad about the signs hat went up in the height of the lock down reading, “Heroes Work Here”. Some did get a pittance of “hazard pay”, now discontinued. So easily, we forget our utter dependency on the “Essential Workers” in our hunger to “get back to normal”. It is hard to have illusions challenged by reality, and the peculiarly American one that the virus did its best to break is the individualism of the person dependent upon nobody.

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