Saturday 10 September 2016

World Suicide Prevention Day 2016

It's World Suicide Prevention Day today, the theme this year is 'Connect. Communicate. Care.' There is no single truth to suicide. Whether we have been bereaved by suicide or have been close to ending our lives, we all have our individual stories to tell. Days like today though are an important time for us to talk - and to listen. The World Health Organization estimates that over 800,000 people die by suicide each year – that’s one person every 40 seconds. Up to 25 times as many again make a suicide attempt.

This is what this year's theme means to me.

 After Simon's death I felt lost and isolated. I had my family of course and we were a source of strength to each other but we all had to deal with our own grief first. Friends were a comfort too but had their own lives, they would never say my needs were a burden but I couldn't monopolise their lives with my loss. I needed to talk to somebody who understood. I probably should have gone to see my GP after Simon's suicide but I was too numb to think logically. The system was very good at dealing with practicalities. The police informed us, took us to identify his body, the coroner carried out his post mortem and his body was released to the funeral directors so we could have his funeral. The steps to managing a death were followed smoothly. We weren't offered any advice on how to cope with the emotional fallout though. I felt lost but was expected to find my own way out of my grief. I did (or at least I still am) and connecting with other people bereaved by suicide was definitely an important factor in my recovery. To communicate with others,  whether those who have lost loved ones to suicide, or those burdened with suicidal talks is so vitally important. Suicide needs to be talked about, it shouldn't be a taboo subject but even now I'm occasionally wary of mentioning how my brother died in case I make the other person uncomfortable. Having these conversations though it the only way to quash that discomfort. It means our voices, those of us bereaved and those of us who feel, or have ever felt suicidal, must be heard by professionals, by policymakers, clinicians and other service providers. It means the media learn they have to report deaths by suicide responsibly. It means this crisis that is leading to vast numbers of unnecessary deaths, to millions left to try and make sense of suicide can't be ignored.
Connect today, communicate with others who live with the shadow of suicide, those still in its darkness and those who have tentatively emerged back into a fragile light. Care for others and just as importantly take the time to care for yourself because you matter. No matter what your mind is telling you, you matter and I care.

Saturday 13 August 2016

Four years...

And so 4 years have passed. As soon as it was August I've been thinking about this date. Not that I ever really stop thinking of what happened, most of the time though I'm able to push it to the back of my mind. As the anniversary has approached however, I've been remembering those awful days again. Of course the Olympics are on TV and I think will forever now be associated in my mind with Simon's death. That's all I remember from the summer of 2012, the Olympics and having to somehow get through each day when nothing made sense anymore.
I still miss him so much. Not that I saw him very often, but just the knowledge that he was there. And then he wasn't. I still find it hard when we pass the turning to the road his car was found in. I still can't hear Under the Bridge without remembering his funeral. I will never get used to having to talk of him in the past tense. I had two brothers and now I have one. Rob is the best brother anyone could wish for, he knows how much I love him. But I should still have two brothers and I will never be okay with that loss for I've lost a part of me.
It's four years on though and so time has done what time tends to do. Daily life has become the balm that has soothed the raw pain and while I may always bear a deeper sense of loss, a sadness that will never quite leave me, I know that as years pass this anniversary becomes a little easier each year. I lost a bit of myself when I lost Simon but I've slowly been rebuilding a new me. It's imperfect of course, but then it always was, we all have our scars and our flaws. Is it a better me? In some ways perhaps it is. I've become more aware of mental health, more invested in trying to help reduce the stigma. I try to be more forgiving, I try to remind myself that you can never know what inner turmoils people are battling. Life is too short to bear grudges. I've become more political though, I think given what has happened both nationally and internationally over the past four years that was inevitable but perhaps now I care less about what people think about me. I certainly listen more, have learned to be less defensive and I'm finding that feeling criticised or uncomfortable means I should examine my thoughts and beliefs. When Simon died I felt as though I'd had my skin torn from my body. I lost a sense of my self. I remember wondering how I could feel ripped apart and yet so numb, so very numb, at the same time. How could I feel everything and yet nothing at the same time? Four years on and I believe I'm more empathic, the kindness of friends and strangers continues to touch me. Today will soon be tomorrow and my life - a normal, messy, unpredictable, and yes happy life - will go on. Simon may not be with us but he'll always be a part of us. Four years after his suicide and I'm not just surviving, I'm doing what became too hard for him. I'm living.

A strangely prophetic picture, I'm with Rob on the right, Simon with us but apart...

Thursday 13 August 2015

Three years on

It's the anniversary of Simon's death today, three years have passed now since that life changing phone call. I've been looking back at old blog posts and I'm struck by how much better I'm feeling about this date that looms over me every year. The first two anniversaries were hard, really hard. I think the first year was such a blur, so much happened that when I realised a year had passed I didn't really feel I'd properly mourned him, everything still felt so raw.
By the time of the second anniversary I was feeling more accepting, less overwhelmed by it but as the date drew near I found myself dreaming of those early days again, and then with Robin Williams' death it felt like the newly formed scab had been picked off and I was reminded that although I'd come a long way, the feeling of loss was still just there, under the surface.
So it's now three years and I won't pretend there wasn't a feeling of trepidation as the date drew near but despite my fears this year it's different. I'm beginning to hope that scab has finally healed. I still have a scar of course, no death occurs without leaving some mark on those left behind and suicide is such a violent way to lose someone, they are ripped from your existence and and for a while you feel broken.  I wondered about writing a post today, the first year I still needed the outlet, last year, in response to Robin Williams' death I wrote about suicide not being selfish.  Did I need to write today? I'm not feeling fragile, I don't need the healing balm of writing today. And then I realised that is why I need to write this post today. It's for me but also for anybody reading it who is also mourning the death of a loved one through suicide. They call us suicide survivors as we somehow manage to keep on going after hearing the news nobody should ever hear, news that changes us irreparably.  I am a survivor but more than that I'm living, not just getting through each day, not waking every morning with that heavy feeling of loss deep in the pit of my abdomen. I am happy. Not always, sometimes I'm sad or angry or worried but these feelings aren't related to Simon any more. For a long time it was as if my grief was tangled up with who I am, even as those intense first days, weeks and months passed, even when I wrote about feeling better, I still felt that his suicide cast a shadow deep into my soul.
I'm finally starting to feel freer, there will always be a Simon sized hole in my life but it's not what defines me.
If you are grieving somebody who has died by suicide then my thoughts are with you, be gentle to yourself and give yourself time, all the time you need. If you're concerned that somebody you know may be feeling suicidal then talk to them, and more importantly listen to them and believe them. There is some useful advice here.
It's the third anniversary of my brother's suicide and for the first year since it happened I haven't cried, today there will be more smiles than tears.

Monday 13 April 2015

"Boys don't cry" is killing our men

I've just finished watching tonight's Panorama on BBC1 in which Simon Jack (whose father died by suicide) looked at male suicide in the UK, the biggest killer of men under 50.
Naturally it's a topic that resonates deeply with me, Simon was in many ways a 'typical' male suicide. He was 37, had drug problems, was living alone after the end of a long term relationship, was in debt and had always found it hard to open up emotionally. Since his death I've come to firmly believe that openly talking about depression and suicide is so important, it's not a magic wand of course, not when mental health services are so patchy in this country, but when the rates between male and female suicides are so disparate it points to the damage done to men who learn from a young age that "boys don't cry".
As a relative of somebody who killed himself I do however, sometimes pause before posting something on social media. I'm acutely aware that I don't want to make somebody suicidal feel more guilty. After a high profile suicide there are always the inevitable "selfish" and "not thinking about their family" comments. I beg to differ of course, without presuming to know what's going through somebody's head when they decide to kill themselves I'm willing to bet they're more likely to believe they are a burden and their family and friends will be better off without them than they're planning their death without a second thought to their loved ones. It does concern me therefore that when I talk about my devastating loss it may be construed the wrong way, that I'm trying to shame people into staying alive. However, what I'm hoping to convey is that I don't believe that anybody bereaved by suicide ever feels a burden has been lifted, no matter what happened previously and whatever problems led them to that final decision. To anybody considering suicide I would say this, despite all of our ignorant and thoughtless comments, we would always choose to continue to live with you than without you. This isn't to make you feel guilty, feeling suicidal shouldn't be seen as a shameful act, please think of it as releasing you from your burden of worrying about us. Talk to us, talk to professionals, talk to someone.  It can get better and we can wait with you for as long as you need. Depression is not weakness, feeling suicidal is not wallowing. As a society we need to stop the man up comments and ignore those who have decided - without any medical knowledge or experience - that depression is a first world problem. Remember the old HIV advert in the 1980s with the iceberg and "Don't die of ignorance" slogan? I think our attitude to depression, particularly in men is a bit like that. The iceberg of shame and stigma looms there menacingly, dark and cold. It's time now to take a pickaxe to that ice, people shouldn't be dying because they don't feel they can talk. Boys being taught that they shouldn't show their emotions, they shouldn't cry, is ultimately killing our men.

Wednesday 18 February 2015

A little dip

I haven't updated this blog for a while, life goes on and learning to live with the loss of Simon I think means gradually not feeling the need to write both about him as a person and about how I'm dealing with his death. When I first started the blog I didn't have any sort of a plan, just a desperate need for some sort of pressure valve, a way to free my head from the thoughts that overwhelmed me, day and night.
So those first few posts were almost a necessity, in the months following his suicide I remember needing to tap my fingers against my thumb to try to distract myself, to stem the tears when they threatened to fall again. Crying is cathartic at times but I was washed out, scared to walk into town in case they started to fall in front of strangers. I was fortunate to receive so many messages of love and support, I wasn't alone yet so often felt it as I struggled to verbalise my thoughts - the words so often stuck by the lump in my throat. Eventually I realised I needed an outlet and so began to write, of the grief, the confusion, the fear, the anger... And it helped, slowly my head felt less full, the intensity of those early months of grief passed. No doubt that would still have happened naturally as time went on but I believe writing helped ease that time a little.
I needed to write about Simon too, to remember the person he was. For a while I was consumed by the thought that he would be forgotten, there is no grave to mark that he was once here as we scattered his ashes. I've reconciled myself with that now, those of us who knew and loved him won't forget him ever and a few words on a headstone won't tell people in the future of the kind, funny, infuriating, opinionated and flawed man we knew and he doesn't need to be remembered by history. More recently I've written posts I hope help other people, both those feeling depressed and suicidal and those bereaved by suicide. This isn't entirely altruistic, I need to feel something good can come from losing Simon, that his death wasn't the end of our relationship but a catalyst for me to achieve something positive in his memory.
Recently though I've not been able to write, I've thought about it but the words wouldn't come. For a few weeks I found myself waking every morning with a deep sadness, not necessarily thinking of Simon, but  feeling that a heavy weight was on my chest. It wasn't depression, I'm not going to suggest my few weeks in a dip comes anywhere near what people who suffer depression for weeks, months and years go through. It was however, a reminder that nobody should feel they're immune to depression, my low mood passed but I'm not naive or vain enough to believe that it won't happen again or that it won't develop into something more. It wasn't an inner strength that lifted me, I was just fortunate that it was nothing more than a short period of the blues. What I have been struck by though is my reluctance to tell anybody, I often write of how depression isn't shameful, and the language used when discussing the illness isn't helpful - nobody admits to cancer or confesses they've had a migraine after all - and yet I struggled to try talk about even my brief low. Partly I think that's because I didn't (still don't) want to compare what I felt to true depression but also because it felt frightening to say out loud that I was struggling a bit.
The crushing feeling has gone now, I'm back to normal (whatever that means!) but perhaps this has been a reminder that I still need this outlet now and again. For all those of you who have ever read my jumbled thoughts, thank you, I genuinely appreciate the time you take to read and comment on my posts.

Wednesday 10 September 2014

World Suicide Prevention Day 2014

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day 2014, a day that is obviously close to my heart. In England and Wales suicide is the leading cause of death in men under the age of 50. Worldwide every year almost one million people die by suicide, that's about 1 death every 40 seconds. More people die by suicide yearly than by homicide and war combined.
When I first started writing this blog it was for me, I needed an outlet for my overwhelming thoughts and feelings and realised I needed to write them down to release them. Gradually though it became more than that, people started thanking me and telling me their stories about suicide, depression and other mental health issues. One thing that struck me after Simon died was how difficult some people found it to say the word "suicide". People who have felt depressed or suicidal in the past have " confessed" it to me. I've been reminded of the scene in St Elmo's Fire where Wendy takes Billy home and warns him that her mother finds it difficult to utter certain words;

I remember when people found it difficult to use the word "breast" when talking about breast cancer, instead referring to it as "women's cancer". These days that stigma seems silly. Yet there is still a taboo when it comes to talking about suicide or feeling suicidal, about depression, mental health or addiction.
So now this blog is about using those words, without fear or shame. It's about recognising suicide is a global problem and that it's only by working together, by talking and listening that we might be able to start to reduce those horrifying statistics. There is much to be done, mental health services are too often insufficient, too many people fall through the gaps. However, perhaps if we start to talk, without judgement or prejudice, if we recognise that depression is an illness and no more shameful than cancer, that addicts are more than their habits, that language like "man up" and "grow some balls" may stop men seeking help, then it'll be a start and maybe we can push for more research and more help for those who need it.

In memory of Simon I'm supporting Calm's Man Down initiative,
"The Man Down campaign is all about raising awareness of the fact that suicide is now the biggest killer of men under 50.  It’s about encouraging men to recognise when they are finding life difficult and talk to someone, rather than reach a point of crisis, and it’s about encouraging us all to look out for our mates…"

For anybody feeling suicidal or for those concerned that somebody they know may be having suicidal thoughts Grassroots Suicide Prevention have today released an app to help prevent suicides, available on IoS and Android;

Wednesday 13 August 2014

Please don't tell me suicide is selfish

Yesterday I wrote about Robin Williams and mentioned that at that point I'd not seen any talk of selfishness or cowardice. Of course since then there have been numerous examples, from Alan Brazil on TalkSport who said he has no sympathy, to Fox News anchorman Shepard Smith who suggested those who kill themselves are cowards (he has since apologised), through to the comments on social media and in the newspapers from the misinformed, ignorant or heartless.
When a loved one takes their life the aftermath is beyond anything I can really describe. Any sudden death is a terrible and tragic shock but with suicide comes so many questions, so much blame. After Simon died I tried to remember conversations we'd had, had I missed something? I trawled the internet looking for clues. There were none. Simon didn't have Robin Williams' fame and riches but he grew up in a stable and loving family. Even after he served time in prison we were there for him, visiting him when he was inside, providing a bed for him afterwards, listening to him when he talked without (I hope) judging him. Like Robin Williams though it's pointless discussing what he had. The sad fact is that he had a black hole in him, one he tried to fix with drugs but they just ripped the hole wider until it overwhelmed him. I can wonder whether Mum's death was a catalyst but perhaps it made no difference and he would have suffered the same anyway. The point is none of us can know the exact reasons why a person reaches the moment when suicide seems the only option. I don't know why it was that day, two years ago that Simon couldn't take any more and for all the media supposition we can't know why Robin Williams reached the moment where he couldn't bear it any longer. His moment will not be the same as another person's moment and there is never a straightforward reason why, depression is more complicated than that. What I never needed to hear afterwards though was that Simon had been selfish or that he had so much to live for.
When you lose someone to suicide you just need to hear "I'm sorry" or I'm here if you need me". No matter how well meaning the sentiment, hearing that your loved one chose to leave you and was selfish to make that choice is something that for me at least would have added to the anguish. I'm aware I can't talk for all those affected by suicide loss, some people do feel their loved one's decision was selfish. That is their right, it is not the right of others to make that decision. Robin Williams' family will be in complete turmoil right now, their lives have been torn apart, a myriad of competing thoughts will be filling their heads so much that they feel they could explode. They need time and space to slowly begin to learn to live without him there with them. They don't need people who only knew him through a screen saying he was selfish. People who kill themselves have reached a point where they can take no more, they may believe they are a burden to others. They do not choose to leave their loved ones behind, they don't feel they have any other choice other than ending the hopeless, overwhelming pain. When a person dies by suicide those left behind need compassion. Even if you still believe it's a selfish act I ask you what you hope to achieve by expressing those thoughts publicly? You are entitled to your beliefs of course but if you are concerned for the family left grieving then please keep those thoughts to yourself. The person who has died couldn't be kind to themselves, family will be blaming themselves, this is the time for you to do nothing more than to be kind.