Monday, 18 November 2013

International Survivors of Suicide Day

I am a survivor. I wish I didn't have to be. I wish I didn't now bear this label but it's what I am - a survivor of suicide loss. Survivor though sounds too final, like I've accepted my loss totally and am at peace. I haven't, perhaps I never will...but I am surviving. And of course I have no choice now, not really. From the moment I heard the news I started surviving.
I'm not the only one of course, there are millions of us, too many of us. Before I joined this group I'd give anything not to be a part of I had no idea how many, just how common it is. It's one of the secrets you learn once you're thrust into your new existence as one left behind following a suicide. Too many people die of suicide, too many people are surviving suicide loss, not enough people talk about it.
There is still a stigma to suicide and to mental health, it's whispered about, avoided, not looked in the eye. And every day more and more people have to start surviving. Next time your train is delayed by a suicide or your journey to work disrupted by a person threatening to jump from a bridge remember us.  Think of us hearing the news that our loved one has taken their life. Think of us having to learn to live with the loss, with the guilt, with the anger. Think of us having to learn to survive.
November 23rd is International Survivors of Suicide Day. To my fellow survivors, I will be...I am thinking of you all.

With my brothers on holiday in the 1970s. Simon has the parrot on his arm.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

World Mental Health Day

Today (10th October) is World Mental Health Day and so I felt I should contribute something through this blog. I've not suffered mental health issues - not yet anyway, I'm not conceited enough to think I never will. After all just look at these statistics:

  • 1 in 4 British adults experience at least one diagnosable mental health problem in any one year, and 1 in 6 experiences this at any given time.
    (The Office for National Statistics Psychiatric Morbidity report, 2001)
  • It is estimated that approximately 450 million people worldwide have a mental health problem.  (World Health Organisation, 2001)

Even those of us who don't suffer ourselves with a mental health problem are likely to know somebody who does. Up until August 2012 I didn't know just how affected I was going to be, until that one phone call to say my brother had killed himself changed everything. It can happen just like that; one moment it's an ordinary day and the next the tsunami wave after a loved one's suicide engulfs you. My post today won't do much, it's not going to result in a miraculous cure for somebody affected by a mental illness, The Sun isn't going to suddenly develop a conscience just because I'm typing this. What I can do though is add my small voice to that of others, so that together we can help reduce the stigma of mental health issues. I have read several blogs today from people directly affected; this is me saying I may not truly be able to understand what you're going through or have been through but I am here with you, I will not judge you or tell you to pull yourself together, if you want to talk I'll listen.

I have added a pledge to the Time to Change Pledge Wall, perhaps you would like to as well and help end mental health discrimination.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

If you've been affected by suicide

I started this blog because I had to. After Simon died I felt as if my head was going to explode, I could almost physically feel thoughts racing through my mind, jostling for space and pushing their way into the forefront of my consciousness. Eventually I realised I had no choice and I had to write down these thoughts and words that were spilling out of me.
Has it helped? Without a doubt. I'm past that intense stage now but knowing there is a place where I can release my thoughts continues to help me.
What I didn't expect though was the response from people reading the jumble of words that poured from me. The kind messages from friends and strangers have been truly touching, words may sometimes feel futile but knowing somebody has taken the time to offer comfort really has meant a great deal to me, so thank you from the bottom of my heart. I've also heard from other people who have lost loved ones to suicide, or who are supporting friends bereaved by suicide. How people react to this most devastating of losses is always going to be individual but I have been struck by a common desire to connect with others who have suffered the shock of losing someone to suicide. Knowing that by sharing my thoughts and experiences I have even in a small way helped others is humbling and also helps me to believe something positive can come from Simon's death. I'd like to do more though and after thinking things over I've realised that one thing I can do is offer this space to others. If your life has been forever changed by suicide and you would like to share your story or your memories of your loved one then please contact me through the form on the right of the page. I will reply as soon as I can to arrange a guest spot.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

World Suicide Prevention Day - We Care

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day and as somebody who will always be a person left behind it's a day that's very important to me. I wasn't able to prevent Simon's suicide and I'll never know if I could have helped because he never reached out to me. Would he have heard my words anyway? Really heard them? I know from his suicide note that he couldn't bear the pain any longer and that he was afraid of living more than he feared dying. He wanted peace.
I wish I could have told him that if he could just hang on then it could get better. And I wish he could have seen himself as I saw him. I think he felt a failure, he was addicted to heroin and had a prison record. I saw much more than that though. He was so gentle, so softly spoken and kind. After he died his friends told me how he always had time to listen to their problems. I loved seeing him around animals, he lit up in their presence. My daughters loved him too, he wasn't around much sadly - too busy battling his demons - but when he did visit they had so much fun. He would have made a wonderful dad had things been different. I have such special memories too, I was the eldest and he made me a sister. I had (I hate that I have to use the past tense here) two brothers and don't remember ever wishing I had another sister. We had so much fun growing up. Arguments and fights too of course, Simon was the hot headed one out of us and my other brother Robin loved to tease him, but we were so close in age (only three and a half years between oldest and youngest) and we played with each other often. I particularly recall the volcano game we invented in our back garden that we played for weeks, it was an obstacle course we set up really but we pretended we were in the depths of a volcano..
I recall waving him off at the train station when he was leaving to go travelling around Europe with his girlfriend, choking back the tears as he left...maybe I should have let him see those tears?
We weren't really affectionate with each other, not like I am with Rob. I wish I had been now, I think he knew I loved him but I wish I'd told him every time I saw him.

So today, on International Suicide Prevention Day, if you are feeling suicidal, this is my message to you; I care and other people care too. We may be a bit rubbish at reminding you of that sometimes, perhaps we're guilty of assuming you know it. You may feel you are a failure or a burden. You are neither,  you are loved, please believe that.
Nobody should have to die alone, the thought that Simon's last moments were about as lonely as you can be tears me up. Nobody should die alone.
We care.

If you are despairing and considering suicide you can find global crisis centres here;

If you are suffering the bereavement of a loved one through suicide there are resources here;

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

One year later

A year ago today the phone rang with the call that would rip my world from its axis. A lot has happened in that year. I've been to a hospital mortuary to formally identify my brother's body, spoken to a policeman about the needles found in his car, been to a travellers site and hugged the addicts who were his friends, watched his coffin disappear from view, gone on holiday two days after his funeral, seen my youngest daughter start school, held my 98 year old grandfather's hand as he slipped from life, helped organise his funeral, learned about steel framed houses, moved house, mourned the death of my 18 year old cat, had a routine mammogram as three generations of my family died of breast cancer (still waiting for the results).
I've also grown even closer to my other brother, made new friends, both in real life and online, been deeply touched by the kind words of both friends and strangers - the internet may be a dark place of bullies and trolls but there are also many thoughtful and decent people using it too. I've sat on the floor of my shower and sobbed, cried more tears than I thought was possible, read books that have changed my life, laughed, loved, danced and sung.
 I will always have a gaping wound - time doesn't heal everything but it becomes easier to bear. It's a year on and I'm still here.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Almost a year...

It's almost a year now since Simon took his life. I've been having dreams about him again, although now at least I'm talking to him rather than seeing his body. When I was thinking about updating this blog yesterday I was intending to just talk about my feelings and specifically my anger. Reading back through my old blogposts I was struck by how I avoided mentioning how angry I was with him. I think I felt by admitting it I was letting him down and not accepting his right to decide to take his life.
But now I am ready to say I was angry with him, I still am angry a bit. What about MY rights? And the rights of my dad and other brother? We deserve the right not to be grieving over the loss of a brother and son through suicide, to not be forever wondering if there was something we could have done, shouldn't have said, if we'd only done this or noticed that...
I've decided now it's ok to be angry, his actions ripped our lives apart and I love him and forgive him but he's not the one dealing with the aftermath, we are and our feelings are just as valid now as his were then. So I'm accepting my anger as part of my grief, not all of it but a part that needs to be recognised as much as the sorrow, confusion, loss and numbness.
I don't want this post to be just about anger though, the sun is shining and I'm sitting in my garden typing this - it's a good day! So this post is also about making new friends, friends who understand. I post on Twitter a lot and have had a few conversations with people who have lost a loved one through suicide. After Simon died I remember trawling the internet for mentions of him (I even joined a forum he posted on) but also I looked for people who had been through it. I found very little UK based and so when I do connect with others it means a lot. I was really pleased therefore when David Hurst followed me on Twitter. David's best friend Tim killed himself and as a result David has written *relentlessly me* A memoir of a best friend's suicide. I haven't read it yet as I have three other books on the go but it's downloaded and I'm looking forward to reading it soon. If we can keep the memories of Simon and Tim (and all the other people who kill themselves) alive through talking and sharing and make new friends then something good has come from all this, hasn't it?
If you want to talk to me on Twitter then it would be lovely to hear from you. I don't talk much about suicide because my life is about so much more but neither do I shy away from talking about it or about depression or mental illness. The more of us who talk and who challenge the stigma the better.

Friday, 28 June 2013

What I wished I'd said

I recently read the author Matt Haig's incredibly moving blog post entitled 'Reasons To Stay Alive' I wish with all my heart I could have shown something like this to Simon and that he would have believed it - or at least just hung on a bit longer to see.
If I could have shown him the post I would have also added the following personal words, things I really should have said when I had the chance;

1. I love you. Really. Not just words and not just because I have to. No matter what you've done I will always love you. I am not ashamed of  you or disappointed in you, just sad for you.

2. Talk to me about Mum. I know you miss her every day because I do too. Just because she died years ago doesn't mean you should be over it.

3. Cry more often. You've always bottled your feelings up. Crying isn't a sign of weakness.

4. You are more special than you think you are.

If you haven't read Matt's post yet please do, chances are depression will touch your life some way sooner or later.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Mental Health Awareness Week 2013

Next week is Mental Health Awareness Week. A little while ago this would barely have registered with me if I'm honest. If asked then I would have agreed that mental health was something that should be discussed openly, not kept hidden and seen as something shameful. Indeed I've tried to reassure online friends suffering with depression that they're not weak, bad parents or failures and have no more reason to feel guilty than somebody afflicted with cancer.
However, it wasn't something I thought affected me directly, and so I may have retweeted a link but doubt I'd have spared long thinking about what mental health actually means and how all of us need to look after our mental health and wellbeing.
Now though it's something I think about often. Simon never told me he was depressed and that probably makes me sadder than anything. I question why he never felt he could share that with me. Was he ashamed? Was I not approachable? He was a drug addict with a prison record and I'm a married mother of three daughters. Did he feel that in comparison to my socially acceptable lifestyle he was a failure and so I wouldn't want to know?
Last weekend was a difficult one for me. It started well, I went to see my middle daughter sing at the Albert Hall with her school choir and spent the day in London with my dad, step-mother, brother and his girlfriend. It was a really good day so I'm not sure why that night I had a vivid nightmare about my father being diagnosed with a terminal illness. And I'm not sure why that meant I was about as low as I have been for a long time for the next few days. For some reason thinking of Dad's mortality was enough to push me back down into that abyss of grief and for a while there it was really hard again. I retreated into myself and cried tears for myself, for Simon and for my family.
The cloud passed though and I could breathe again. It was a reminder that grieving isn't a linear process and the lows can strike without warning. I sometimes wonder if I should seek some sort of counselling? Is dealing with the unexpected suicide of a loved one something you can deal with on your own? I think I'm mostly doing ok but it's something I've become open to. If the lows become more frequent and last longer then I think it's something I would seriously consider.
Simon never spoke of his mental health issues until it was too late and then we only found out through his suicide note. I wish I could have told him that he had nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to fear from telling me. I would always have been there for him. I wasn't able to do that but perhaps this blog will just help raise awareness of how important it is that mental health is discussed openly.
More about Mental Health Awareness Week can be found here; This year the theme is the importance of physical activity and how it can enhance our quality of life.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Catching my breath

It's been a while since I last blogged but life hasn't been quiet here. In November my heart was ripped open again when my grandfather died. It wasn't a totally unexpected loss, he was 98, but up until a few months before his passing he was full of life still and I think we all dared to believe he would reach his century. He was and remains my inspiration in life, his wasn't a life untouched by tragedy; he fought a hard WW2, seeing action in North Africa and Italy (where he saw his best friend beheaded by machine gun fire), he lost both his wife and daughter (my mum) to breast cancer aged just 58 and 42 years respectively. Shortly after losing my mum I remember somebody asking him if he ever asked "why me?" to which he replied "no because that would imply I wished it on somebody else instead."
He was tolerant and non-judgmental, he believed few people were inherently bad and whilst he would never condone bad behaviour nor excuse it, he understood that a myriad of circumstances could lead people into making certain life decisions. A prime example being following the 2011 riots when he talked of a poverty of hope and aspirations.
He was fun too, so much fun. His jokes were awful but told with such relish, you couldn't help but laugh. Growing up all the children in our neighbourhood called him 'Grandad' and I remember feeling so proud. To know him was to love him.
He found Simon's suicide very hard. They had a bond when Simon was growing up, he loved us equally but they had a special understanding and I think it hurt him deeply that Simon didn't feel he could come to him. His cause of death was pneumonia secondary to lung cancer but I do wonder if Simon's death just made him that bit more tired of life. His decline was noticeable and rapid between August and November.
I was honoured to be able to help organise his funeral. My uncle (his son) has never married and lived with him, as my mum is dead and my other brother lives away it meant I was the person able to be there to support my uncle through those difficult days. It was obviously a hard time, perhaps particularly so coming so soon after helping organise another funeral and there were days where I didn't really want  to wake up and face the reality of my losses. However, knowing I was there to support my uncle and that we gave Grandad the funeral he deserved was of some comfort and if anything good has come of these last few months it's the reminder of the importance of family and the need to spend time with our loved ones.
To add to my mental turmoil on the day Grandad passed away we found a buyer for our house so as well as registering a death and organising a funeral I was house hunting and making decisions affecting our future. There were many days where I felt my head would explode and I'm not really sure how much I truly remember of November and December, much of it feels a blur.
We moved at the end of January and it's only now I feel like I can catch my breath. I'm still not entirely sure I've grieved Simon's death properly, perhaps I never will. In some ways I would have liked life to stop a bit so I could take the time to come to terms with my loss, with Grandad's death and the house move coming so soon afterwards it feels as though I've been pushed to move on before I was ready.
I'm doing ok, I can look at photos of Simon now without crying and he's not my first thought when I wake up. The flashbacks have mostly stopped too. I still have moments when I lie in bed at night and silently weep when I think of my loss and of what he must have gone through and I guess that for as long as I live I'm going  to have that aching sense of something missing. Mostly though I'm all right, life feels calmer and I'm going to take the opportunity to breathe and appreciate what I had and what I still have.