Earlier this week I found out someone who I had grown up with but had lost touch many years ago had taken his own life. Yesterday was the 10 year anniversary of an amazing human, someone who taught me more than they will ever know, taking their life. In the summer of 2015 I lost one of my dearest and best friends, in the same way, and she will never know that my life will never be the same without her.
This is a subject I have always planned to write about, because as many people who have followed my writing over the years will know, putting some words down and emptying the thoughts in my brain is a kind of personal therapy for me. But on this subject, I have always refrained as I know how deeply and how directly it affects so many of my loved ones.
However, I have decided to write something today, and I just want to say I do not wish to upset anyone in any way. I do not mean any disrespect to people referenced in this post, their friends or their families. I write from a place of love to try and tackle the stigma and taboo of this topic and to try to find a way to open a dialogue.
It was back in 2007, 10 years ago, that I first experienced loss from suicide. It was the middle of the night when I received a call that I will never forget. I don’t wish to go in to any detail as, as much as that night was hard for me it was so much harder for people who remain very close to me. The events of that night and the following day, although 10 years ago now, still feel like they are crystal clear, in slow motion, each frame stored in my mind in a slideshow to be replayed when I least expect it. Like when I hear a certain kind of laugh, or a song.
My mum always refers to the “tin of beans” analogy. Whenever we lose anyone, and we start to get our lives back to something resembling “normal,” she always warns me about the “tin of beans.” This isn’t always literal but it’s the fact that at some point in your life when you feel you have passed the generally accepted phases of grieving, that you will find yourself doing the most normal, mundane task of shopping in the supermarket, for example, and you will notice the tin of beans that was something the person you lost loved or reminds you of them. It could be a tin of beans, it could be a Nirvana song, it could be strawberry cider and macaroni cheese… it could be anything, but in that moment, all that grief will hit you again when you least expect it, as raw as it ever has been.
10 years later, I still often have these “tin of beans” moments.
My dear friend who I lost in 2007 will never know how much that loss affected me for many reasons and how his death influenced many of the decisions that have shaped my life. A few weeks previous to his death I remember clearly a conversation with a friend where I described his behaviour as “attention seeking.” I could say I was young, I could say I didn’t understand, I could say many things in defence of this but I won’t defend these words as it was ignorance. After his death I had this incredible anger, firstly directed at him for the pain that I blamed him for putting his loved ones through and then at myself for not being able to stop what happened and for writing it off as what I thought as “attention seeking.” For many years I replayed that conversation over and over again in my head and I held a huge amount of guilt around it.
At 18, after experiencing this, I changed many things about my perspective on mental health issues and I did many things to try to work on my ignorance.
I did courses, I read articles and papers and blogs, I attended training and volunteered in mental health programmes. I used my social media as a platform to share helplines and information for those seeking help as much as I possibly could.
When I saw anything I thought was concerning from a friend or family member I would go way and beyond to be there in any way for them, even people I barely knew. I thought I understood suicide.
But then in 2015, I was busy working, volunteering, doing a million things at once, and had been trying to arrange a dinner with one of my best friends but as both us generally were admittedly good at being a bit flakey we had changed the date so many times it had been a long time since we had actually seen each other in real life outside of texts and social media. Finally, we found a date and planned to have a dinner on a Saturday night.
When Saturday came I text her in the morning to see if it was still happening and when she didn’t answer I didn’t think too much of it as, as I said, we were a bit flakey and I just assumed she got busy. In the evening, I sent her a message with some kisses so if she was busy she would know I was thinking of her and that it was ok. In the morning I discovered she had passed away and in the coming days I found out what had happened.
When someone you love dies, the pain is visceral. It is physically debilitating. I remember that morning going straight to one of our mutual friends houses and I physically couldn’t walk up her stairs.
In time that physical aspect subsides but there is an emptiness. That emptiness, I believe is the hardest part of loss. It is exactly that, a loss, you no longer have that person in your life and you feel that hole, that empty space where they were. It is so sudden and so final.
My personal reaction to this loss followed what I imagine many people experiencing loss in this way is – What if? What if? What if?
But I did react differently than I did those years ago. That initial anger was not there, that “how dare you do this to your loved ones” kind of attitude I had held before. Over the years I had realized this was not what suicide was, it was not designed to hurt the people around, it was perceived in that darkness to stop the hurt. The only anger I held was at myself for not being a better friend, that is something I am sure will never leave me.
So, the point of this post was not to relive these moments but to draw attention to the fact that suicide is something we cannot ignore. We grieve for the lives lost without tackling the issue and we find ourselves in a time where the most common cause of death in Scotland of 20-30 year olds is suicide. The people I have referenced in this post will never see the age of 30, along with so, so many others as they did not see any other way to continue.
A few years back I was sitting at a friends having a drink after the pub, there was around 10 of us sitting at the kitchen table having one of those 3am putting the world to rights kind of conversations when the topic of suicide came up. Each, one by one, told a story of the person who they loved who they had lost this way – friends, cousins, brothers. Each person directly had been affected by this very specific kind of grief.
This is so common, so, so painfully common and yet we do not talk about it. Yes, the conversation on mental health has opened up over recent years and it is an amazing start but suicide itself is still seen as subject we should try not to mention too much.
But we must, we must keep our young people alive, we must keep people believing their worth and that they are valued and loved and needed in this world.
Honestly, I don’t know how we tackle this but I know this time of year is particularly difficult for many people and for so many this time of year is so much that they decide to take their own life.
We must offer an alternative. We must show that there is a way through the darkness. Life is not always easy, it can be difficult at times, but it is worth living.
We must break the stigma around seeking support for our mental health, at the end of the day suicide is the result of an illness, yet all too often we forget this and it becomes a subject of blame either towards the person who has died, the people around them, or ourselves rather than looking at it as we would any other illness and trying to find better treatments to save more lives.
The people I have lost will stay forever in my heart and in my memories, not for the final action they took, not for their death, but for the beautiful moments of life we shared and for all that they taught me.
No matter how alone you may feel, there will be someone out there thinking of you, even when you cannot feel it, you are loved.
Please anyone out there who may feel like they don’t see any other option, please reach out. If you can to your friends or family, or if you want to speak to someone outside of your situation I copy below some contacts for support. It is not a weakness to ask for help, trust me the people you love can get over a difficult time when you need some support but they will never get over you no longer being here with them.
Love and strength to all at this difficult time of year.
Samaritans UK and Ireland –
Greece – http://suicide-help.gr/