I’ve written a lot of blogs about others’ stories. I’ve gained insight and appreciation for where they’ve come from and the circumstances that have shaped them into who they now are. One thing I HAVEN’T done is share MY story. At least part of it anyway.
Today is the day! I can’t say it’s going to be easy for me and I can’t predict what people will do with it but the timing feels right and just. Hopefully someone somewhere gets benefit from it.
So- I’m taking a BIG breath, leaning in and sharing a part of my emotional and highly sensitive self with you today.
In my mid 20s I was right on loving life. I was working full time as a radiographer, earning a fantastic wage, I had my own car, was obsessed with being fit and healthy, lived at home still so got my meals cooked and felt good about myself. I would head out to town on a Friday and Saturday night with friends and we’d socialise, dance and laugh. I also had a boyfriend. I’m going to call him Mick (which isn’t his real name).
We had lots in common and had great fun together. My family liked him and his liked me. We’d both gone to private school, we both knew a lot of the same groups socially and we were both from great families. He had been a jackaroo, a trainer and worked for his dad’s business. He made me laugh and feel loved and comfortable.
As time went on and we got to know each other more, I began to think that perhaps we were heading down different paths in life. The chemistry was there but our aspirations and ideas of future began to change. I won’t go into detail here because it’s not important. But I decided we should part ways. While I loved him and appreciated him, there were aspects of our relationship that were just not going to work and so I decided to break up with him- which I did face to face in real time, not with a text or snapchat post!
So a few days later I went to the hairdresser for a change of colour, to match my ‘new’ mindset and my ‘new’ life ahead of me without Mick.
When I got home and got out of the car, Mum came to the door to greet me-which she never normally did.
Something was up. I could sense it.
When I got to the door she hugged me. She hugged me tightly and said, with tears in her voice, “Mick’s gone to Heaven.”
He’d killed himself.
I’d like to be able to explain how that felt but I just don’t think ANY words can describe it. It can’t be narrowed down to feeling ‘hurt’ or ‘sad’ because it was so much more. It changed my whole being both in that moment and for ever more. I swear it.
I spent the next hour or so bawling uncontrollably with both my parents sitting and crying with me. I trembled, I howled, I shook my head in utter disbelief and when I was utterly destroyed I stopped through sheer exhaustion.
After a while when the grief and shock let up ever so slightly, the questions began.
When, how and why did it happen? Was he with anyone? Who found him? Was he alive when they found him? Did they call an ambulance? Did they try to revive him? Who told you? His mum? His family? Oh God- his FAMILY!!! Oh God , oh God, oh God.
And then? Amongst the grief of loss, the sadness and the shock of him actually being gone- was the guilt.
I’d broken up with him. Then he’d killed himself.
He’d had dinner with his parents and siblings, seemingly of normal state of mind and mood. After the rest had gone to bed, Mick went out to the back lawn and shot himself in the head. His brother ran out to him and he was still alive for a bit. But by the time the ambulance arrived he had gone.
I’d broken up with him. Then he’d killed himself.
What had I done? What must they think? How can something hurt SO much?
The following days involved a haze of emotions and traumatic thoughts I’d never before experienced. I didn’t eat or sleep and when I went to a doctor for help, Adelaide being Adelaide, she knew exactly who I was and was friends with Mick’s parents.
Going to visit Mick’s family was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Again, my new passenger in each day, each hour and each minute was the guilt. His family was strong beyond belief, at the very least on the surface, and welcomed me with open arms to be a part of their journey of mourning, sorrow, remembrance and pain. They included me in memorial gatherings with his friends, the funeral, the obit, and invited me to stay with them at their holiday house on the coast when all the formalities were over. I’m so appreciative of their love and kindness which helped immensely towards any semblance of closure.
During one of the gatherings, Mick’s brother told me Mick had wanted to marry me.
It was bitter sweet to hear. I’m grateful that Mick had known love and experienced that togetherness and comfort we don’t all find and I’m grateful he chose me. But the remorse and dereliction swiftly eroded the short lived ‘sweet’ of it all. And already I’d made the decision we weren’t right for each other.
Time stands still for no one and the following months were also hazy. They were hazy in that my life held no substance or happiness. I didn’t eat, didn’t sleep, didn’t smile, didn’t listen to music, didn’t care what I looked like and didn’t know what the future held. I put an emotional mask on at work and as soon as the morning list of patients ended, I would go to the loos and cry for a good half hour until I had to put the mask back on and treat patients for the afternoon. I would go to the gym twice a day and try and sweat the grief out but I was so malnourished I don’t think I achieved a whole lot except for dry reaching after each workout.
I felt people’s stares and insensible judgement over being ‘that girlfriend’ of Mick’s. I lost friends (who weren’t worth it) and I learnt who my real ones were.
I’d like to say ‘it gets easier’ but I really don’t believe that. I just think a trauma in one’s life gets ‘different’ and with help from professionals, friends and family we gain strategies to accept it for what it was and what it still is. What happened to Mick will always, always be with me. The thought of it often drags me back to Earth when I have lofty thoughts of ‘everything will be OK’ and ‘foreverness’.
There also comes a point where the world keeps spinning, the seasons keep changing and people keep living their own lives. They move on while you are left. They weren’t scarred like you and they have no need to revisit the ‘ifs’ and ‘whys’. And that’s the way life goes isn’t it? I categorically did not do so well at this point. I gradually moved away from being around Mick’s family with the memories and regret and shame to hard to bear. It was a natural regression.
So my family and dear friends proceeded with their day to day and I was still left. I was stuck. At this point I did enlist some professional help. A treasured soul called Ruth was my grief counsellor for about a year. Unbeknownst to me, my family and Mick’s family, she gave me an outlet. She gave up her time to listen, to advise and to teach. The world needs more like her.
I explained to Ruth that from my standpoint I felt as though I was trapped down a well. I was down there alone with no grip holds to climb back up to the light and I just wanted to know I could get out with some sense of self worth and a feeling of looking forward instead of at all the darkness in all directions. She understood. Over time she gave me the tools to climb with and a light to lead the way.
They say ‘time heals all wounds’ but again, I don’t believe this one either. I believe it is what we do WITH that time that counts. If we are stagnant and disinterested in self improvement or learning then time heals nothing. If we are willing to learn and do the work with all its steps forward, backward and sideways and if we are accepting of a foreign and never before travelled path then yes- time can help while you heal yourself.
Grief wasn’t the only emotion on my psyche’s agenda either. In the first few months it was certainly at the forefront of my presence but was soon joined by anger and frustration. My anger was fuelled by all the unanswered questions.
Why didn’t he talk to someone?
Why didn’t he just hang on?
Why didn’t he think about how lucky and needed he was?
How could he do this to his family?
How could he do this to me?
How DARE he leave us! How DARE he take the easy way out! What gave him the right to be so bloody selfish?!!
Now with some life experience under my belt, I understand more. He was mentally sick. He could not see clearly nor with a sound mind that so many take for granted. I also learnt Mick had attempted suicide in previous years so there were obviously unresolved issues plaguing his life which seemed so fine on the surface. After all, he was from a healthy and wealthy family, who loved him. He had great mates, a job and an open future ahead of him. So why did he opt out?
Where broken limbs heal in six weeks and diseases can be wiped out with drugs, mental illnesses are invisible and left untreated they can fester in to monsters quite unexplainable. Stigma and societal ignorance allows these monsters to multiply and destroy lives. Not only the lives of the individual but those of their loved ones. These seemingly selfish acts are a last port of call. To that person, it is the only path they see…..they see no other option.
I believe it is easy for people to tell someone they ARE loved, they ARE important and they ARE going to be OK but until those festering monsters lying in wait just under the surface are approached and divvied out elsewhere, that person is forever unsafe. Be it drugs, therapy, counselling or bloody long hikes or pet therapy, WHATEVER works- it HAS to be done.
It’s been nearly two decades since this part of my story took place.
Not long after, I took off with a backpack and lived and worked in London for a year. It was a great escape and worth being surrounded by people who didn’t know me so that I could continue healing without judgement, both real and perceived. ‘Getting through’ Mick’s suicide gave me strength to step out of my bubbled existence, discover what I was capable of both emotionally and physically. I made beautiful friends, worked bloody hard and learnt how to live with myself.
I’ve hesitated for many years about writing this one but recently felt the need to share.
It’s part of my story that still affects me today. I still carry that guilt and that anger and that frustration but I carry it differently and a little lower than it used to be. I use the ordeal to ground myself when I need to. When I get complacent about what really matters to me and when I forget to roll with the ups and downs of life. I use it to put perspective on a bad day or one of my depression bouts. I remember the experience and appreciate those who cared. Some surprised me, others disappointed me.
I’m grateful for my family who were there for me. For Dad who had to ring my boss and tell him I couldn’t come in to work because my boyfriend had committed suicide. For Mum who noticed the first day I played music again. For my brother who hugged me at the airport when I broke down at his arrival from Sydney. I’m sorry they all had to go through it with me.
Parts of the trauma still haunt me from time to time. I’m utterly petrified of upsetting people or losing those close to me. Because I have seen a consequence I struggle to imagine going through again. I relive the emotions every time I volunteer in the mental health ward but I just hope I can make a difference somehow. To listen. To accept. To be kind.
As they say, this trauma does not define me. It is part of who I am though. And other tough times have happened since. We all have them right? But this is the one which crushed me. It was ‘unnatural’ and confusing and I hadn’t lived enough life to know where to start the process of reconciling with myself after.
Time plods on no matter what. And unless we can use these traumas to learn and grow and make the world a better place, we will never heal or educate others HOW to heal. Until mental illness is more understood and accepted and funded, these dire situations will keep happening to good people and their families and loved ones.
Normally when I interview someone for a blog I ask them to offer three pieces of advice for others in a similar situation.
From me to you,
Be kind. To everyone. It sounds simple doesn’t it? But all too often we’re caught up in our ‘own lot’ . Too busy, too self absorbed , too shallow, too judgemental, too materialistic- to consider how someone else is really doing. One small act of kindness can mean the world. Add them all up and we can save the world!
Give people your time. They matter. And so do you. So talk, and listen- REALLY listen to what they’re saying. Make them feel valued and heard and accepted for who they are.
Love. Love as much as you can, as often as you can and as hard as you can.
I’d like to say I got over the suicide but I never have. I don’t think I ever will.
I carry it with me but I try to use it to light a path ahead. One that’s brighter. One that makes it count. One filled with understanding, acceptance and love.
I hope to see you there!