Year 12 – January 2016 – Age 28
I didn’t feel the need to write anything in years, 7, 8, 9, 10, or 11 so now we skip forward to year 12. It’s a time of big change for me. A few months earlier I quit my job to go backpacking in Sri Lanka for 5 weeks. At the time of writing I was just about to move to London…
Content Note: bereavement, depression, self harm, suicide, brief mentions of finding a body, and PTSD.
Today it has been 12 years since I came home from school and found my mum hanging in the garage.
The anniversary of a traumatic bereavement is never a good day, but it does of course get better with time. I remember how I used to sit and sob and shake for hours. I used to lie in bed drinking for days, and dread the day itself for weeks beforehand. Nightmares, flashbacks, losing time, bursting into tears whenever something triggered me (like hearing sirens from emergency service vehicles) were all some of the PTSD effects that stuck around for a long, long time.
Around 4-8 years it got a lot easier. I’d be ok, just down during January. And I could function on the day itself but would sneak off for secret cries in toilet cubicles or empty rooms if I was at work. (Except for the 6th year, which for some reason was just an absolute write off. I called in sick as I couldn’t do anything else except sit at home crying all day!)
The effect the day has on you is so weird because you know it’s just a day, and what difference does it make whether it’s 27th January or the 4th August? My mum is still dead either way. Yet exhaustion washes over you and your brain is filled some sad fog so you can’t think straight. You do things like forget what you were saying mid-sentence or keep pouring hot water into your mug until it overflows all over the kitchen counter.
These days I’m fine. I just feel a bit sad and a bit grumpy. I find I get irritated very easily, so if someone is faffing with change in front of me on the bus or something I get really angry when normally I wouldn’t care at all. It doesn’t help that the day falls in the middle of winter so the weather is always grey, cold, wet and miserable too. Boo.
It does feel kind of emotional to be here 12 years on, on the other side of the worst of it. As a teenager I used to read people’s stories on the Internet and find hope that they had made it that far and that their lives were ok. And now here I am. And my life is good and I’m really proud of myself for not just surviving but managing to live a really rich and wonderful life in spite of what happened. But I won’t ever forget what I went through or how awful it was for all of us. My heart breaks for that teenage girl who had drink problems and was depressed and self-harmed and felt suicidal with grief and couldn’t find any professional help or counselling no matter where she turned. The Internet keeps everything for ever. The posts I made crying for help are still out there, a brief Google search away. : (
I’ve been through so many milestones already. First birthday, first Christmas, first anniversary of death. Then 2 years, 3, 5, and 10. There have been all the bittersweet successes in life too, where I burst into tears upon passing my driving test or finding out I’ve gotten into university or getting my dream job because she wasn’t there to share it with me.
Grief never ends. It just changes shape. And in time you learn to live with it and it becomes so part of you, you don’t really notice it any more.
I know there will be many more milestones to come. In just a few years I will have lived without her longer than I lived with her and that’s so unfair. If I live to be 44, I will have outlived her. If I get married or have a child or buy a house I know those days will be tinged with sadness too. She should be here.
Why aren’t you, mum?
I’m now 28 and there have been times where I’ve felt depressed and suicidal, and there have been a grand total of 3 rounds of counselling, but I’m still here. Yay! My day to day life is fine. Normal. I don’t really think much about mum or what happened. And I still feel wibbly wobbly when emergency service vehicles whizz by but that’s about it.
My mum’s death, combined with other incidents that happened, meant that I didn’t trust anyone as a teenager. As an adult, that’s sadly still the case but I’m working on it.
I never believed it when anyone said they loved me or that they cared. I’m not quite sure why this has changed recently (I suspect Chris’ love/emotional kick up the ass has something to do with it), but I can feel people’s love and care now. This is quite possibly one of the biggest breakthroughs I have had. I only wish it had happened earlier in life rather than at 28 but better late than never I suppose!
A parent’s suicide can put a lot of pressure on you and how you live the rest of your life. When they died young, you can feel like you have to have an amazing life to make up for it and have all the happiness they never did. If they killed themselves because they believed everyone would be better off without them, then you’re not honouring that if you’re unhappy or unsuccessful.
I find it hard when I move to a new place as it’s like coming out in a way. All the new people you meet don’t know what happened so ask innocent questions like “Doesn’t your mum worry when you go traveling?” or “What are you doing for Mother’s Day?” so you have to tell people over and over again.
12 years on, I’ve still never sat down and really, properly talked with anyone about what happened and how it felt.
That makes me sad.
However what makes me really sad and angry is that mental health care provision in this country hasn’t improved; it’s actually got worse as the government continues to cut funding. There will only be more deaths and suffering as a result and I can’t bear it. Why don’t these men in power care?!
There is still so much stigma around mental health problems and suicide and being bereaved by suicide, which is why I always mention these things in conversation so much. It’s also why I promoted my local bereavement by suicide support group on the BBC and spoke publicly about losing mum. Every little helps.
I miss my mum, but not that much because I struggle to remember her. Time is cruel like that. It takes your memories. I can’t remember what she looked like, only what photos of her look like. I can’t remember the sound of her voice. But I can remember her hugs and what her arms felt like around me. What I struggle with is the chance that was taken away from me to get to know her as a person and an adult rather than a parent. A chance for us to be friends and share our lives. I will always feel jealous of other people who have mums. I have missed having a mother’s love. There is an emptiness inside that will never be filled.
I used to be so angry at her for what she did, but I don’t feel angry any more.
I used to sit and search for answers. Why did she get depression? Why was she so ill? Why so ill on and off for so long (since I was 5)? Why kill herself on that day, instead of any other? Why didn’t I know when it was happened? Why couldn’t I have stopped it?
But the answer is we’ll never know. And sad things happen to good people sometimes just because. And depression is cruel and takes away the ones you love mentally and/or physically. And if someone is so ill they feel suicide is the only way out, and when you’ve reached a point where even treatment like ECT isn’t working, they’re going to kill themselves no matter what you do.
But I do still feel hurt that she never said goodbye. For months afterwards I used to search the house for a note because I couldn’t believe that she would kill herself without saying something to us. And I feel hurt that she didn’t stick a note on the door saying don’t come in just call the police (or something to that effect) so I didn’t have to be the one to find her. I could have lived without that mum! I used to see dead bodies hanging off things for years.
I still feel 16 years old inside. I still have this residual anger at ‘adults’ that’s hard to shift, even though I have been one of those ‘untrustworthy unhelpful adults’ for many years. I told so many grown-ups I was scared my mum would kill herself, only to be dismissed as being silly. I was outraged people like my ex-boss could get away with telling me it was for the best. Or how a teacher told me if I was going to be late to school, I might as well just not turn up at all. (How about supporting a phased return to education instead?!) The reporters who turned up at the inquest and wrote up mum’s death in the paper. The smug policeman who treated our home like it was his the night dad was taken away. People who constantly told me how I was coping with it so well, without taking the time to actually ask how I was first. Strangers who told me to cheer up, because it might never happen. The doctors who had kept pushing for her to do home visits when she clearly wasn’t well enough. I hated everyone! I felt so utterly alone.
I’m always so grateful that as an adult I control my own life. No other adults have the power to decide what will happen to me. I don’t have to do things like lie to social services on the phone because I’m afraid of being taken away.
I feel so sad when I think about how much we all went through. And how ill mum was too.
She feels so far away yet just a phone call away. Even though I know I will never see her again, I still feel like I could turn around on the street and find her right behind me.