In a few days I’ll be lining up on the start of the London marathon, nervous and excited in equal measure that I’m about to run in support of CALM as part of the Heads Together team.
Note: this article discusses experience of bereavement and difficulties coping with the loss of someone to suicide. If you have been bereaved by suicide you can get support at Support After Suicide.
As part of the CALM runners crew I’ve watched as my fellow team mates have created short videos explaining their story, or what we call our #reasonstorun. All of the videos are heartwarming and heartbreaking in equal measure. They’re full of both sadness and hope. Sadness that a loved one is gone too soon. And hope that by running a few miles around London we might help raise some much needed funds, and a lot of awareness of male suicide.
But as powerful as those videos are at raising awareness and motivating people to donate, I cannot create one about my own reasons to run. Why? Because I’ve experienced one aspect of suicide bereavement that I did not expect. While most people are kind and compassionate I have also experienced blame, accusations, aggression and abuse as a result of my late partner Nick’s suicide, to the point I feel unsafe talking about my story in any detail.
While most people are kind and compassionate I have also experienced blame, accusations, aggression and abuse as a result of Nick’s suicide.
To ultimately be blamed for your loved one’s death, to be accused of things only you and the person who died know not to be true, to face the aftermath of suicide while being judged for your part in that person’s life, drove me to contemplate suicide myself.
What stopped me? The definitive and intimate knowledge of how devastating it is to lose a loved one to suicide. Although people bereaved by suicide are considered 40 times more likely to take their own lives, thankfully I rode the storm in my mind that made me seriously consider acting on the desperation I felt. The realisation of exactly how my parents, siblings and the rest of my family and friends would feel, for the rest of their lives, was something I could never put them through. And so I was able, with a lot of help from counsellors and professionals, to bring myself back from that brink.
I was able, with a lot of help from counsellors and professionals, to bring myself back from that brink.
Relationships in families are often changed irrevocably after a suicide. It throws up many conflicting and opposing emotions in those left behind; compassion and resentment, rage and despair, guilt and forgiveness, like being hit by an emotional rollercoaster every hour of every day for months and years afterwards. Often, those emotions are thrown around amongst those left behind, like some kind of hand grenade or destructive game of pass the parcel. No-one wants to to suffer the consequences of how holding the parcel feels for too long, so they throw it at to someone else to deal with.
What results can be an atmosphere of blame and anger, often directed at the person who was closest to the person that died. Suicide can do more than take a life. It can also destroy relationships of those left behind creating suspicion, anger and even hatred.
In the days, weeks and months after a suicide, most people around you are shocked, saddened, supportive and loving. But in my own situation, I came to realise not everyone deals with suicide the same way. Some of my friends were angry, perhaps because of what Nick had “done to me” and they made no bones about telling me, which I found abhorrent and profoundly shocking at the time. I was already on my knees with grief and my own anger, directed towards myself and if I’m honest, Nick too, but I absolutely could not handle anyone else’s anger on top. Rightly or wrongly, I felt they had no right to be angry towards Nick, only I did.
Some friends walked out of my life, unable or unwilling to be around me in my darkest hour of need. That too was shocking, and I felt like everything I knew to be true had been tilted on its axis. I felt betrayed, let down and as though the realisation that I could trust no-one had just hit me in the face like a jackhammer. Although I was now experiencing the loss of friends in my life, as well as Nick, I didn’t realise at the time this was a double whammy of grief to contend with.
I was physically frightened of everything around me, unexpected noises were like bombs going off next to me and would literally make me jump out of my skin, my heart racing and pounding.
And some people were abusive towards me. I cannot say too much about what form this abuse took, for fear of retribution. Suffice to say I developed PTSD, afraid to leave my house for fear of being followed or watched, scared of crossing the street in case someone deliberately ran me over. I was unable to stand at a pedestrian crossing while waiting for the lights to change as I was convinced someone next to me would push me into the road in front of a passing car. I was physically frightened of everything around me, unexpected noises were like bombs going off next to me and would make me jump out of my skin, my heart racing and pounding. I had the most horrific nightmares where I was being chased and killed every night. This on top of dealing with the sudden and traumatic death of my partner.
After suffering for months I finally plucked up the courage to seek help and discovered I was experiencing PTSD. I was shocked, and felt guilty and unentitled to compare what I was experiencing with those that had survived horrific events in wars around the globe, or violent attacks here at home. But PTSD is what it was, a probable combination of traumatic grief and harassment that compounded my own feelings of guilt.
At a time when you are on your knees with despair, to experience abuse and be blamed for a loved one’s suicide is simply shattering. There are no words to describe the fear and utter isolation that created. And so, although I am now recovered from PTSD, I still have lingering doubts in my mind about how open I can afford to be.
Although I cannot create a #reasonstorun video to share my own personal connection to suicide as I fundraise for CALM and the incredibly vital work they do, I do wnat to share this from my own experience:
Suicide can and does destroy relationships, in more ways than one. All those left behind after a suicide face a confusing mass of emotions that they need compassion and support in coping with, not accusations and suspicion. Blaming anyone, and I mean anyone, regardless of the circumstances, for someone else’s suicide is utterly wrong and potentially damaging in very fundamental ways. In my case, I stopped living my life for several years, and it has changed me irrevocably.
As I do my final training runs for the marathon and get to know more about my team mates’ reasons to run, I’m left with a feeling of true inspiration.
So as I do my final training runs for the marathon and get to know more about my team mates’ reasons to run, I’m left with a feeling of true inspiration. It would be wrong of me to refer to the personal circumstances of anyone else, but suffice to say, I take my hat off to each and every one of you. The training injuries are real folks, the mental battle to run 8 miles after work on a Monday in the dark January evenings has been real, the physical and emotional battle to run 18 miles on a Sunday followed by an ice bath is very real! But every single second of every single battle is worth it if we manage to contribute funds that save just one life, and one family from the devastation of suicide bereavement.
Names and identities have been changed
If you have been bereaved by suicide you can get support at Support After Suicide supportaftersuicide.org.uk.