Original Post: 13/10/2019
The 10th of October is world mental health day and I have to say it was amazing seeing my social media flooded with positive messages of acceptance and awareness. Every year I see the participation grow and it really touches my heart.
It also serves a a very fitting reminder as 3 days later, today, 13th October is the anniversary of my Dads death.
In 2014, my Dad killed himself after a battle with mental health.
There are two things I want to concentrate on today ;
1. The unseen battle
2. The person
1. The Unseen battle.
Grief sucks and it is a roller coaster of emotions. I don’t really believe the saying that it gets easier with time. The fact that my Dad isn’t here, that he wont ever meet my partner or kids or be at my wedding, or speak to me on the phone, or annoy the hell out of me ever again, has not got easier in 5 years. Simply put I’ve got better at navigating the world in the knowledge that he isn’t physically here. Life goes on and can still have beautiful moments of true happiness and love. My favorite metaphor for grief is that you have this beautiful rainbow, and when someone dies and black band appears alongside the 7 colored bands. You can still appreciate and marvel at the beauty of the rainbow but the extra band never leaves, its forever changed.
With my Dad committing suicide there is a another dimension to my grief, his unseen battle.
While my Dad touched many lives and is grieved and loved by them all, I’m pleased to say that their memories of Dad will be the happy ones, the ones with the jokes and the smirks, and the wonderful impact he had on them.
What a lot of people didn’t see is the awful journey we had as a family with his mental illness particularly in the last year of his life. And it was awful. To see this wonderful man having to put a ‘mask’ on to speak to people outside the comfort of his home and seeing how draining it was for him. To speak to him, going round and round in circles. To hear him talk about not deserving to be here. To hear how he wasn’t good enough for us, no matter how much we told him we loved him. To visit him when he was sectioned, looking years and years older. For his reality to be so distorted, to the point he thought things happened that did not. For him to be discharged and genuinely seeming to do better, finally, only to take his life.
The Illness took this all away from him. The man, that once upon a time I would have argued with because he couldn’t believe anyone would ever do such a selfish thing as kill themselves, and I would have explained till I was blue in the face that people really do get that ill, that man was destroyed by depression and anxiety.
Thankfully, there’s so many stories that don’t end that way. My Dads case was a fairly extreme one and I can count double figures at least, people that I know, myself included, that have had a brush with mental health issues on varying degrees and have survived to tell the tale and are winning the battle (even if they don’t feel like they are)
However I cannot ignore that in the UK in 2018, there were 6,507 deaths by suicide and men accounted for 3/4 of that number.
Also it is estimated that 1 in 6 people in the past week experienced a common mental health problem.
One thing that struck me at my Dads funeral was the amount of people that said ‘I had no idea he was that bad’ or ‘I saw him just the other day and he was laughing and joking’. (Both of those are completely legitimate comments and completely said out of love and grief please don’t get me wrong) It just really highlights to me the absolute danger of this illness; The unseen battle.
Someone that is fighting these illnesses will not always ‘seem bad’ and they will also sometimes genuinely feel OK and will laugh sometime for real and sometimes as a mask. The danger is, us thinking that because someone seems OK, that they are actually OK.
Now that is hard cause how would you know right? And you wont always know, and people may not want to tell you. One of my Dad’s biggest battles was feeling guilty for the times he was ok, because he’s meant to be ill right????? so he must be lying right???
If you only take one thing away from reading this, please let it be the following;
Please refrain from talking publicly about people ‘faking’ mental illness for attention or whatever you think they are doing it for. Yes there may be people out there abusing the new found social-presence of mental health awareness, but there will be a hell of a lot more people out there being scared of opening up for fear of being rejected, or just not being believed, and accused of faking it, my Dad felt that way. You never know who’s listening and it could make their unseen battle that bit harder!
The best advise I can give is be kind and patient with EVERYONE, because you never know what their unseen battle could be. And if someone is showing signs, be there, be patient and know that mental illness doesn’t look the same for everyone, and has highs and lows.
2. The Person
Yes today is the day my Dad killed himself. But mental health and suicide is not who my Dad is.
My Dad was my hero and absolute wind-up merchant. He believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. He was the first person to call me beautiful and despite my groans of teenage protest, he never let me forget it. He was a kind, quiet soul, who absolutely doted on his kids, nieces, nephews, great – nieces and great – nephews! Family was his everything, and the more he could wind you up the better. He loved to sing (like his whole family) and always sung round the house. A few months before he died, I sang ‘Valarie’ on Karaoke with him at a family Party. I also got to see him and my mum dancing together at that party, two people who had been together at 12 years old and gave me and my siblings the most wonderful childhood. There is so much my Dad was and is and will be remembered by, more that I could even know.
He was not his illness and it does not define him.
And that goes for you too, or anyone you know who is suffering. Mental illness does not define you. It will try and strip ‘you’ away and it will make you feel alone but remember you are a person, not a statistic. You are so much more than the illness will let you believe and you’ve got this, even if you don’t feel like you do.
As a family, we don’t really try to mark out 13th of October as it is a day that we don’t really enjoy recalling, Rather than remember the day the illness won, We much prefer celebrating fathers day or Dads birthday and rejoice in the person Dad was.
So I am going to I go listen to ‘Valarie’, eat some chocolate and have a conversation with my Partner about the wonderful wind-up that is David Rose.
Happy belated world mental health awareness Day – If our story can help even one person, it will all be worth it.