The ripple effect

There’s been a lot of talk on social media this week about mental health and suicide thanks to Zoe Ball’s Sport Relief challenge in memory of her partner Billy Yates. Hardest Road Home was difficult to watch but also incredibly inspiring and the money donated will go a huge way to supporting those at risk of suicide. Good job Zoe.

One of the things mentioned in the programme was the ripple effect of suicide and the impact it has on so many people. In the days, weeks and months after Joe died, this effect was palpable. Family, friends and strangers all impacted by the loss of our brilliant boy, visited, called, wrote and texted; we had a house full of people sharing stories, grieving, supporting… And now, nine months on when the visitors have gone and life ploughs on, the impact on those closest to Joe continues.unnamed

Grief can often lead to depression and it breaks my heart that this cruel, shitty, bastard of an illness has now taken hold of Claudia. My sweet, bright, hilarious, and determined girl is struggling and I desperately want to take the pain away. I couldn’t help Joe because he kept his illness to himself, although in his last week of life when we did know something was wrong, we didn’t take it seriously enough. The regret of not driving to Exeter, forcing him into the car and bringing him home, haunts me every day.

But I can do something to help Claudia. I understand depression much better now. I understand what it can do and that it can lead to feelings of such darkness and despair that death seems like the only answer.

The dynamic of Claudia’s life has shifted. She misses Joe so much and sometimes can’t see the point of a life without him in it. She was the middle child and had two brothers; now she’s the youngest and has lost her partner in crime, despite still being close to Connor. Their shared history, their childhood, school, university, their whole lives are intertwined. The stories that only Joe and Claudia knew, the memories only they shared, the love that only they had for each other has gone, and she’s really struggling to make sense of it.

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The two of them fought like cat and dog when they were younger but in the past few years, since they’d both moved away to university, they’d become incredibly close. Joe was often the first person Claudia would turn to when she needed to talk. He was always her baby brother and the smart arse who knew the answer to everything, but their relationship was maturing, and it was lovely to see.

19029314_10209755559389108_2162738293857643448_nThe stories they used to tell were hilarious: Joe standing in the ladies’ toilet of a bar with a drunk Claudia who needed to go home, telling all the girls – “Back off bitches, this is my sister” with a phone in each hand trying to get hold of David on one of them and me on the other; the two of them owning the dancefloor at a club; the hours spent at Top Golf; the car journeys; the Facetime chats…

And so, our girl is back home. Maybe for good and maybe just until she gets better and can finish her degree. She’s done all the right things – she’s gone to her GP, she’s talked about how she’s feeling and she’s been referred to the mental health crisis team in Nottingham. She has given her consent for them to talk to me and David about the things she finds difficult to say, and we’re in contact with them until we can get her moved to the outpatient care of our local mental health trust.

It’s hard, it’s shit and I’m scared. But she’s talking to us, to her friends – who are amazing – to her GP and to the mental health team. And talking about it has meant the difference between struggling in silence and having us put our arms around her, bring her home, listen and try to help. She’s worried because coming home and taking a break from uni wasn’t in her plan. I’ve told her we just need a new plan.19030767_10209755558909096_506762968273621912_n

Everything changed on that day in June when Joe decided that enough was enough, and Claudia’s plan now needs to be focused on getting better and not thinking too far ahead. My plan, David’s plan, our plan for this family changes every day so we’ve learned not to think about next month, the next six months, the next year… We just think about today, tomorrow, the manageable, the achievable, the here and now.

Amidst all the anxiety, the stress and the worry of the past couple of weeks, our family’s dark humour continues to shine through. Claudia found it hilarious that, while waiting for an appointment at the mental health hospital, this was the song they had blaring across the waiting room…

I’ll leave you on that note and carry on bobbing about in the ripples…

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Suicide: the stats are lying to us

One of my worries when I decided to stop drinking was whether I’d become boring without alcohol. As a lifelong sufferer of anxiety, the odd glass (or three) of wine always gave me confidence and brought me out of my introverted self; how will I do that now? Will friends and family want to spend time with me if they’re drinking and I’m not? Will sober Kit be dull-as-shit Kit?

David and I haven’t been out socialising since Joe died. We haven’t travelled (apart from a few peaceful days in Cornwall and Devon), we haven’t been anywhere new or done anything worth talking about. Our lives are centred around our house, the children, talking about Joe, reading and listening to music (David has brought Alexa into our home and while I love the music on demand, she can also be an annoying fucker).

Anyhoo, last night I went to bed at 8.30pm ON A FRIDAY. Me: “Do you know what I’m really looking forward to?” David (despairingly): “It’s going to bed, isn’t it?” Yes sir, that’s right! Friday night and I was looking forward to filling a hot water bottle and snuggling under the duvet – the same way I used to look forward to 20% off 6 bottles of wine at Sainsbury’s.

But aside from the boring arse I’ve become, one of the positives of a booze-free mind is an increased level of focus, which is welcome for a couple of reasons:

  1. I’ve started a permanent job after years of contracting so need to get my head into a corporate mindset. Write a Personal Development Plan you say? Crikey. My personal development plan for the past few years has been solely concerned with where the next contract is coming from. So quite a shift but, so far, a wholly positive one (plus I get paid for bank holidays again – hurrah!)
  2. I need to have my wits about me to deal with the Exeter and Greater Devon coroner service…

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My sincere hope is that no-one I know – or don’t know for that matter – ever has to go through the pain, shock and disbelief of losing a child to suicide (but as it’s the biggest killer of young people between the ages of 10 and 34 in the UK, I’m afraid I will).

I had no idea what to expect after two very sombre police officers knocked on our door and delivered the news that no parent should ever have to hear…

I didn’t know how I would cope once the utterly overwhelming shock wore off. I didn’t know how to look after David, who was screaming and punching the walls. And I didn’t know what lay ahead: Connor and Claudia’s grief at losing their little brother; funeral planning; choosing a coffin; talking to the police; vicars and chaplains sitting in my living room offering prayers; countless visitors; flowers; cards…

And an inquest. I had no idea there would be an inquest. Joe took his life; we were in no doubt. But any unnatural death in the UK has to be reported to the coroner and so this new, unfamiliar and unpleasant journey began.

We were told that an inquest is usually held within six months of death, so we had December in our minds. We made statements and we asked questions: Yes, the inquest is held in a public court; Yes, the press can attend and report on whatever they hear; Yes, you can see all the evidence beforehand; No, you don’t have to attend; Yes, the coroner will determine what Joe’s death will be ruled as.

Wait. What it will be ruled as? Joe took his life, so it’ll be ruled as suicide, won’t it? Not necessarily. Because coroners have to apply the criminal standard of proof, ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ when determining the cause of death in suicide, many are recorded as undetermined. So, suicide is already the leading cause of death among young people, but not all suicide is even recorded as such. Can you imagine the statistics if all suicide was actually recorded as suicide? It’s shocking, it’s not right and it’s a law that I’ll be helping PAPYRUS campaign to have changed.*

David and the kids (first pic I ever saw!)

It’s now March – nine months since Joe died – and we still don’t have a date for his inquest. The latest we’ve been told is that the coroner is retiring (a fact which surely must have been known for some time?) and her replacement won’t start looking at ‘cases’ until early April. So we’re possibly looking at an inquest date in June to coincide with what have been Joe’s 21st birthday and is also the first anniversary of his death. Great. That will do us all the world of good. A jolly trip down to Exeter to hear details of Joe’s life and illness discussed in a public court. Shall we throw Claudia’s university exams into the mix as well – why not!

Becoming ever more frustrated with the lack of information, I contacted PAPYRUS and received a call from their Chief Executive, Ged Flynn. He was very supportive and sympathetic but explained that this sort of delay is, sadly, very common. Coroner services have had their budgets severely cut in recent years, along with so many other public services, and they do the best they can with the limited resources they have. He also told me of families who have only found out about their loved one’s inquest date by finding it on the coroner’s website, which is unforgivable. And so, we wait.

Dull, boring and sober, but ready to take on the system in memory of Joe.

* You can read more in this Guardian article by PAPYRUS Chairman, Stephen Habgood.

 

Regret, tolerance and porridge

It’s been a crazy busy couple of weeks at work so this is the first chance I’ve had to sit down and write something that isn’t related to net debt, EBITDA and share prices. Praise the lord. It’s early on Saturday morning, Abigail (cat) and I are in the study. She’s washing after a particularly satisfying chicken breakfast and I’m mainlining tea. This is my favourite time of day, when David and Claudia are sleeping upstairs, the house is quiet, the sun is coming up and, for a short time, life seems calm and manageable.

Most of the time it feels as though losing Joe has sucked all the joy out of life and replaced it with dull, sad, monotony. But on mornings like this, and increasingly at random times throughout the day, a chink of light gets through and I remember there’s much to be grateful for. It’s the simple things that strike me; the things that money can’t buy. Yesterday, I was grateful for the trains that ran on time, my fabulously supportive colleagues, the hug I got from Claudia when I met her at the station, and porridge. You’ve gotta love porridge.

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The difference now is that I stop to appreciate these things instead of bowling through my day at a million miles an hour, head down, always thinking about the next thing, the next thing, the next thing… Now I don’t care what ‘stuff’ I have because I know I’d give it all up in an instant to have Joe back, so it becomes insignificant. (I can almost hear my friends yelling – “I bet you couldn’t give up candles!”)

I’m also more tolerant. On my commute, I used to be quick to get cross with people who invaded my space, had the nerve to sit next to me or played their music too loud. But now I think: ‘I don’t know what you’re going through’. If you saw me on the train, you wouldn’t know I was grieving – except maybe when I’m having a quiet cry – so by the same token, I don’t know what anyone else is going through.

Maybe they’re playing their music loud because they’re trying to block something out, maybe they’re sitting next to me, despite there being lots of empty seats, because they need the silent companionship of a stranger. And maybe they’re sniffing repeatedly because…no! That’s the one thing I still can’t abide – I don’t care what you’re going through, get a tissue!

Still a little way to go on the tolerance thing perhaps…

I wish I could turn back time (cue Cher) to when Joe was here so I could be more tolerant with him. I talk to him all the time, telling him how sorry I am for all the nagging and the arguments. Telling him that if I’d known how much he was suffering, I would have driven to Exeter, manhandled him into the car, brought him home and looked after him for as long as he needed me to. But I can’t, and it breaks my heart every single day.

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I miss Joe. I miss his voice, his laugh, and the perfect ability only he had to wind me up. I miss his joy in messing with my very ordered, slightly OCD brain, by subtly moving something and watching with glee until I noticed it. I miss his crazy mind, so full of ideas and thoughts and questions.

I miss the times we used to spend on our own together, when we weren’t stepmum and stepson, we were just Joe and Kit. We’d watch Masterchef, cook, discuss the universe and yell ‘Fish Skin!’ at each other (don’t ask). I miss hearing him play the flute. I miss his smile, his frown, his unfailing generosity and his joy at spending hours fussing a purring and dribbling Abigail. And I miss his future. I miss seeing what he would have done with his life; all that potential…

I read a tweet from Alison Moyet that really struck me: “People. Stop dying before your time. Don’t opt out. Your world will change its shape so many times. What is bleak today becomes wondrous and stupid and brilliant. All these things. Wait and see.”

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The problem with depression is that it can give you such a warped sense of reality that you just don’t believe this. You don’t believe that life can ever get better. Feeling suicidal is considered a medical emergency. Not a cry for help, an emotion or a feeling – A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Depression kills people, it robs them of their light and their hope. It killed Joe, the brightest of them all, and we have to do everything we can to stop it killing more people, young and old, male and female.

Gosh, I’ve just realised that in a blog about giving up alcohol, I haven’t mentioned it once. I’m 54 days sans booze and feeling pretty good about it. I was given a bottle of wine at work this week and promptly gave it to a colleague, I shared a lift with a drunk person on Wednesday night and felt very smug that I could walk in a straight line, and I helped to deliver a cracking set of financial results at work without the need to self-medicate with Sauvignon Blanc.

As I said, it’s the simple things…