It’s about time that I write a blog post related to one of the main reasons I started a blog. That is – to talk about my dad. It probably won’t be as humourous as my previous posts (although who knows, I do have a penchant for totally inappropriate death humour. It’s a coping mechanism).
I’ve had a touch of the old writers’ block when writing this post. Partly because it’s forced me to think about things more than I would normally, and also because I really want to get the tone right. I want to be informative but not blunt, and sensitive but not too self pitying. I’ve stopped and started a lot and as I’ve gone through writing this, it has become very clear that I haven’t actually truly come to terms with the situation. So am I really the right person to write a public analogy on suicide? No, definitely not, but this is just a collection of my thoughts and experiences since my father took his own life.
Those of you who know me will know I’m pretty frank about my dad dying, about how he died and I don’t tend to avoid the subject – in fact I have readily volunteered the information to people I’ve not know long. Which sometimes leads to awkwardness but more often than not leads to me finding out that the person I’m talking to was also close to someone who died in similar circumstances. In fact it’s frightening how often that happens.
I won’t apologise for the frankness with which I write because I want to talk about it and open up the dialogue around suicide (it’s not a dirty word), but I suppose this is a warning – if you don’t want to know more, don’t read on.
Blah blah blah this is here so people can leave if they want to
So yes, my dad took his own life. He hung himself in the home in which I grew up. And yet when I read that sentence I can honestly say it still doesn’t feel like it’s real. It’s more like it happened to someone else’s dad. Is it because it still hasn’t actually sank in? Have I not fully grieved over the death of my dad and the situation in which it happened? Possibly not. I often feel like I’m on the edge of a precipice, perhaps waves of unshed tears still to come… But they don’t. Don’t get me wrong, I do still get emotionally upset about the fact my dad is no longer here, particularly that he doesn’t and won’t ever know his grandson (The Boy) but these periods of grief don’t seem to correlate with the horror of the situation. Because it is horrific. Imagine, if you will, the horror of the police coming to your door in the small hours to tell you what’s happened. Imagine having to imagine what your mum is going through. Imagine having to imagine what your dad’s best friend found to know instantly that it was over. And, perhaps worst of all, imagine realising that for the rest of your time in this worldly life that you will have these thoughts and images in your head – not always at the forefront but always knocking around somewhere in the periphery of your mind’s eye.
But this is all sounding very woe-is-me which is definitely not what I was aiming for. I just want to put it out there that this is a very real experience and I am far from the only one living it. In fact the year my dad died, he was one of 6,109 people in the UK who took their own life. He was one of 4,623 men who took their own life – that’s 76% of all UK suicides that year.
One of my favourite charities who isn’t afraid to say it as it is, is Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM). They say:
“We believe that there are social and cultural barriers that prevent men from speaking out… men often say that they don’t feel comfortable expressing how they feel if they’re having a shit time, as they’re expected to be strong at all times, and not being so equates to weakness or failure as a man.”
This resonates very closely with my family and me. My dad was so ashamed of having a mental illness. So much so he was convinced he didn’t. My once straight talking and no-nonsense father became a hypochondriac. Not the colloquial type of hypochondriac, the word we bandy around along with ‘OCD’, forgetting that they’re real mental health issues. He had true hypochondria where he seriously believed he had a grievous illness. Which he did – he just didn’t believe it was a mental one. And that’s one of the big problems surrounding public attitudes around mental illness. We understand that diseases like heart disease, cancer, stomach ulcers, ruptured appendices, etc. create physical damage so why is it so hard to accept that your mental health can become damaged in a similar way?
I haven’t actually taken time to count because I don’t really want to know the answer but I think it was about 3/4 months since I’d seen my dad before he died. I can’t even remember the last time I saw him. Also, the night he died was a Sunday, which was usually my scheduled evening to call my parents. But that particular Sunday I went out so I didn’t call. As you can imagine I regret that choice a lot. Calling might not have made any difference in the end but I’ll never know – and anyway, it was my last chance to talk to my dad and I didn’t take it.
When my dad first died I also felt very angry at him. I know, I know – this is normal and I don’t really feel it anymore. Although my justification for writing this blog post (he would have hated to be featured online but don’t worry Dad, it’s only got a readership of 0.000000295% of the population) is that he doesn’t get a say anymore. And sometimes, especially at bedtime when im singing to The Boy, I think about what it would mean to choose to depart the world in which The Boy exists and it makes me feel sick. But then I shut it out and get on with cooking dinner. Or whatever. It’s surprisingly easy to do that.
As I said earlier, I feel like there is something more to come. Like I’m standing on a cliff edge, edging my way through normal life, waiting to fall down a rabbit hole (mixing metaphors, much?!). I wonder if my frankness and ability to just ‘get on with it’ makes me appear cold and unfeeling. Because after all, mere months after my dad died I got pregnant with The Boy. And he is incredibly skilled at keeping my mind focused on the here and now. I do believe my desire to procreate in 2014 stemmed from a primal need – maybe to inject some happiness into the lives of my devastated family, maybe to focus my mind elsewhere. And The Boy has brought immeasurable happiness to us all. I do believe he wouldn’t be here if my dad hadn’t died. Perhaps that’s me making excuses to make me feel better for failing to help my dad when he really needed it. But hey, you do what you can to get yourself through the quagmire of sticky and complicated emotions surrounding suicide.
There’s a lot of voices starting to shout about male suicide (e.g. the Duke of Cambridge has remarked on how the male suicide levels in our country are unacceptable). We can only hope that the voices are heard and society begins to address it. But what does that mean?
Well for starters (aside from a need for more training and awareness around mental health – and forgive me for brushing over that but this article is about how you and I can help) it means we all need to start being kinder to each other. The amount of times I’ve been rude / passive aggressiveness to total strangers (that’s the London commute for you) makes me feel awful. If anyone is already having a bad day, some jumped up commuter in a rush isn’t going to help the situation. So I am trying to make the effort to be kinder to my fellow humans. If we all did this who knows what difference it would make. Treat rudeness with kindness. I’m not saying be a push over but let’s try getting rid of the (often passive) aggression that circulates society. I know a small unknown blog post won’t make that happen but we can but try.
And the other thing we should all do is talk. Talk to the people in our lives. Talk to our men. Talk to our women. Because you never know who might be thinking the world would be better off without them.
I hope this blog post hasn’t dampened your mood too much. Please go forth and have a fabulous day [insert inappropriately timed joke here].