When I was eleven years old, my dad got up early one morning to get ready for work, and dropped down dead. I was in the next room and heard the whole thing – his collapse, my mum frantically calling for an ambulance, the paramedics trying to save him. He was fifty years old and had been in good health. We later found out it was heart disease.
Grief is hard, no matter what age you are, but being so young I didn’t know what to do. I’d experienced a few family deaths beforehand, but they were nothing like the loss of a parent. Those around me presumed I was too young to fully comprehend what was going on, but unfortunately I did. I didn’t go to the funeral, I couldn’t bear the thought of it, and to this day I’m not sure whether or not I made the right decision, and have had a lot of guilt to contend with over the years.
As time passed, I felt as though I’d be upsetting my family if I spoke about my feelings, so I simply kept quiet and bottled up my emotions. At the time I thought it was the best thing to do, but then years later, when I lost a cousin in similar circumstances (he was the same age, he died on the same day of the week from the same condition), my emotions threatened to burst out. Then, nine years ago, when I returned from a work trip in the USA, I found myself battling insomnia. At first I figured it was jetlag, but then as time went on it became clear it was something else. I went to the doctors and was prescribed sleeping tablets, but still I couldn’t get a full night’s sleep. I was constantly tired and weepy, and felt like a failure for not being able to master something so “simple” as sleep. When I returned to the doctors, bleary eyed and emotional, he diagnosed me with anxiety and moderate depression, prescribing me anti-depressants to help with the sleep, and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to get to the cause of the insomnia. CBT is brilliant, and I know it helps so many people, but it didn’t quite work for me – I felt it wasn’t helping with the particular issues I was facing and instead making me feel worse. Likewise I know anti-depressants work wonders for some people, but not for me.
Whilst I was having treatment, my uncle, who had become a second dad to me, died in the street while out shopping. It was another sudden death in the family, and this time it hit me even harder, having not really dealt with my dad’s death. Thankfully, my CBT therapist immediately recommended Bereavement Counselling, and right from the first session I began to feel the benefits. It really helped to know I was speaking to someone who wasn’t going to judge what I was saying, to know that my feelings were valid and to simply just talk through things – sometimes it helped just to have a rant! The counselling has stopped now and I still have shaky times – there are still some days when the anxiety seems too much, and recent losses of others close to me have really tested me as has recent concerns over my mum’s health and mention of the “C” word – but now I’ve learned that there are good days in amongst the bad, and that I will get through it.
It’s important for me to speak up, not only to raise awareness on World Mental Health Day, but also tackle the stigma around mental illness. The more you talk about mental health to other people, the more you realise just how common mental health conditions are. One in four of us are affected by mental illness each year, so the chances are if it’s not you, it’s someone close to you, and with the pressures we’re facing in society nowadays that figure will only increase unless something’s done. When I lost my dad, I felt as though I didn’t have anyone to talk to, and I wasn’t offered any form of counselling from my GP. If I could offer one piece of advice to anyone reading this who’s going through something similar, it would be to let it out. No one should have to suffer alone. If your friends or family can’t or won’t listen, try people online or even write down everything you wanted to say and then save it or bin it. Don’t bottle up your emotions. Cry if you like or if you don’t want to, don’t. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve. And remember, it’s okay to not be okay.