Learning to Survive
by Samantha Hillier
The Even Keel Foundation was established to encourage people to talk about their mental health and as one of the founding trustees I just wanted to share with you my personal story. I don’t feel particularly comfortable writing about myself but I hope in doing so I can help more people understand just one aspect of the devastating impact of not talking - of people not getting the help they really need.
So, my name is Sam and just over 4 months ago, my fiancé, the absolute love of my life, tragically took his own life.
I don’t remember much about those first few weeks but it was as close to hell as I ever expected or wished to be. What I also remember so strongly from those early days of heart shattering darkness was an overwhelming sense of just wanting to be with him. The man I had shared a path of life with for the last two incredible years had suddenly left and gone on his own journey. Totally unexpectedly. And one that was without me...
I remember crying repeatedly to my family; ‘I just want to be with him’. I wanted to die too. And I know that was so hard for the people who loved me most to understand. I know they were quietly questioning how I could think such a thing, and I’m pretty sure it probably hurt them thinking my love for Michael - and my urge to be on ‘his journey’ in whatever way that meant - surpassed any love I had for them to stay put.
Ironically, this thought was actually one of my first steps in reconciling in my head how Michael could leave this life and the amazing love we shared behind. I began to realise it wasn’t because he didn’t love me anymore - anymore than me wanting to leave this life because I didn’t love my family (I love them more than anything in the world). But at that time life meant pain. A pain like none other. For the previous 44 years of my life I’ve of course felt heartache before, but there’s always been a little space left in my mind for other thoughts. The thing with suicide is that the loss, the brutality, the finality, the unanswered questions are the most all consuming thing I’ve ever experienced. I simply had no capacity left for any other emotion. And all I wanted was for that to stop. Forever. I couldn’t see an end to it. Seconds of life felt like minutes, minutes like hours..
So how did I learn to survive?
Only by lots and lots of talking and by lots of sheer hard work. Not just my hard work, it’s been the hard work of my grief counsellor who has helped me so much with my sense of perspective and alternative views. I see her weekly and I will continue to do so. The hard work of my PTSD psychiatrist who carefully explained the processes my brain is trying to complete and how this process is distorted in times of extreme trauma. The hard work of my GP who carefully managed my medication and listened patiently and was never dismissive of my symptoms. But mostly the hard work, and continued hard work, of my relentlessly patient family and friends who listened time and time again to my repeated circles of thoughts that I thought I’d never get out of. The constant ‘whys?’, the repeated ‘if onlys’, the relentless need for confirmation that I really couldn’t bring him back (I still need this sometimes). The kindness, love and support has been extreme. And literally life saving. And that is the bit about my life that makes me so fortunate. Without realising it, I really was slowly taking baby steps, guided on by many hands, all doing their bit to gently coax me into the place I find myself now.
So here I am. Surviving. I use the term survive with purpose, for right now I don’t feel I am yet living. I go through the motions of life but I do not live. I exist. That doesn’t mean I don’t laugh at things that I find funny. It doesn’t mean I don’t go out. It doesn’t mean I don’t think about the future.What it means is that I can’t quite yet accept my life without Michael in it. It’s not the life I chose. And my challenge now it to work towards an acceptance of this new altered life. My new altered sense of self. My new distorted future. My plan b.
The inner work I’ve had to do had been tough and continues to be - some days inevitably harder than others. The grounding thought that’s helped me through this has been a belief that the worst day of my life has already happened. And surviving that has given me the strength and energy to work on getting better. In line with something my psychiatrist said, out of post traumatic stress can come post traumatic growth. By that he means we learn to respect and value aspects of our world differently if we manage to survive and strive in times of adversity.
So here I am, 139 days later. In this new parallel universe. Surviving. And now massively encouraged by the amazing response to this foundation and so grateful for every single word of support along the way. I firmly believe that out of every negative we have to at least try and find or do something positive. And I hope that together we can have at least a small influence on stopping something as devastating as suicide happening to yet another family.
The Even Keel Foundation is not an emergency response service but if you or someone you know needs emotional support you can call the Samaritans 24 hour helpline on 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. We also have some really good signposting on our website https://www.theevenkeelfoundation.com/helplines