When I was in my twenties, I had a range of difficult experiences that brought me into contact with mental health services; something I often talk about in my own way.
Rarely do I talk of the people who I met along that journey, or ever, of one particular friend who, in 2011 ended her life. Suicide was her last chapter.
The friend, who I will call Jenny, played a huge part in my life, especially when I was at my lowest. She understood the dark place that I found myself, and self harm. When I couldn’t sleep, she was on the end of the phone and vice versa. We spent countless hours together, passing the time together, each in our own depressions.
Jenny was bright and kind, but also deeply troubled. She had seen ugliness in the world and felt changed by it. For a couple of years, Jenny and I travelled side by side, our perspectives similar.
Our lives began to diverge when I started to lift myself from that difficult place. I made a range of different choices and took different steps towards regaining control over my life; I somehow managed to find a foothold on my life where Jenny didn’t. I managed to find the right help and above all, a little hope. I wasn’t able to give that to her- she couldn’t see it or feel it at that time, nor did she find it in the years that followed.
I kept going, and we saw less and less of each other. Self harm had become her life, depression her way of being and mental health services were now her ‘family’; these are difficult places to travel from in a world that envelopes you. If we’re not careful, it becomes you. It simultaneously tells you that it will take responsibility for you when you are unable and that you should learn to cope alone. It comforts you, whilst blaming you and when you’re isolated and alone, with all it’s faults and inconsistencies, it is still there.
The last time I heard from Jenny was in November, 2011, shortly before her suicide. She had contacted me to wish me congratulations on the birth of my son. Our lives, now completely incomparable- (me, a therapist, recovered and with a family of my own and Jenny still struggling with her own existence) still shared that common history and care for each other. I learned later that my own successes cast a shadow upon her even more and this causes me huge pain.
On Boxing Day, that year, I took the call that i had always dreaded- she had taken her life. I sat amongst family, celebrating Christmas and felt utter devastation. I tried to conceal the torment.
I had to walk a different path from Jenny in order to live the life that I have now. I wish she had walked with me.
I will always be full of sorrow and regret over that.
At harmless and the tomorrow project I provide a range of services that aim to reach people at risk of suicide. I only wish Jenny had been able to get some of that help- it came too late for her.
Losing someone, whoever that is, to suicide, is devastating. My head still plays tricks on me; I think I’ve seen her in the supermarket, or forget that she’s gone. I still have her last text on my phone. I think about how she died and it haunts me.
At least I get to try and change the outcome for others- our service reaches people that self harm, we find people that are thinking about suicide, and we help them to turn things around.
And that’s some comfort.
I don’t ever want to take another call like that but every day someone else has to. And for every year that passes there are countless people, laid awake at night, just as I am, wondering ‘what if…’