All that I am, all that I ever was…

I am more than my mental health. I am more than my homelessness. I am more than any one aspect of me. I am Addy. And this is…

World Suicide Prevention Day: Stephanie; her grace, my guilt

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Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.

Today I am thinking of Stephanie and Rachel. Of Gareth and Malcolm. Of all the people I’ve known whose lives ended before their time. Today I am doing what little I can to break the silence and shatter the stigma over suicide.

~ Stephanie: Her grace, my guilt ~

For Stephanie

Would you mind if I pretended we were somewhere else, doing something we wanted to…

…cause all this living makes me wanna do, is die cause I can’t live with you…

Stephanie was 23 years old. A gifted photographer, raconteur and writer with a knack for seeking out the beautiful in the forgotten, bizarre, banal and sad. Physically, in an ironic twist of fate, she was very much a cross between Kathy and (later) Sa5m, only with flaming red hair and porcelain skin. She made me laugh, a lot, with her jet black temperament and an ability to play with words that I could only dream of. If we’d had the chance to meet face-to-face, I like to think a friendship would have blossomed. But the life that shone brightness into the lives of others was taken by the darkness that suffocated her from within. And it was my fault. I was responsible.

…and you don’t even care…

Steph first contacted me because she didn’t know where else to turn. Her email just said Hey and found your blog and a few other niceties that I hear from time to time; all of which bolster my confidence and make me feel that sharing my life isn’t such a bad thing after all. Then it said I think about death all the time too, that must make me as loony as you, hey? and then signed off with a single thanks only with an x in place of the k and s.

I didn’t write back after reading it. I didn’t spend much time online back then other than the necessary job hunting. My blogging had ended months earlier, overtaken by a cacophony of problems  following the events of Alice, moving back home, trying to rebuild my life and stabilising an unsupported mental health problem. All I did that was leave the Internet cafe after signing off and headed into town.

I spent the night walking through the islands, my favourite spot in Inverness, thinking a pantheon of thoughts. Of my stupidity with Grace, my guilt, of that line, of wombats and shinglebacks and CVs and Vegemite and feather dusters and pizza and Jack Bauer and Kathy and Mae and Diane and pyjamas and promises both kept and broken and jam, who doesn’t think about jam? But always my mind kept coming back to Grace, my guilt and that line. When I eventually returned home in the early hours I curled into bed and when I woke up in a sweat after a particularly disturbing dream knew what I had to do.

…Would you mind if I pretended I was someone else…

There was a reason for putting that word there. The amount of things she could have written are endless: cheese, jam, butts, the Doctor, pancakes, whipped cream, wombats, Battlestar Galactica, voles, badgers, the whole army of small mammals that had invaded my blog posts, sex, undies and a plethora of random things that popped up from time to time. Why death? Why emphasise that word?

I’d known from the fist time I’d read it, I just hadn’t wanted to admit it. I convinced myself I was being paranoid, that I was seeing it everywhere I went. I’d wanted to forget about it. I didn’t need more proof that Kathy had been right all along. I should move on and forget about it. But I couldn’t, not with all the guilt in my heart. Whether I wanted to admit it or not that flashing neon sign had been blinking away for a day – nope, not “LIVE NUDES” but “CLASSIC INDICATOR”. Could I take the chance that I was just reading something into her words that weren’t there?

So after cleaning off from the dream, I headed back into town to use the Internet for the second day straight. It was a response that I kept controlled; thanking her for the kind words, telling her a light-hearted anecdote about getting lost a few weeks earlier and then, without being confrontational, asked if she was okay.

…with courage in love and war…

When her response came a couple of days later it was – excuse the crude metaphor – as if she had vomited her life onto the screen. Far longer than the first, far more emotional, and from the first read through I could sense two things:

1) Like me, she kept everything bottled in.

and

2) How similar she and I, and our experiences, were.

She told me of abuse both emotional and sexual, of being dumped by text message with no explanation, of self harm and depression and trouble getting an official diagnosis. She lamented her lack of friends as most had sided with her ex and the rest had fled out of fear of her “unhappy” mood. Her family didn’t understand why she couldn’t just “cheer up”. She’d lost her uni course because of the illness. She was lost, alone and scared. She told me she’d been researching ways to kill herself when she’d come across my blog.

She’d read every post and page (one of the few who has) and wishes she had the courage and strength I did. She’d written to me out of desperation, fear and that she felt she knew me somehow.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it wasn’t me any more. That events had changed me. I wasn’t strong or courageous. I was weak, selfish and guilt ridden. I was then, as I am now, as far from the “Addy” who’d written those words as I’d ever been. I didn’t have the heart to tell her the person she believed in was gone.

…I used to think that’s what I was…

Instead I told her how she was brave for admitting her feelings and seeking help. She was courageous; as any abuse and mental health survivor is. I asked her to seek help; urging her to go see a Doctor, a professional, talk to her family and make them understand things were not all okay. Failing that, to call Lifeline and seek assistance there.

I also asked her questions; who she was, what she loved, where she was, talk to me. I wanted to know about her life, about the things that warmed her heart and ignited her soul; to focus on her passions instead of the darkness within her, all the while encouraging her to seek professional help.

This is how I found out that she resembled a red-haired Kathy/Sa5m with a delightfully naughty grin.

This is how I found out about her love of photography and art, and her obvious skill in both areas.

This is how I got to know who she was and what made her tick and smile and laugh and cry and feel all gooey.

…but now this lying hurts too much…

All this from just emails, a few MSNs and the need of two lonely people to feel as if someone cared about us. Two people who seemed so alike, whose experiences had been so similar, who had known agony and loss and the exquisite incomprehensible link between pleasure/pain and life/death. There was a reason we’d found each other, there had to be.

…And I don’t know what for…

So why, I’m sure you’re asking, if you got on so well did you not meet? Well, there’s the rub, the further irony, for she lived in Australia – Sydney to be exact. Whereas at the time I was 15000 miles away in the Highlands of Scotland.

So why, I’m sure you’re asking, if you got on so well, and were so concerned, did you not get help for her? Well, I tried. I only had an email address – she wouldn’t give me her phone or snail mail. Plus, I’m not Willow; blogs, HTML, websites and porn – sure, we can all do that – but hacking? Sorry, my skills and ethical code prevent me from doing this.

I did what little  I could; all I could think to do. I talked, communicated, offered support, all those things that had eaten away over of the guilt of Grace and Rachel. Here, now, with Stephanie, I had a chance to make up for the mistakes of my past. Slowly, I thought I was getting through to her.

And then…nothing.

And then…still nothing.

And then…even more nothing.

I began checking my emails less, threw myself deeper into job hunting and self-harm and Wire in the Blood and had to stop watching during the last scene of “Hole in the Heart” because the silence from Steph was deafening my mind.

I’d hoped she was on holiday.

I’d hoped she was in hospital.

I’d hoped she was happy.

Getting laid.

Getting hugs.

Getting kisses and bum squeezes and tickles.

But she wasn’t.

I found out after nearly three weeks of silence that I’d failed (yet) again; that Stephanie had hung herself.

…How could I be such a fool to think that there was anything that your love could bring to my life to my eyes what I wanna see that I wanted your love to belong to me…

It was my fault. I was responsible. I should have saved her. Through writing a blog she had chanced upon me, me, who she had asked for help, me, who had failed to stop her, me, the failure. Maybe if I’d never written this bloody blog in the first place she would still be alive; snapping photos, cracking smiles and relishing her love in the forgotten, bizarre, banal and sad?

…but I’ll stand if you want me to…

In June, I returned to Australia. The UK wasn’t my home any more, I knew that, I’d always known that. For the first time I flew into Sydney and wondered what it would have been like had Stephanie still been alive; would she have wanted to meet me? I took time to visit her favourite pieces in the National Gallery, moseyed the gardens and saw her reflection everywhere I walked. I took time to sit on a bench she’d loved and anecdoted about. I took time to walk over the bridge at night, stare into the icy depths, and question why I hadn’t succeeded in taking my own life yet.

When I visited her grave I sat for hours, thinking of her, of Rachel and the many souls lost to this despicable scourge.

I hated neither Rachel or Steph for what they’d done; I hate myself for not helping them. I didn’t blame them for being selfish; I blamed myself for not being there for them. They were in pain and I’d let them down.

The world had let them down.

A world where helplines must be paid for, where GPs charge over $60 and medicine and psychologists enter into the realm of extortion.

A world where there’s a blanket ban on ever talking about the dreaded ‘S’ word; where empathy is a swear word, it’s meaning forgotten.

A world where work, status, money, expensive jeans, over priced restaurants, fat cat politicians, alcohol and self – the increasingly omnipresent “me” – take precedence over the raw emotion we all as humans feel.

A world that needs to change, with immediate effect.

…my legs are strong and I’ll move on but honey I’m weak in the knees for you…

~ Coda ~

This year marked the third anniversary of Stephanie’s death. As I do every year to commemorate the day I cracked open a bottle of wine and toasted her life. I thought of the MSN chats we used to have; discussing everything from how shit she thought Sydney was to Conan Doyle to Samboy vs Smiths to her dreams. All the desires that burned away inside her that had become so hard for her to believe in.

As I drank in her honor I asked myself whether all the guilt I’d carried for those three years was warranted?

Shortly after first posting this back in 2009 I had a conversation with my dad. I hadn’t told him of Stephanie or what had happened for, over the years, I’ve learned to bottle up the pain and deal with alone. During that conversation he told me that it wasn’t my fault, that I shouldn’t blame myself for what had happened. If anything, I should be proud of myself for at least trying to do something when her friends had pushed her aside out of fear of her depression.

He told me something I’ve never forgotten; that talking to me during the last weeks of her life may have brought her some of the happiness that she’d been missing. That even though she took her own life, at least there had been some joy in her final weeks on this Earth.

When I sipped on that wine back in May, I was thinking not only of this but of the happiness she’d brought my life during those weeks. It is shallow comfort, to be certain. There is nothing more I would like than to know she is out there somewhere, dazzling Flickr and Facebook with her photographic take on the world, smiling her naughty grin and living the life she deserved.

I will always blame myself for her death. Just as I will always punish myself for not being there for Rachel, or Grace or any of the other people I’ve let down over the years. Whether this is good or bad it’s part of who I am, part of my highly sensitive soul, and there’s nothing anyone can do to alleviate this eternal grief.

Every year thousands of people die needless deaths because of the silence that hangs over suicide. A silence we should all be ashamed of. A silence I refused to be a part of.

For a brief few weeks I brought laughter and warmth to Stephanie’s life. A life that would never have ended had she not been shamed into silence by society’s obsession with cowering away from this issue. I tried to do something, however small.

And every year, when I crack open that bottle of wine, I will drink to this.

And to a unique woman who will never be forgotten.

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.

Today I am thinking of Stephanie and Rachel. Of Gareth and Malcolm. Of all the people I’ve known whose lives ended before their time. Today I am doing what little I can to break the silence and shatter the stigma over suicide.

What are you doing today?

If you are feeling suicidal please contact your local help line (in Australia, Lifeline 13 11 14) or emergency health services. There is always someone who cares and you never have to deal with this alone.

Stay strong, there is always hope in the world.

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One thought on “World Suicide Prevention Day: Stephanie; her grace, my guilt

  1. Pingback: World Suicide Prevention Day: Breaking the silence « All that I am, all that I ever was…

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