It’s impossible to describe how it feels to lose a parent. When you hear of other people’s losses, you have an idea in your head of what it might feel like. You imagine more often than not that initial sickening, explosive feeling when you find out they have gone. But nothing can prepare you for finding a way to cope with the longevity of losing someone who, from birth, has played such an enormous part in your life.
My dad and I were always incredibly close. We shared the same silly sense of humour, both sociable and talkative, we loved sport and going walking. As a family, our getaways were often to the Lake District or, as I got older, to craggy parts of Ireland to climb mountains. Before I was a teenager I had already climbed the highest mountains in Wales and Ireland.
When my friend told me this year that she was going to be doing the Three Peaks Challenge on the 25th June a shiver went down my spine. My dad had once completed the Three Peaks (the highest mountains in Scotland, England and Wales within 24 hours) and on the 25th June, six years ago, he took his life.
He battled a mental illness for 18 months before he brought it to an end in 2011. But despite how my dad’s life ended, he was, and still remains, the most positive person I have ever known. Always upbeat, he loved to sing, crack jokes, act the fool. A sociable and out-going bloke with so many friends, a loving husband, dad and grandad. He was all the proof anyone needed that mental illness can happen to anyone.
I don’t think you’ll ever know the exact reasons why someone commits suicide, there are so many factors. From things that are happening in the here and now, to past memories, experiences and years of suppressed emotions.
Like cancer, mental health does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich, poor, from a caring family or had an unloved childhood. Mental health is a real and all consuming disease.
I was seven months pregnant when I lost my dad. The birth of my son was the best and the worst time of my life. My sister had a one-year-old boy. We were all totally heart broken, but I knew that for my dad to end his life on the sunniest of days, he was without question in the most darkest of places.
For over a year my dad suffered with insomnia, he also developed tinnitus. Soon after these conditions developed he had what he said felt like an explosion in his head. It got worse after that. We had MRI scans, saw counsellors, he was put on medication, which was regularly changed by his doctors.
I have never felt any bitterness or anger over what my dad did, I wish beyond anything that I could change what happened, but I can’t. I have learnt to live with it and I think it has made me become a more understanding person. But the one thing I will always be incensed by is the lack of help and support we received from the psychiatric doctors and hospitals. What also made it difficult is that for many people, particularly of my dad’s generation, mental health is a silent disease. My dad felt ashamed and embarrassed about what was happening to him, and so we promised him that we would keep it a secret from our friends and family.
This stigma has to change, the “what have they got to be depressed about?” question has to be stamped out, because for whatever reasons it happens to 1 in 4 of us. Both my brother and sister have suffered from depression, and what is important to realise is that you are never alone, there is help out there and talking about it breaks down the walls of stereotypes.
After I lost my dad I always knew that at some point I would want to do something to raise awareness for mental health.
Until that meaningful moment when my friend told me about the Three Peaks I hadn’t felt ready. At that juncture the signs were all there that I had to take on this challenge too.
Exercise has always helped me to let off steam and I have loved training for the Three Peaks with my daughter on my back. After my son and the loss of my dad, my husband and I struggled to conceive for two and a half years. Following a miscarriage, and at a point when I was starting to lose every ounce of hope, I finally fell pregnant. The due date that they gave me was my dad’s birthday, the 8th July. Just five per cent of babies are born on their due date, my baby girl was born on the 8th July.
It seems only right that she has been the one in my backpack, pushing me up the hills just like my dad did. It has always been his voice in my head that encourages me to keep going, push through. His positivity that tells me to believe in myself, to try again.
I completed the challenge on the delayed date of the 2 July 2017 (due to weather conditions) and raised £1,000 for Heads Together. It was a proud but emotional moment. To walk in my dad's footsteps and know I couldn't share my experiences of the challenge with him.
Since then, I have launched the MAMA Life London clothing brand to shine a light to mental health issues. To become a network of support that encourages mamas to talk about their mental health, and to help others understand and know how to support friends or family who are suffering.
This blog was first published by The Huffington Post.
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