Tomorrow marks the first anniversary of my father’s suicide. Tomorrow is also World Mental Health Day.
The world after losing someone you love to suicide is a scary place. It loses its innocence, you confront an existential reality, and, if you’d been struggling to find purpose before, you question the purpose of life even more.
Suicide is not a death by choice; it is death by a perception of choice. The thoughts leading you to that moment is the depression. It’s the hopelessness, the helplessness and the worthlessness.
My dad came from a generation where mental health wasn’t as well understood. He grew up a ‘tough bloke’, a ‘footy bloke’ with the mentality ‘men don’t cry’, and in his world asking for help was considered weak.
I know my Dad would have harboured so many feelings of shame for how he was feeling. I know my dad didn’t recognise what he was struggling from was, in fact, mental illness.
If we were ever worried about Dad while he was stressing, and ask him if he was OK or suggest he go see someone, he’d respond with, “It’s OK, Gabby. I’ll be right, mate.”
It breaks my heart to know my Dad suffered alone and in silence. To this day, I can tell you, every single person who knew and loved my Dad, wishes he had just reached out for help.
Twelve months on, in no way do I think I’ve absorbed the totality of the loss. Twelve months on, in no way do I think I’ve handled my mental care in the best way possible.
I am still reeling in the fog of grief, but one year on I can see the importance of opening up conversations about suicide, breaking the silence and banishing the shame and stigma. This is why I hope sharing my Dad’s story might help others to recognise if someone close to them might be struggling, or encourage someone to reach out.
I am my father’s daughter. I share his determination, his tenacity, and drive. Unfortunately, I also share his self-criticism, depression, the stress and anxieties.
My Dad had always been a success. He’d been popular, with a wide circle of friends, was respected in business, a talented sportsman at rugby, a fantastic husband to my mum for 25 years, and a wonderful father. He’d given my sisters and me the best possible start in life we could have ever asked for.
Growing up, if one of my sisters or I fell over Dad would say, “No blood, no blood" and dust us off. His theory: no blood, no pain, no cry. I only ever saw him cry once or twice. “It’s OK, Gabby. I’ll be right, mate”.
Following the Global Financial Crisis he was made redundant, like so many others at the time. But my Dad, ever the entrepreneurial spirit, set off on a wide range of business ventures. Investing his heart, soul and energy into each one, always hopeful – “I think this one is going to make it, Gabby.” Each came so close to making it but, for whatever reason, simply didn’t.
In the last few months before we lost him there were a few telltale signs we thought were strange but later dismissed. He forgot to renew his diabetes medication. He became quieter. There was less, “I think it’s going to make it Gabby” and more, “It’s tough Gabby. Business is tough”. I remember one weekday morning he couldn’t get out of bed.
The morning before it happened I was working with Dad in the living room. He was distant and non-responsive. He wasn’t listening to his talkback radio. I remember thinking it was strange; he never worked without it on. I put it down to stress. Later that day I walked outside to get something from my car. I caught Dad standing still, looking down with his hands folded.