Image credit: Ruben Ortega
When I heard the news that my brother had ended his own life, I knew I would never be the same again. In the car journey to my family that night, in the midst of the feelings of shock, fear, sickness and confusion, there was something inside telling me that I had to step up, something that took over me and I knew I would have to be something that I had never been before.
One week later to the day, my sister passed away in hospital. After years of poor mental health and addiction to alcohol she died of alcoholic liver disease. By this time, I felt numb and exhausted and wanted to sleep. My light inside was dim, I had lost my spark and struggled to see the good in the world, nothing seemed to have any point to it anymore. And yet, that voice inside of me persisted to tell me that, in some way, this ugly, horrible challenge that I had been given had a purpose, and that I had to be something I had never been before.
My brother's and sister's death certificates will say that they died of 'asphyxiation' and 'liver disease', but what they really died of was deep unhappiness and a broken heart. They didn't know how to love themselves and couldn't see the good things they could bring to the world. If someone dies from cancer, we have something to blame, we say 'they lost their battle with cancer', but what battle did my brother and sister lose? A battle with themselves.
In the weeks after they died I felt times of deep sadness, mixed with anger, guilt and shame. Everyone has experienced loss and understands the feelings of grief and they would try to reassure me that I was not alone, but the pain of knowing that my big brother and sister could hurt themselves so badly left me feeling like the loneliest person in the world. I went to a support group for people bereaved by suicide SOBS as I was desperate to talk to people that I could relate to. And whilst it was comforting to be with people who had lost someone in similar circumstances, to share our stories and support each other, I often left there feeling like the way I saw the whole situation was radically different to theirs. Seeing the people in the group was like watching a slow suicide in itself. It was heart breaking to see a mother who had lost her son believe she never deserved to be happy again and punish herself every time she smiled or laughed with her daughter. That is another person who is already dying of a broken heart and losing a battle with themselves. Even though I could totally relate to the feelings of guilt and self-punishment that come with losing someone to suicide, and questioned how I could ever allow myself be truly happy again, I never lost hope that I could take this tragic situation and use it to fuel something positive for myself and the people around me. I also knew that to remember my brother and sister at their best and keep their light shining I had to allow my light to shine even brighter.
Since then, I can honestly say I have never felt more alive. By alive, I don't mean happy and positive all the time, but a real appreciation for all my experiences and other people's. When I'm sad I allow myself to be sad, when I see something beautiful I get excited and take pictures of it, when I have a problem or I'm worrying about something I remind myself what I have already survived and I don't take it so seriously. In the last three years I have had more courage, perseverance and appetite for life than ever before. I have been bolder in my business, taking risks and challenging myself to do stuff that scares me like public speaking and podcasting, because I know that I have an important message to share. I love my friends and family a little bit harder and appreciate them more. My work coaching young people to be happier and healthier now has a deeper meaning. When I see a teenager struggling with the pressure of schoolwork, or friendships, or they don't believe in themselves, I teach them to become their own best friend. If we can learn to love ourselves everything else gets a little bit easier. My work has been my healing. By showing others that it takes courage to choose happiness, it challenges me not to fall into the black hole where I could die of a broken heart too.
That voice inside of me the night my brother died is my bright light. It's the wise one I choose to listen to now, it's one of my best friends. The other voice that tells me 'I don't deserve to be happy', I just can't hang out with anymore, it dims my light and everyone else's too. We've all got a bright shiny light inside of us, unfortunately sometimes it's dressed in the most hideous of outfits that we just have to strip off.
If anything I have said resonates with you, I'm glad. It's taken me a long time to say it and I don't have it all figured out myself, but I hope that whatever you are struggling with, that you remember you have the courage and strength to choose happiness and you owe that to yourself and everyone else around you too.