September 11th is tomorrow. It will be the eighth anniversary of Ian’s suicide.
In the run up to September 11th this year, Ian has of course occupied my mind. I have thought about him; the twinkle in his eye which often masked sadness, the silly jokes and the heavy conversations, the squabbles and the resolutions. I have recalled the pain and the love and the sadness and the guilt, and I have lived those last days again.
September 11th is a date the world remembers. It is loaded with meaning and emotion and ongoing impact. This year in particular, I have found myself thinking about the state of the world and how this can impact on anxiety and depression. It is my belief that it is not a total coincidence that Ian took his own life on September 11th, 2011 – the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. While I don’t think that he did anything so premeditated as deliberately waiting for this date, I do think that it could have been a factor in his feelings of anguish on that day. I certainly think that it is a painful comment on his feelings of helplessness. I have mentioned in previous blogs that when we cleared his belongings in the weeks after he died, we found newspaper clippings and articles about the 9/11 attacks, collected from the days and years after they occurred. A few months before he died he visited Ground Zero and spoke about the effect this had on him. At other times in life Ian expressed anxiety about the state of the world – at the times of the 7/7 attacks and the London riots. He spoke about finding it difficult to watch the news at points, because it caused him so much worry, fuelling his anxiety and lowering his mood. It made him feel that the world was a dark, hostile and frightening place and that any small contribution he could give was irrelevant and insignificant.
At the times when he was having these very deep and consuming worries, there was a part of me which privately felt that Ian just needed to stop thinking so widely. I could understand his anxiety around his social situation, his career and finding a relationship because those things directly impacted on him day to day. I suppose that, up until recently, I could never empathise with the reasons and the ways that his world views affected his every day life, mood and mental health. However, in the past year I have begun feeling some similar existential anxiety. At this point, eight years after his death, I feel I can empathise with Ian’s feelings about the state of the world.
At the moment the world feels like a dark place. I have found the rise of far-right populism, compounded by the chaos of Brexit and by racism masked in concern about immigration, to be an utterly terrifying state of affairs. Before, during and after the 2016 referendum, my personal viewpoint has firmly been that of remainer, but my fear about the potential anger and vitriol which could manifest if we do not leave the EU is almost becoming more of a focus than my own views. This makes me angry and sad, as I know that I am somehow allowing fear to win. Climate change is an issue which we face as a global community and which feels too big to battle. It feels that a catastrophe has unfolded which we have waited too long to remedy, and which is now bigger than all of humanity. I worry daily about my children and the world they are growing up in; how we will negotiate the complexities of social media and the darker side of the internet as they approach secondary school, how I can protect them while still nurturing their resilience, and how on earth I can secure their happiness in a world which is so full of sadness and pain. Knife crime – hate crime – a mental illness epidemic – poverty – war – extremism – sometimes it just feels too much.
I know that these feelings are probably piqued for me at the moment as I remember Ian and both the deeply personal and the global significance of the date of his death. How will I get through the anniversary tomorrow and try to ensure some perspective on these very active anxieties?
I have a plan.
First of all, I will hold Ian tight in my heart and focus on all the contributions he made to the world; on all the patients he helped at work, all the happiness he gave to his friends and family, and the way he lived out his values in his life.
Then, I will go to work and do my job as a nurse. I will try to consciously remind myself that the only things in life we can possibly control are our own actions and values, and I will live out my values and try to add some extra kindness to my own small world. I will try to consciously notice the multitude of good things which I will see and hear and be a part of, instead of focusing on a global picture over which I have very little influence.
This has to be enough, for me and for everyone. Whilst it is so hard to quash anxiety in these current, turbulent times, the weight of the world must not blind us to the abundant goodness which is also present.
Rest in peace, Ian. I miss you every single day. xx