This year I bit the bullet and entered this little blog into the Digital Champion category of the Mind Media Awards.
I have taken part in shortlisting panels for the awards for the past three years in a three different categories, so I was all too aware of the challenge of narrowing the entries down from the the longlist of 25-30 entries to the final shortlist of 4 or 5. Needless to say, I was delighted that my blog made it to the final four nominees in the Digital Champion category.
I got myself mentally ready for the ceremony, and for the possibility of winning, or not winning, an award which centred around the trauma of being bereaved by suicide. I sorted the logistics of attending, invited my guests, arranged childcare and booked train tickets. It was a muddle of emotions – pride and excitement, nerves and reticence. When the night arrived and I sat in the auditorium with my husband, parents, sister and best friend, I thought about what had brought me to that point – the sadness and pain, but also the unlikely positives which might have emerged from Ian’s death.
Even writing that sentence feels uncomfortable, so I feel I need to clarify at this point. Of course, it goes without saying that within a heartbeat I would turn back the clock, have Ian back and have him well, be the middle sibling again and live life alongside him. I will always feel an ache for this which will never change or disappear; I have learnt and accepted that my grief and I are one and the same, and we grow and progress together. For me, then, there is a huge, jarring disconnect between my sense of wanting to be forever loyal to Ian and his memory, and in tentatively admitting that some positive things could have come from his death. It feels horribly disloyal and difficult to do so. But as I sat waiting for the awards to begin I was forced to admit that I had achieved something I could be proud of as a direct result of Ian dying, that this was a positive thing, and that I could feel OK about it.
In the year after Ian died I began to realise that writing was a far easier way for me to express my feelings and to communicate them to others. I had developed something of a phobia of the phone which remains to this day. I think this stems back to when Ian’s mental health first began declining; he would ring me a lot, and at times I found I needed to steel myself to answer when I saw his name appear on the phone. I would often let it ring and wait for him to leave a message, so that I could assess how the land lay and have a couple of minutes to prepare for the conversation. Although I didn’t really process it at the time, over the years these phone calls caused me a lot of anxiety and made me somewhat fearful of talking on the phone. I still find phone calls hard, and at times I know I actively avoid them, particularly when feeling low or anxious. This was a very prominent issue in the initial years after Ian died and I frequently felt unable to speak to people on the phone. I found it so exhausting and the feelings were often too complex to verbalise. I had lots of friends and family who lived a distance away, so it was at this point I resorted to writing instead. Sometimes I would write huge long emails to friends rather than speak, and I found I was expressing myself with far greater ease and clarity than I could by talking. It also felt incredibly therapeutic for me to write, and every single word that I got on paper helped me.
This led me to do something about an idea I had had in my mind for ages, and I finally put fingertips to keyboard and began the novel I had wanted to write for years. It took me years to complete, as I could only write in the evenings and occasional hours of downtime found amid family life and work, but I do now have a finished book which I am proud of. The basic premise of the story had been in my head for years before Ian’s death, but the experience of losing him informed the writing enormously, and added depth to something which might have been rather more one-dimensional without my lived experience. I could spend hours in an evening losing myself in a new world of characters who somehow managed to translate my anguish. Writing became a very important part of my therapy and well-being, helping me to process, understand and fundamentally feel some control over what was happening.
Alongside writing the novel, in early 2015 I signed up for a fundraising trek in aid of Mind and began training. I began my blog in the hope that it would keep me focused if I committed to writing about my progress each week. The blog, unsurprisingly, turned into further documentation of my grief and the anxiety and depression which consumed me at times. Part of the training necessarily involved me reflecting on my reasons for fundraising, and these themes began weaving themselves into the writing which had started as a journal about preparing to climb mountains. Blogging became an impulse, and I found that I would get ‘itchy fingers’ as my need to get things down in writing became greater and greater. Once the trek was over, this need did not wain and I continued to find huge benefit in blogging. And so the blog morphed into more general pieces about mental health, suicide and my situation. Sometimes I wonder if I will ever run out of things to say and topics to write about – I would never want to feel pressured to write and I would never want to write for the sake of it. Somehow, however, new issues continue to come up regularly which I feel compelled to write about.
And so, as I sat with my loved ones in the auditorium I felt a sense of gratitude that I have found an outlet which helps me so much, and which without the experience of losing Ian I probably would never have fully discovered or pursued. It was an inspiring and uplifting evening. In the four years that I have attended the Media Awards, the most powerful moments have always been when people with lived experience speak about how they have used this to create their media pieces. The context, emotion and feeling behind the work always increases its power and resonance with others. This year, the winner of the Digital Champion award was a blog which addresses the heavily stigmatised diagnosis of borderline personality disorder by a woman who lives with the condition. It is a truly powerful, helpful and beautifully written resource which comes from the heart and soul of its writer. I highly recommend a read, you can find it at talkingaboutbpd.co.uk.
First and foremost, the heart of my blog and its importance to me will always be as a therapeutic outlet. I have found a way of addressing and managing my feelings through writing and this has allowed me to be empowered. In that sense my blog is not purely altruistic or purely concerned with helping others and society in general. It comes from a deep personal need, and I am proud of being able to admit that. If anyone else reads my blog and it helps them as an individual, or if in a more general sense it works towards challenging stigma around suicide and discussing the intricacies of anxiety and depression from a lived experience perspective, then I am very honoured and very pleased by this. To have had my writing recognised as being worthy of nomination for an award is a huge validation and confidence boost for me as an individual. To go back to my initial thoughts, it is something that I do not believe would have happened without the experience of being bereaved by suicide, living with anxiety and depression, and all that has happened both before and after Ian’s death. I feel through writing I have found a niche, an identity and something which I am good at. I am truly grateful for this unlikely gain which has come from so much pain and tragedy.