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  • A letter to... my friend, who took his own life

    Every year, more than 800,000 people globally die by suicide, and it is the biggest killer of men under 45. For World Suicide Prevention Day on 10 September, Helen Fear addresses the friend who found life too much...


    • 07 Sep 2017

    Dear Andrew,

    It’s been eight years since we last spoke. On Wednesday 21 October 2009, you took your own life. You decided you didn't want to stick around in a world you didn’t want to be a part of anymore. You were 37, but by far the wisest man I knew.

    I will never forget the gut-wrenching moment I read the news in my inbox. Your friend had found you – I’m unsure how I’d have coped in the same situation – and had the painful task of telling those who cared about you that you’d gone.

    iStock

    If I close my eyes, I am transported right back to the exact moment the news sunk in – the need to be somewhere else howling with grief, not at work surrounded by colleagues. It was an otherwise mundane day. I was staying late and it was around 7pm that the email arrived – and it broke my heart. I know those words are over-used, but that’s exactly how it felt. Something inside me ripped. After years of battling depression, or ‘the black dog’ as you called it, you had finally decided to lay down your heavy burden.

    The seconds felt like hours as I slowly rose from my seat, my brain throbbing against my skull with the news, careful not to collapse with emotion at my desk. I didn’t want anyone to see me lose my mind with grief. Locking the toilet door behind me, I immediately vomited and let the tears flow in gasping sobs.

    I returned to my desk, carried on working, and saved the rest of my tears for when I got home. Ridiculous now I think about it, but I knew it was too late to change the outcome. I couldn’t ask you ‘why?’, because I suddenly realised that I already knew.

    Just hours before, you’d updated your profile photo on Facebook to the Looney Tunes logo – 'That’s All Folks'. So typical of you to make a macabre joke. The previous day, as part of your meticulously planned goodbye, you’d sent me an email, saying: 'Wrap your arms around your chap when you get home, and tell him how you love him. Do it every day.' I hate myself that I didn't reply in time, but I couldn't see it then – that those were your last words to me.

    I am almost ashamed to admit that I have never asked your family how you committed suicide. Selfishly, I don’t want that image of you in my head. I want to remember you as the intelligent, feisty, cheeky, mischievous and caring rock music fan I had met in my teens and been friends with ever since. An old soul, who loved cats as much as I did. Other people? Not so much.

    Your mum was so brave, how could I not be, too? She comforted me by saying that you were where you wanted to be. You found life too much, and would not want anyone to grieve for too long.

    I'm a fixer by nature, and the 'strong one' people turn to – but I couldn't help you. Perhaps no one could have. You never tried to hide your mental illness from me, but if I'm honest, you wore it on your face every day. You were always an over-thinker – your mind never stopped. Being a bit of a loner, having brains and red hair, made you ‘different’ from your peers. Bullied relentlessly at school, you withdrew into yourself. At 12, you saw a psychiatrist for the first time and took medication on and off for years. You fought so hard to be well. Until you got tired of fighting.

    Few realised how caring you were under the dyed black hair and barbed comments. The world news, any injustice – it drove you to distraction. When your partner of 15 years left you for someone else, it was the final trigger. But no one can blame her.

    Andrew in 2003
    Andrew in 2003

    A week before you left us, you tried to get an appointment with a psychiatrist, but were told by your GP you weren’t ‘ill enough’. Do I blame the GP? Maybe. The system? Yes. And the world? Just a bit. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 – a horrifying statistic – and more needs to be done to support men who are suffering, often, in silence. My only consolation is that you can't see what is happening in the world right now. I can imagine the expletives from here.

    I miss you, Andrew, every day. I wish I’d told you more often how amazing I thought you were, and that you really were a one-off. You would hate any soppy sentimentality, of course, and it’s too late to insist and pull you in tight for a hug. Instead, I will put on Nirvana’s The Man Who Sold The World as loud as my stereo will allow and imagine we are at Ziggy’s nightclub in 1993, dancing together and spilling our cheap cider. Because that is where you’ll always be to me.

    Your friend,
    Helen

    If you need to speak to someone, you can call the Samaritans at any time on 116 123 or email [email protected] For more information, visit NHS.uk.