The Project That's Helping Us Move Forward After Our Friend's Suicide
December 13, 2014. I was on my way to a friend’s house for a night of pre-Christmas drinks/games, etc. I had a phone call come through as I was 30 seconds from the front door from my best friend’s brother’s phone. I answered and was met by their mum’s shaking voice. “We’ve had some bad news…” she managed to say. I prompted her to continue, as I had no idea how severe it was. At first I thought David (my friend’s brother) had been in an accident or something because she was using his phone to call. Then she said the three words that changed everything. “…Chris is dead.”
I had no response. I was on a busy street. I hadn’t even stopped walking. I was just being carried along by the foot traffic current. She then managed to tell me his flatmates had found him after a suicide in his room earlier that day. She wanted me to tell as many of our close friends as possible before it went on Facebook. I didn’t know what to say, and if I went back now, I don’t think I’d have any better ideas.
I got to my friend’s house and broke down on the front step. I got in and sat down and rang around. I managed to get through two calls before I had to stop. I felt numb. I didn’t know what was going on. I still wanted to carry on with the games and drinks plan, but everyone else looked at me as though I’d suggested some wild thing. To me it was just not real, and so it was just a case of “right, well, time for games…” After an hour or two of sitting on thoughts, I found out a few people were meeting up somewhere near our houses for a drink. Word had reached different circles by now, and the Facebook posts were starting to come in. We met up for a drink and a toast. It still didn’t feel real. The next day we went to visit his family. It didn’t feel real. A few days later I went to see his body. It didn’t feel real. The week after, we had his funeral. It didn’t feel real. Then Christmas. Then New Year. All of it, just completely numb.
Moving forward, there were times that it got difficult to accept. I’d go to ring him or walk to his house expecting him to be there. Whenever bands toured I’d send him a message only to later realize it wouldn’t get read.
There was no note, no noticeable change. He was always the one to make you laugh the most, always the one to make you do stuff you wouldn’t otherwise. Never has the phrase “life and soul of the party” been more appropriate. Nineteen years old is no age for someone to die, let alone by suicide, and with no answers to the questions I was left with, it became too easy to lose my own battles. Feelings of guilt started to creep in. What if I’d have gone to see him that night? What if I’d have sent him a message? What if I had picked up on things or just asked him if he was OK more often? The answer to all of these things have been told to me by people over and over again: It’s not your fault. But it’s difficult to lose sight of that when you have so many things to think about in your own head.
Chris and I were in a few bands over the years. I was on drums, and he played bass. He taught himself from scratch when we joined the first one, and three years later he was writing his own stuff, suggesting musical directions and influences for the band. We held a tribute night in a local venue we had a long history with. Our singer took up the bass for the show, and we had support from bands we had becomes friends with over the years. We sold out the show and raised over £1,200 to donate to different causes: two mental health charities and Chris’ Scout group. We had a recording done of the night and now have the CD and poster available to sell to raise more money.
But as I tried to move forward, it occurred to me that the only time I felt better about everything was organizing that event. It brought people together, family and friends and members of the Scout group, and we did something in Chris’ name for a good cause. An idea started to form about how I could help people in similar situations — not just to the ones Chris may have been in, but to those people left behind after someone leaves. The pain never goes, it just gets spread around, and sometimes grief gets sidelined and seen as a time-coded sadness. Grief opens the doors for all sorts of other problems: addiction, depression, anxiety, insomnia, etc.
The idea then started to form into a center where people could go and deal with mental health issues in a healthy environment. If you go to a doctor, sometimes symptoms may be misread, sometimes medication or therapy doesn’t work for people. Sometimes all people need is somewhere to go, a safe space away from home and work where they can maybe read a book, watch a film, learn a skill, and should they want to, talk to someone. Safe Space became the name of the project.
We are only just getting started. Our Facebook page only went live this week, and we have around 100 likes, but we have started Safe Space as an online community until we can raise the funds to open a physical center. The long term goal is to have a Safe Space in every city. It won’t be easy, and it won’t be quick, but if we get there then it will be so worth the effort. We encourage people to share their stories, find help and provide help to people if they can, as nobody is an expert in all areas of mental health. Different things work for different people, and we hope to help people find those things that help them and work with them to deal with their issues in a safe way.
If anybody is interested in any more information, or for details on how to donate, please visit us on Facebook.
We will soon have an email account and phone number for more direct enquiries, but for now please like us, share us, come talk to us, and help us help as many people as we can. We do it in Chris’ name, knowing that opening up is far greater than the alternative.
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Thinkstock photo by digital skillet