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How Music Saved Me After My Mom Died by Suicide

In the days after my mom died by suicide, I spent many desperate hours scouring the internet for stories of others hit by the same unthinkable tragedy. How did they survive it? How did they find the strength to continue with their lives in the aftermath? Would I ever come close to smiling again, or move past the images burned into my brain — memories of the days leading up to that devastating decision, which could never be undone?

For me, that was the worst part. I couldn’t go back and make it right. Nobody could. We were stuck with it — cursed with this awful reality for life. Was life even worth living anymore for those of us left behind?

As I read through stories of other “survivors,” I found some comfort in their words — words which suggested it can get better and easier to bare … in time. Eventually, you will come to a stage of acceptance and find peace with the way it all played out. Such pretty sentiments, but I didn’t believe them at the time … not really.

The weight of my grief was so intense, I could never imagine it even beginning to fade. I was grieving for my mom, but also for me, because in my head, I honestly thought my life was over, too. The person who I was before was gone, and all that remained was a shell of a person, debilitated with anxiety, depression, shock and even guilt. I should have saved her, and now this was my punishment — a punishment I deserved. I should never have left her that day, because now, she’d left me in the most devastating way and thrust me into her place. And then I was angry. How could she do that? My thoughts became bitter, and all the nastiest, saddest emotions twisted themselves together inside my head and made me hate the person I became.

I began to have thoughts of suicide myself, and convinced myself it would be better for everyone, including me, if I wasn’t around anymore. I was no use to anyone, and I thought I’d never be able to function again, let alone smile, laugh or sing — something which was a big passion of mine before the world came crumbling down.

I wasn’t even a nice person to be around anymore. Even I didn’t want to be around myself, and that is quite the predicament. I just wanted to disappear. I wanted peace — sleep of the forever kind just like my mom did…

However, in reality, I couldn’t even snatch a moment’s peace no matter how hard I tried. Insomnia crept in and tossed me down into my own private hell, one where I fantasized about having the courage to throw myself in front of a moving lorry, or down from some great height.

The thoughts were very real and they felt like they were dissolving me from the inside out — a mad obsession — a sick and unnatural impulse which had snuck inside my brain and ate away like a parasite.

When these thoughts set in, I knew I had to get help, or end in the same fate as my mom, so I phoned for an ambulance. The next day, I was put into a mental health facility in Bradford — over 100 miles from home. I stayed for three weeks. I just wanted to feel safe, and I did there for a while, as they started me on antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication.

I remember taking my first benzodiazepine. It was the first time I’d felt any kind of relief in what seemed like forever. I begged for it every night as the insomnia returned with a vengeance, along with the desperate shrieks of other patients in the facility. One woman paced the corridors all night muttering to herself in an eastern European language I didn’t understand, and another shouted the same thing over and over — words which I heard clear as day in the dead of night. “You either get on with your life or you die.” I didn’t know what she meant by that exactly, but inside the institution, I had a lot of time to sit and think about it.

There were a few suicide attempts during the time I was there. Thankfully, not my own. I realized I didn’t really want to die. I just didn’t know how to live under the weight of what had happened.

I wished we could go back to a world before suicide, and I could smile again and make simple jokes. I wished I wasn’t carrying this concrete block around inside my head. But for me, life had stopped and I envied the existence of others carrying on with their (comparatively) carefree existence. If only they knew … I was one of those people once, but that was in the past.

I remember showing one of my YouTube videos to another girl in the facility one day, and she looked at me in disbelief. “Is that you?” she asked. “Really?” She just couldn’t believe it was me with all that sparkle and confidence on screen. Looking back at myself in the mirror, neither could I.

I was proud of that girl singing her songs and smiling away with abandon, but she was no longer me, and I made peace with the fact I’d probably never make another music video like that ever again. I could hardly breathe, let alone sing due to my anxiety, and the trauma had taken a toll on my confidence, and my looks. I was nothing now and I accepted my fate. In my head, I probably deserved it.

But back home, my partner convinced me to try again. I knew deep down he was right. Even if it was just to make him happy at the time. And to prove to myself I was still worth the air I breathed.

I knew I had to try to hold onto something, or run the risk of completely fading away. So, I took my benzodiazepine and began the process of doing my hair and putting on my makeup — trying to make something of what was left.

But staring back at myself in the mirror, it was as clear as day. The sparkle was gone and I hated what I saw. I couldn’t fake it. I was completely dead behind the eyes and tired. So, so tired.

However, somehow, I put myself in front of the camera and performed a powerful song called “Pedestal,” one which I was very proud of. This would be my swan song, I told myself — my last show of strength for the world, before I ended it. “Maybe it’s not suicide if you’re already dead on the inside?” I reasoned.

The reaction to the song, however, was more than I expected. It was probably more than anybody else expected, come to think of it, considering the circumstances. Maybe the nice words were all out of sympathy my negative mind told me, but as the comments rolled in, it felt good to know I still had something left to give, something worth sharing. And moreover, I had unfinished business. I was definitely more useful alive than dead, that much is true. In the end, what did I have to lose?

I was just two songs into constructing my new album “Sideshow,” when my mom died. And when the tragedy hit, it was sidelined. All hope of completing it vanished into ashes as soon as I heard the news. In my head, I never thought I’d find the strength to finish it, let alone start recording again.

But there was one song I’d written, which really resonated with me and with how I was feeling. It played over and over in my head as I lie awake at night, and it wouldn’t let me go. And so tentatively, I stepped back behind the mic. This song needed to be sung, and I needed to sing it for my mom with everything I had — even if it was the last thing I did. It was a piano ballad about a woman struggling to find her way out of the dark, the labyrinth of her own mind. I’d written it about myself a couple of years before, but now it belonged to my mom. I called it “Lady Labyrinth.”

And there behind the mic is where the healing started, pouring purpose back into my life and singing my own sadness and my own pain.

I finished one song, and then agreed to try another, until I finally felt strong enough to sing the more happy and upbeat numbers we had planned. I could never have contemplated singing them in the depths of my depression — with all their vigor and vibrant energy. That’s how I knew I was getting better. I won’t pretend other things like antidepressants and meditation didn’t play a part in my recovery. They helped enormously.

But as the eight songs of  “Sideshow” came together, it was like putting back together some of the pieces of my life. It gave me back some control in a world where nothing’s for certain, and it made me feel strong to know I had something inside, something to share, that no one could take away. In the depths of my despair, “Sideshow” was an island to swim to when I felt like going under, a solid focus which kept me grounded and on the planet at a time when I’d have rather have been anywhere but. And when all’s said and done, I’m glad I stayed.

Now, I am sharing this story to add to the bulk of suicide survivor stories already out there, in the hope someone will be scouring the internet in the depths of their grief and despair just like I did, trying to find answers to the questions … will it get better? How do you survive something like this and will I ever smile again? Is life even worth living?

I hope they might stumble across my story, and my words can bring them some comfort and hope. I’m sure some will scoff at the sentiments, the pretty promise of recovery, just as I did, sentiments about time and healing which seem way too good to be true. But these words are true. I know because they’re mine. I lived it and came out the other side, and you will, too. Trust time and hold on tight. Find an island where you can stop and rest when it gets too much. Even though it might not seem like it now, things do get better. You can smile again, you can be one of “those” people again and enjoy life as you did before.

I won’t pretend the tragedy of suicide won’t always be there in the back of your mind, but it will fade away from the forefront. Suicide changes those of us left behind. It certainly changed me. Two years on, I have an album born out of grief, but also one that represents strength and recovery. I’ll always have a longing for what was lost, but also a new outlook on life, a respect for myself and an inner strength which I never knew was possible.

Photo from Louise Steel Music’s Facebook page