World Suicide Prevention Day

For World Suicide Prevention Day. An extract from the book I’ve spent far too long writing, about my father’s suicide and life after it.

It’s a chunk about going to visit him at Runwell Hospital, the ‘loony bin’ we all used to laugh about when we were cruel kids who knew nothing about sadness, which I never envisaged having to visit one day. It’s shut now. Houses have been built there. People’s bedrooms occupy the same air as dormitories once did, people chop vegetables for their children where men played out their most depraved acts. The ghosts of broken minds are everywhere.

It occurred to me, in Runwell’s absence, and presumably the closure of other hospitals around the country, with people struggling to see counsellors quickly enough on the NHS, and not everyone able to take themselves off to places like the Priory, that there is going to be a growing chasm between our emotional intelligence and literacy on the subject of mental health, depression, and suicide, and our ability to seek or encourage professional help. The topic of depression has never been spoken about so candidly as it is today, too late for my father, but its free clinical treatment, due to cuts, may stop being an automatic kindness. Mental health, just as we get really get good at talking about it, might become a luxury item on the NHS’s brochure. A privatised habit. Having a therapist might be as unattainable to the normal person as buying Louis Vuitton luggage for all-occasions. People might not be able to afford to overcome their depression ahead of their suicidal urges. They will talk about it less.  They will feel more alone. Things will happen.

We really are and will continue to be even more reliant on ourselves to feel able to speak up when we feel low. Reliant on the mental health climate on social media – a dangerous melting pot full of false experts as much as it is a common comfort – to foster a place for us to be able to express or to read things which may be helpful. Reliant on loved ones to somehow find a way to see through the opaque strangeness of depression to the possible risks of suicide, and to feel compelled, strong, and equipped enough to reach out. It can be a scary subject to broach with someone. So big; so few concrete answers. The fear of risking further harm by talking. But it really could make the difference between someone living and dying.

My father phoned me a few days before he took his own life. Left a voicemail. I was busy, and we’d had problems the few months before which left me less quick to respond than usual. I was tired and sad. He was a difficult controlling man, who never spoke about being bi-polar (manic depressive as it was called then) because it was shameful to him. He hid it very well. I never listened to the voicemail, a weekend passed, and then he was gone, and so was the voicemail. They didn’t hang around long in those days; they got bumped off the phone as new stuff came in. I will never know what he said, it may have just been a seemingly meaningless hello, his way of saying goodbye without stirring suspicion.  I will never know whether my response, even if just a cheery hello, could have stopped him doing what he did. I don’t blame myself, I believe after years of analysing every tiny detail he left behind that he wanted to go and would have done it anyway. But at times, at night, the what ifs are mountains to be trekked over before I can carry on the next day.

I don’t know how you stop someone from ending their own life. I didn’t get a chance to try and I don’t know what I would have done if my father had felt able to voice his thoughts feelings and fears to me. I like to think an inner wisdom would have kicked in simply because I loved him and surely that should be enough. I like to think I would have made a difference. I like to think he would have stayed.

Talk. Let people talk. Never think that the more demonstrable behaviours of depression are needy, attention-seeking, or inconvenient. Sometimes they are the precursors to quiet and private behaviour, the more dangerous times, when people get lost down the cracks.

 

***

Spring, 2003

I’ll be honest – I’d never, even in my maddest dreams, imagined ever having to help my father escape from a loony bin.

It was perhaps that day, there in the mental hospital now playing home to the man I most admired, that I began to suspect something had gone seriously amiss. Perhaps I should have noticed it sooner, but reality cracks open slowly in some people like an egg left to boil, firming up unseen on the inside before breaking the shell apart. And so it was only as we were scurrying like runaway rats through the carpark to his Volvo, (me with the added image of being wrestled to the ground into a straitjacket, screaming “I’m just visiting, you bastards – it’s him that’s bonkers”), that I thought to myself: “Crumbs. It’s all gone a bit…odd; Life.” Yes, sometimes it takes a while to realise these things, and sometimes you only get around to it when you’re summoned to an asylum on a Sunday afternoon.

I remember the particulars of my visit in random snatches of varying degrees of import. Non-existent is the memory of the news he’d admitted himself a few days before. Blurry is the telephone call Dad made to get me there. Blurrier the journey there. Less blurry is standing in the hospital conservatory, surveying his face for change. Less blurry still is waiting for him to somehow reassure me that despite this unexpected new development, everything was going to be okay.

Dad wanted to go to the pub. It seemed churlish to deny him. He suggested the plan in a low voice and then steered me to the glass doors, all the time talking like we might just be going for a stroll around the grounds. We kept going, his eyes down at his feet, out and round to the car park, to the Volvo. I asked no questions, just matched his gathering pace. He unlocked the car and we slid in, slammed quietly. I fastened my seatbelt, aware of the irony that we had just scarpered rather gracelessly out of a place called Runwell.

I didn’t ask him any questions. They always come too late as a rule, don’t they?

I don’t suppose Dad would ever have allowed me to visit him there at all, but he’d needed some things. I’d turned up at the hospital with a box hastily cobbled together to satisfy his list. My eyes bored into that box as I was led to the visitor’s lounge where he was waiting, and saw the tiled floor passing in squares. Ordered coolness. I lined up my feet with the grouting so I knew I was walking straight, because I wasn’t sure if I should look around me. I didn’t know the etiquette of this strange new place, and – more so than anything, I suppose – I was scared. I feel guilty for that. I guessed it was a safe ward as Dad wasn’t in there for psychotic sex murders or believing he was Satan’s hand-puppet, so I hoped that logically that meant he was on a ward of similarly harmless cases, but I still wasn’t sure. I was scared of what it all was, but more so, what it all meant.

I’d brought books (the diaries of Noel Coward I’d bought him one Christmas – I thought the charm might be a nice escape from communal farting), toiletries, and “something that smells nice, please”, which in this case was the Jean-Paul Gaultier he’d taken to wearing as an eccentric alternative to his Boots cologne.

Did Jean-Paul ever imagine, as he was climbing the ranks of the fashion industry – from his earliest days pricking his finger sewing his first rubber corset, through his catwalk debut to scandalous success, through then to the glory of Paris, France, the World – un range du parfum! – his iconic glass busts moving like unstoppable de Miloesque chess pieces, shunting onto the fragrance counters of the world, all his smooth boob-or-bollocked atomisers poised so that were we all to spritz at the same delicious moment, wait for the convection of the air to flutter it aloft and, in an olfactory butterfly effect, might sneeze together in unison – did Jean-Paul ever picture in all this that one of his pretty little soldiers would be smuggled into a ward for the terminally sad, then squirted hurriedly onto the jacket of a man sneaking away for a stolen lunch?

Though my heart was thundering, Dad pulled away with a stubborn slowness given the fact he was now classified AWOL. I wondered if he was safe to be driving on whatever drugs they’d been giving him. Especially now we were going to be whacking beer into the mix. Oh well, I had to think. Oh well. What else can you think? I’d want booze too if I was shuffling around in slippers with men who talked to their own shit.

We went into Wickford close by. An uninspiring town, its mood perhaps overshadowed by the dark lore of the local madhouse. We parked up and went to a pub called The Hawk – a traditional boozer that might once have been nice, but now was a bit shit. Sat down, surrounded by the wood and the brass and the fake plush and the hardy swirling carpet, I began to breathe normally. This was what we did; pubs, not hospitals. This was us. I remember him dragging deeply on a constant succession of fags and me being unsportingly cross that I would go home stinking. Funny how you can still be cross with your Dad’s old bad habits while at the same time you’re craving normal service to resume.

Dad had steak pie. I think I had scampi. He had two pints of bitter and said he’d better not have any more what with having to drive. Inside I smiled at the thought that if we got stopped by the cops I could just explain I was escorting an escaped nut-job back to the madhouse so it barely mattered if he was half-cut. I remember nothing of our conversation, but I felt the usual pressure to keep things light. I knew better than to question him, and I just wanted him to relax, to be normal, to have a nice time. Before he went back to Bedlam, which presumably wasn’t much of a hoot.

My words for the place are a little casual, I realise. It is easier to accept the strangeness of going on a daytrip to such a place if you front it out a bit; gather black humour like a cloak. Brash words can distract you from your own fragility. It isn’t quite bravery, but it’s close.

I suppose it comes with a prickle of fear too – of what could befall me, could befall anyone. My mother’s mother had been given electric shock therapy here in the 1950s because they didn’t understand her eclamptic fit, my mum had had group therapy at its sister hospital in Rochford close by, I would in time come to have therapy myself, though I never dreamed it then, and now my dad was here, skedaddling off for lunch with his eldest and most indulgent daughter. What the fuck was I doing?

We drove back in silence. I stared outside at the things passing by – green blurs, grey blurs, road. Road, green, grey. I kept hurling my eyes out further. Inside, the familiarity of the Volvo, the nearness of him, would only have clogged my throat with that hardness that kept welling there. I swallowed it down. As we passed through the gates, overhung by spring-green trees, I imagined he was simply one of the doctors there, and that I was just going to work with him for the day. He’d look good in a white coat. He’d suit the clipboard. Do psychiatrists have stethoscopes? He would look good with one of those too. He’d need to get a fucking haircut first though – he looked a right state. And probably not be…quite as mental.

We parked up in the same space and save for now facing the other way it was like we’d never left. I walked back in with him, not knowing quite when to sever the visit. We were wordless all this time, as though we had only just met and were struggling to think of smalltalk. The walls seemed to whisper “Don’t speak, don’t make a fuss. Go quickly and don’t look back.” But despite the unusual setting this was perhaps our most common mode. I had been accustomed to saying goodbye to him since I was five; every holiday, a big grin and a cheery wave for his benefit, knowing that when he was out of sight, down the road in his Volvo, both our smiles would falter. Kids of divorce seem to either instinctively act in a way that will make their parents happy, or in a way that demands happiness from their parents. Givers and receivers. I doubt that both instincts can exist in the same child. I was so bloody chipper all the time it was like I was permanently tap-dancing to make sure everyone was fucking happy. The world’s not fucked; look. Look at my fucking jazz hands.

And what did Dad feel, then, that day, during our two hour interlude in his month’s sojourn? What was he thinking as I arrived, uncertain and smiling, as I hugged him? What surged through his heart as I handed him over a box of his things? Love, or shame, or both? Was his decision to sneak out for lunch with his daughter a spontaneous one or had he planned it? Was it bravery or cowardice; thoughtful or selfish? Did he want to say more than he did; why did he fail? Was he fobbing me off or protecting me? How present was he in those moments? Could he see through my bravado? Was I his friend, or his daughter? Was every good thing in his life reduced or invalidated by this slump in proceedings? Did he have any idea what would come next? Could he taste his pie or was it all just one big nothing?

Somehow we said goodbye. I remember the smell of him – like bland biscuits soaked in the bileous precursor to sick. A warm acidic version of his natural odour. The staleness in the lambswool collar of his leather flying jacket, not quite sweat but deeper, something from out of the bones not the skin. Is this what unhappiness smelt like? I edged away, glancing guiltily through to the ward.  Whatever part was still supplying me with humour had me half-expecting to see Sid James and Charles Hawtry sitting up in bed with boiled eggs, wide-eyed at Babs’ boobs. I listened for a Kenneth Williams “Ohh!” chastising a torpedo-titted Hattie Jacques. Carry On Cracking Up. How odd that cracking up can mean both laughing and going mad. How fine the line.

It was like – no, it was – a dormitory. A big school-style hall divided into tiny cubicles, pretending to be homely. Curtains and bedside tables and duvet covers brought in by family, from home. I had a stab in the guts that I had not thought to bring in some bedding. Dad was one of the men with standard issue pale green. The generic shade of pastoral bleakness. Unvisited. My numbness threatened to fall away. I wondered why it should be that a man in his fifties when reduced to a single bed should seem so undignified. That his sleep should be restricted by the dimensions of a bed for a child. He should be spread out on a kingsize, hogging the diagonal from a loved one, limbs overlapping, slumbering in memory of a life well lived, dreaming peacefully. He should rise to warm creaking radiators and a dog stretching and the papers. A kitchen table of toast and tea. He was not this. He was better than this. But. But he had earned this. I knew it then, though I would defend him to the death. I did defend him to the death, and do still. Loyalty is knowing someone is wrong, but not caring.

I wanted to stay with him. I didn’t want him to be alone. I wanted to sit on his bed and chat and feign that I was alright with it all. I wanted to eradicate the sadness of his surroundings by having a laugh about the man in the next bed, who had a toupee and sang ABBA songs to his socks. I wanted to absorb it all for him. I wanted to watch people and see into their lives and hope my thoughts reached them like a hand stroking their teeming minds.

How had they all come to be here, these poor sad fucks? All these diminished men who once were empty and ready for filling with fresh things, who all had had childhoods that could have led to something else, who all had laughed and loved and felt a sense of promise prickling their skin, once. How had they all come to be together in a dormitory, their histories mixed like a bad grey stew? It seared my insides. There were bodies bulking out the beds, solid mass under those sheets, real men, induced to sleep the day away with whatever unpronounceable drugs had been picked out for them. Is this their life now? Strangers watching them sleep? Ultimate vulnerability. They had their backs to the door. They were curled, their necks frail like dead birds. They looked like boys, these tired men. Why were there no lullabies? Why is there just this awful administrative mumbling? My eyes fly over their things. Books and a porcelain dog. Flowers. Papers from an outside world. If I see it all can I take it away, like a bedpan of piss? If I type it now, can I make it better? Flashes of their lives whoosh through me like the ghosts of their spirits, their biographies like bogus sprites wanting to wrest from me, what? Pity? Love? Smuggled-in forgiveness on behalf of a bigger thing for all that they are? I want to suck it all in. I want to siphon it all out, take it outside, and puke it into an unreachable sky.

God. People make you fucking hurt.

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Make it kind – Mental Health Awareness Week

I haven’t written about my father, his suicide, grief, or mental health for a while now.

I felt I should just ‘stop’. Let him rest, let it be, & stop picking the scab. But grief never really goes. It just changes.

In the last few months Dad has been present throughout my pregnancy thoughts, & now that my daughter is here my relationship with him has shifted again. During the last 15 years I have never thought ‘how could you do that to us, to me’. Tenderness battled anger and always won. Now I have a daughter, I can’t help but re-examine my feelings. How could he do that to us, his daughters? I couldn’t do it to her. I never want to leave her for a second, & the thought of being the source of her biggest sadness makes me want to be sick.

So how could he do it to me?

But of course, the answer is, mental health. It can make a man leave the loves in his life because he absolutely cannot face being alive anymore, because he cannot function, because life seems a long and unbearable journey, because it seems unfixable, because he even believes he is doing the best thing for people by leaving. Because the power of depression is sometimes so strong it even outweighs love, that beautiful thing that we are taught is stronger than anything. It’s terrifying when we discover it isn’t.

Grief changes all the time. I have struggled with losing Dad for years, the sadness very nearly made me give up myself at times, and just as grief got easier, I will now struggle with the thought that he would have had so much more love to give and receive if he could only have believed that there was help out there; in medication, in people, in good old fashioned kindness, in miraculously powerful time. I will struggle with the fact that Marcie will never meet my father, one of her granddads, but I will make sure she knows all the good things about him. And one day I will have to talk to her about mental health. I’m not sure what I’ll say yet, but I know it will be kind.

#mentalhealthawarenessweek

More things I’ve written on similar themes

“Bloody Hell”, I Said.

Now that I come to think of it, I’m not sure the best way to make friends with a stranger is to launch up to them, grab their shoulder and inform them that they have to protect you.
Especially if you’re perspiring and in heels. There are things that can go wrong. You could trip and land with your face in their groin. Your sweat could splatter on their new silk tie. Your heels could stab their toe, you might shatter their clavicle. They might think you’re mental and call for security, et cetera, et cetera.

But every now and then, if it’s the only thing you’ve got, you should just go with it and hope for the best.

So I recognised the critically-acclaimed author of eleven works of fiction and nine works of non-fiction, Joseph Connolly – by his impressive beard. What else – it’s not like he was wearing a Rio carnival basket of his books splayed out amongst pineapples on his head. It wasn’t that sort of occasion.

It was the Editors Society Regional Press Awards. Which meant lots of men in grey, blue and black looking very ‘newsy’, and the odd woman. (Though rather too few for the disparity in the count not to register.)

The hotel was nuzzled against a street named Sussex Gardens. I recognised the name. I texted my mum; yes, that was where her and Dad had first had a flat, back in the late 70s. I felt warm. I went in.

I stood awkwardly in the foyer, shifting in my heels and looking, I suspect, like a corporate hooker on her first gig. Then I went down to the bowels of the hotel and the massive room all set out like a swanky news type shindig.

I balked. I nearly turned around and left. I had no place being here. I was not ‘newsy’, I don’t read the news, I don’t watch the news. I get my ‘the news’ from a Fleet Street reporter friend and trust everything she says. If she told me the UN was demolishing the world at 3pm I’d stick a colander on my head, and generally make hay until Ka-Boom o’ clock; maybe go looting just to see what all the fuss is about.

I was also, it’s not irrelevant to mention, in a state of mild to medium discomfiture because I was wearing a ‘columnisty’ dress that I had bought online so I didn’t have to go real shopping, and in my panic and self-loathing had bought two sizes too big just so I knew it would definitely ‘fit’. I had to gather it round the back and cinch it in with a belt to keep from looking too weird. If I’d lifted my arms up at the sides I would have looked like one of those dinosaurs that looks harmless until approached but which then splays its concertina head-wings and kills you with its flaps. The only thing that comforted me was the fact it came from Marks and Spencer and nothing bad can ever happen to you if you’re wearing something from Marks and Spencer. It is British Law.

I stood awkwardly by the door with my champagne, trying to make it last, like a lady. And then I saw Joseph Connolly.

I launched.

“Joseph! Joseph Connolly! Hullo! I’m in your category, and I don’t know anyone, and…” (cue my speech tailing off into general nonsense…)

Joseph Connolly looked at me with both kindness and gravity, like an author who’d just been commandeered by someone with poor award ceremony etiquette, as he had. He turned from his suited industry man friend to talk to me, the perspiring novice, and very soon I felt as comfortable as I was going to feel without relieving a champagne waiter of his entire tray in an act of developed suction that would make James Dyson feel like a charlatan.

We small talked, he settled my nerves with old-school charm, and led me to the table plan so I could find where I was sitting. (I wouldn’t have thought of that without him – I probably would have bobbed at the back like an amnesiac mallard.)
As the awards were about to begin we said goodbye and I felt lonely. I sat, met my lovely editor Colin, ate some food, drank some drink, and, to my endless staggering shock, got announced Columnist of the Year.

In the introductory spiel boomed out by a nice newsy chap named Nick Ferrari, a column I had written about my Dad and bi-polar was mentioned, and I froze in slow unfolding recognition. Surely I hadn’t won? I couldn’t even dress myself properly.

But I had. And I had to stand up. The room was big and loud and full of people I didn’t know, but for a few seconds it felt like it was only Dad in the room, watching me walk up to the stage. It felt like he was there, clapping for me. I could see his face and I felt like he was saying that he knew how hard the words had been, how hard all the words have been since he went, that he was sorry, but how proud he was that words were the things I have chosen. He would always have chosen words as the thing I did. Maybe I haven’t chosen them myself at all.

Whatever, however; a board of national editors thought those words were good.

I brushed the Dadness away, a thing I’ve had to learn, tried to look normal, and swore lightly into a microphone. “Bloody hell”, I said, which is endlessly better than “fuck”. I made it through the rest of the awards in something of a trembling daze.

Joseph Connolly came up to me afterwards to congratulate me, and asked if I wanted a drink. And of course I bloody wanted a drink.
I bunked the group ‘winners’ photo to scoot upstairs to the plush hotel bar to talk to an author, which is probably the only cool thing I’ve ever done. I wanted to whisper to my fifteen year old self (who was there with me in spirit in the massive anxiety spot on my cheek) that it had happened; I’d been cool. We talked about books and writing and I began to feel like myself. Joseph’s gentle wit calmed me, stopping me (kind of) from rambling. I felt that shining thing that comes across you when you talk about the thing you love most. A sense of belonging. Like coming home to party poppers and a candle-lit cake. Home. Writing is my home. I felt so happy. Here was I with some carved glass that marked some words I had written about bi-polar, about my Dad who’d lost the battle with it, there in a hotel by Sussex Gardens where Mum and Dad had first lived together, and here was I, their daughter, feeling happy because of the words that had come out of the opposite of happy, and now it was all linked up and I couldn’t sort the different strands and it all made a sort of eventual conglomerate sense. It felt like all happinesses should feel in part; a small return to a beginning, dressed up as something new.

The award was the award, but the feeling was the prize.

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Bi-Polar Lives: My Dad & Stephen Fry

Last week, in a podcast with lovely comedian Richard Herring, Stephen Fry felt comfortable enough to speak with further candour about his ‘bi-polar life’. Confessing that he had only last year attempted suicide, he went a little further than he has previously done, giving us another intimate instalment of his condition – a duty he takes seriously as the president of charity Mind. It was shocking to hear of such an act, but perhaps more so of such recency; you always naively hope, despite his frankness about his lows, that he has conquered the demons since his famous breakdown of 1995, which saw him walking out of a West-End play to sail for Belgium, (as good a place for dark thoughts as any).

It is something I remember vaguely from the news while I was staying at my Dad’s bungalow in North Wales. I naturally thought it was sad, but it didn’t touch me then as much as it touches me now.

My Dad had bi-polar. At least that was the label that was given to him and which best-fit, which is a scientific salve to me now in the constant puzzle-solving that comes from losing someone you love to suicide. The cold hard facts become a kindness alongside the searing cruelty of too many questions.

When I was 23 my Dad hanged himself, a method he turned to after superficial attempts with pills and razor blades failed. He was found in a doorway with headphones on. Cat Stevens in the CD player. I trawl those lyrics even now, a decade on, for a satisfying goodbye note. Coincidentally, the last place he travelled to was Belgium, a couple of months before. He went on a recuperative day trip with a coach-load of people he had been with in a local mental hospital; a charity event in which I am surprised but glad his lofty pride allowed him to participate. What did he think as he walked around Bruges? Did he know? Was he saying goodbye to the world?

Dad had always struggled with dark thoughts. He was found by his mother with his head in a gas oven aged 13. He considered (and threatened, and perhaps attempted) it many times after that. He experienced the ‘massive highs and miserable lows’ that Stephen has described. He had the characteristic extravagance that is common to manic depressives, resulting in a lifelong dance with crippling and often criminally fraudulent debt. He was a plotter, a calculator, a control freak. At times in his life he was alcoholic, manipulative, violent, and to some pretty damn evil. He was also charming, vibrant, cheeky, eloquent, highly intelligent, witty, and would give you the shirt off his back. He once anonymously paid off my best friend’s overdraft, he once sat with a very troubled man for hours talking him out of going and indiscriminately shooting people. He was adored, dreaded, loved, feared, tolerated, yearned for, and immeasurably grieved for. His funeral book bore thanks from people for the countless kind things he had done, and for being the reason one old friend was still on this earth himself. He was celebrated for his joyfulness. The service was moved, to our surprise, from the small chapel to the big chapel because so many people turned up to pay their respects. He was all things. I was always – even later, in the more difficult times – so proud of him being my Dad, or Papa as he liked to be called, the twee bugger. It still rankles my gut that he never gave medication a chance. I think he was afraid of losing control; of his sharp mind being blunted; of his pursuers catching up with him; of, dare I say, prison.

In 2003, aged 57, he ‘finally went and did it’. Those were the words poor Mum had to use to tell us; the words of no surprise. In October it will be ten years. I cannot begin to describe in one column the various landscapes of my mind in those ten years.

I met Stephen once, in the make-up room at ITV while I was watching a dear friend get ready for a QI record. He was charm personified, said hello like I was a favourite niece though he had no idea who I was, and I watched him being powdered quietly from the corner. Here was the nation’s darling, but for me he was so much more. He was all the things I loved about my father, still walking around, alive. The gentle poshness, the brilliant articulacy, the bright and beautiful mind, the dapper jackets and coloured socks peeking out. The aura that life, perversely, is wonderful.

Seeing Stephen Fry didn’t anger me that Dad had not had a similar fortitude to stick around – I’ve never felt that anger – instead it brought him alive again; shook out the good things from the tight bundle I carry around. It momentarily lightened bi-polar – the ever-present elephant (black dog, tiger, mammoth) in the room. He was still here. Hello Stephen Fry. I wanted to hold him. (But I’m ruddy glad I didn’t. He would have thought me very odd, and no one wants Stephen Fry to shake his head in disappointment at them, do they?)

Bi-polar. It’s such a strange beast to understand. I won’t fathom it here. So mysterious a thing is it that my Mum, Dad’s best friend for many years, isn’t even sure that he had bi-polar rather than some other sort of personality disorder. There is scant ‘knowing’ with it. Certainly not for those who don’t have it.

And it is a constant question running alongside my own moods too. Only yesterday I had the shadow flit through in a moment of sadness; I could end it right now. Could. What a word. What a burden.

I don’t think I am bi-polar, at all. I would not insult its true sufferers by supposing my highs and lows are anywhere near theirs in scope. But having had suicide in your life ushers in the possibility of it, while at the same time taking it away. You fantasise about it, but you (think you) know you will never do it. As Stephen said, you picture the faces of those who love you. That prevents you. I think my lows, my hopelessness, have mainly been born out of a very long grief, but when it’s all suicide-tinged it’s sometimes hard to tell. I feel plagued by unknowable genetics, yet I sometimes conversely crave similarity to the man I lost because even his bad traits are better than none. I keep him alive however I can.

Stephen Fry helps.

Like many people I so admire him for his honesty, but am also more grateful for it than I can express. I borrow from him the sense I cannot always find; the lessons that my pain – at times renewed afresh – sometimes makes me forget. I love him, and thank him, and hug him in my mind for all the bleak moments that might yet come to him. And smile, with a smile that holds more than anyone will ever know, at his socks. His lovely, colourful, hopeful socks.

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