Seasons, books, living and death
Since Jordan’s death, his girlfriend Charlotte has continually taken our breath away with her heartfelt and insighful blog posts. She writes regularly about trying to come to terms with his loss and the challenge of how to rebuild her life – a life that will never be the same again. This latest offering by Charlotte is another stunning piece of writing which takes a more reflective view of suicide which attempts to shy away from judgments and opinions of why people choose to end their own life.
Seasons, books, living and death by Charlotte Heathcote
This morning I woke up to a beautiful blanket of snow outside. Usually I’d think “Ah what a pain in the ass”, because it means you can’t go anywhere. BUT, today was different, I have nowhere to go, so I can take a walk and enjoy it. By the afternoon, the snow had pretty much all disappeared, and I went out for another walk as the sun was blazing and it looked gorgeous outside (and what else is there to do?) It was so weird to sit in the exact same spot just hours later, with it looking so different. It made me think about how quickly things can change, which is both terrifying and reassuring. Just as the weather changes, so does how we feel. I’ve never personally seen the appeal of wanting to move to somewhere without seasons, as I really love them all. Yes there are pros and cons to each season, but I find comfort in seasons changing, knowing that something new and different is round the corner again soon. I’ve noticed this more than ever this year, and now sitting here writing this at 4pm when it’s dark, I’m not necessarily as keen on winter as I was this morning out in the beautiful snow…
I’ve been reading a book recently, mainly in my reading spot in the woods that overlooks a beautiful bridge and stream. When speaking to my friend about the book I was reading, she laughed, and it hadn’t fully occurred to me how ridiculous it was that I was reading this particular book in the middle of the woods. I’ve become quite used to talking about and thinking about suicide this year, which of course, I wish I’d never had to do. But it has become a part of my every day now, and in some ways it always was because of my job. So my reading spot in the woods is so peaceful and beautiful, and this book fits perfectly in my coat pocket. I take my peppermint tea and walk the 10 minutes to my spot, by which time my tea is perfect drinking temperature. The title of the book I’ve just finished reading is called ‘Notes on suicide’… I know it sounds very scary, and it is quite heavy (as you can imagine from the title). But it’s written for the purpose of taking a more reflective view of suicide that attempts to shy away from judgments and opinions of why people choose to end their own life. As I write that, I reflect on what I think may have led to Jordan making this choice, and I’m really not sure that it was a ‘choice’ for him, which is why I’m still not sure on my own use of language around suicide.
So as you can imagine, my friend found it quite amusing that I was reading this particular book in the middle of the woods. I hadn’t thought about it much, but passers by might become slightly concerned by this, so I’ve started to place the cover firmly in my lap so as not to alarm anyone. I don’t mean to use humour in any disrespectful way, but actually humour has got me through the last year quite a lot, and I feel more comfortable now with my own use of humour, because I find that sometimes it’s just what you need to lift you out of the darkness. I also thought about Jordan seeing me reading this book in the woods, and thinking what he would say to me. I love when friends make jokes that I know Jordan would find hilarious, because they know my humour, and our sense of humour as a couple was so similar. Listening to Griefcast has helped me to feel more comfortable with use of humour around grief and death, as the host interviews comedians specifically, and it just helps me to feel more that what I’m going through is ‘normal’.
The book refers a lot to dialectics, which I only know the meaning of through my studies- so without being a patronising dick, it basically means holding two ideas simultaneously, which I think I’ve also spoken about before. There is so much loaded language, judgements, ideas, and beliefs about suicide and why this happens to people. We want to have an ‘answer’, and it’s easier to latch onto a single idea and believe it, rather than holding in mind multiple ideas that somehow make so much less sense. I’ve tried to find one understanding, one idea, one belief, that explains why Jordan did this (or why this happened to him), but I end up flitting around a bit from one idea to the next. I hated the idea of being angry at him, because how could I ever be when I also had so much empathy for his pain? But actually, I think reading this book has helped me to hold onto all the multiple, sometimes seemingly opposing ideas about suicide, and the feelings I’ve had since losing Jordan. Just as every single human being lives their life differently, and we never fully know what it’s like to be someone else, the reasons for someone taking their life are likely to be individual to that person, with lots of overlapping factors between different people. I’m not sure if I mentioned this before, but I remember once reading something written by someone who’d attempted suicide, which is the closest we will ever get to fully understanding the experience of getting to that point- in the post, she wrote that suicide happens when many things come together in the most awful way, which made a lot more sense to me than thinking that suicide happens for one reason. I think about this when I think of the things I ‘could’ or ‘should’ have done for Jordan that might have changed the outcome. I also recognise that anything that had happened up until that point I would question today- every single small detail of my time with Jordan before he died would have played on my mind and I would have questioned it.
It sounds really grim, but I’ve thought about what others would experience if I were to take my own life, having now been through what myself and Jordan’s loved ones have been through. I imagine the awful torment that my loved ones would go through not only from the grief, pain and trauma of losing me, but of the guilt they would experience in replaying their last interactions with me, the ‘what ifs’ they’d ask themselves, the ‘I should have done’s’ etc. I have the most incredible friends and family, and none of them would be at fault if I were to take my own life, but yet they would undoubtedly experience all of the same things that myself and Jordan’s loved ones have experienced. Sorry, I know this sounds dark, but all this stuff has actually helped me, and my honesty may be a bit upsetting to even think about. I’ve been to pretty much every place in my mind I think in the last year, and it’s fucking painful, but also necessary to try and process all of what has happened.
I’ve spoken to my counsellor about the fear of death after losing someone you love, which can be even more pronounced when you lose someone young or suddenly. I reflected that I worried so much about others in my life dying, and this anxiety is awful, but also a very normal response to have. I realised during my session though that I hadn’t thought about the possibility of myself dying, and actually became really upset talking about it, as it almost felt like I hadn’t even cared enough about myself over the past year to reflect on the impact that losing Jordan had had on how fragile my own life was. It really shocked me, and I began to think more about the precariousness of life generally, including my own. Tomorrow is not promsied, and other tragic events recently have made me even more aware of that. My counsellor said that in their training, they have to reflect a lot of the idea of facing their own mortality, and I started thinking about doing this too. I know this all sounds depressing, but I actually don’t think it is. Losing someone you love and care about is so devestating, and shatters your entire view on life, on the world, and of yourself. But I got to thinking about this idea that maybe we can only fully start living when we face the fact that one day, we too are going to die? I think in Western culture particularly, we really try to avoid talking about death, and then we really don’t know how to manage grief when it comes along (not that there’s any right or wrong way to ‘manage’ it). I’m not going to go into this too much, but I do really think we need to talk about death more. I think it would help others a lot when they do get to that awful point of grieving for a loved one, and feel alone. I talk about something related to losing Jordan every day without fail, and I have wondered if me continuing to talk about Jordan dying means that I’m not ‘moving forward’ with life, and that I’m in some way ‘stuck’. But actually, it’s quite the opposite. All of this stuff is helping me to move forward in some way. I don’t take huge great leaps every day where I go “OMG I’M FINE NOW LOOK AT ME”, and that day will never come. Just as the weather changes, so do my feelings, because I’m human, as we all are. There’s a nice metaphor that I use with my patients sometimes that talks about you being the sky, which can’t be harmed by the ever-changing weather, which represents your thoughts/feelings/experiences. I find this idea quite comforting when I’m feeling overwhelmed.
As I’m sat here writing this, I have that tight feeling in my chest, which has lingered again a bit in the past few days (not helped by the alcohol running through my veins). I have tried fighting it a bit in various ways, mainly panicking and over-thinking. But then I decided to try and let it be. Feeling anxious in grief is a totally normal experience. You’ve had your book of life ripped up and thrown into the wind. Rather than desperately scrambling around and piecing them back together, I’ve decided to let the pieces come back to me, whilst writing new pages every day (love a metaphor don’t I). I panic so much thinking about the future, particularly in the midst of a pandemic. But do you know what, we REALLY do only have today. We have this moment, right here, right now (see it’s gone already).
I have had moments recently where I’ve begun to feel lighter in lots of ways, but also heavier in other ways (dialectics again…) One thing I often get is a sudden burst of “OMG I NEED TO START LIVING”, then I realise that we’re still in the midst of a pandemic, so can’t exactly go off and travel the world. But actually, I’m still living. There are many many things I wish I could do right now that none of us can, but it doesn’t mean that I can’t find small things in each day to enjoy and be thankful for. As well as having other points in the day where I feel sad, anxious, angry, or lonely. I was thinking earlier of how lonely this pandemic must feel for so many, and I’m not sure I feel lonely very often, despite spending a lot of time alone (with my special human cat of course). I definitely wish I could be around people more, because I get so much of my energy from being around people, and feel truly at my happiest when I’m surrounded by others. But loneliness is a state of mind for many, as much as it is felt by others who are physically alone. The differences in people’s situations during this pandemic is just crazy- people at home constantly with children, people living alone, people living in relationships where there is domestic violence, people living with relatives that they wouldn’t usually, couples who have recently had a baby and so on… Those who know me will know that I’ve always wanted to be a mum, and it’s something I think about a lot when I think about my life and the future. Admittedly, I look at people who have had babies this year with envy because it’s something I know I want in life, and I think this is a pretty normal emotion (but feels a bit exposing to admit). But then I think of how difficult it must have been to have a baby this year, and how you could quite easily have felt very alone, as a new parent without being able to be surrounded by loved ones as you usually would when you have a child. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you never really know what someone else is going through, and many people will be grieving right now because they’ve lost someone/several people in this awfully difficult year. But people are also grieving in different ways, such as grieving the loss of times with loved ones who are still with us, but who we aren’t able to be with at this point in time.
Life is really weird right now, and I just want to HUG EVERYONE because how bloody nice would that be? I miss people lots, but know there are brighter days ahead. For now, we have this moment, so if you are with a loved one that you’re allowed to hug, please hold them tight. If you are alone, look after yourself in every way you can, and use this time to connect with yourself. Again, would never claim that I’m great at this and I’m working on it, but at the end of the day, no one is meant to spend this much time on their own, so it’s normal to resist it at times too. I’m not really setting resolutions this year, but I am bringing this sense of lightness into the New Year. Interestingly the other day when I was looking inward and feeling this weird sense of lightness and thinking “WHAT THE FUCK, WHY DO I FEEL LIGHTER?” my friend sent me my horoscope (I quite like horoscopes etc but know they’re not for everyone)- this is a caption from what it said:
“This year you’re about to shift into a different modality of existence. Maybe you got used to old ways and old heaviness so much that you’ll need some time to get used to this lighter energy and your lighter movement through this dense reality. During this year you will be challenged to accept easier ways of going through life, to accept lighter situations, lighter people, brighter topics, funnier side of stories and simpler truths. You are challenged to become less serious, to become more relaxed, to use your specific sense of humour and to cheer up others around you with your doses of wisdom. You are challenged to combine your tough experiences, your lessons, your earned wisdom and earned knowledge with humour, with vigor, with enthusiasm, with uplifting energy”
And actually, this really fits with my hopes for the next year. I’ve had a bloody heavy year, as many others have, and I don’t claim that 2021 will bring all the lightness, but I have hope, and for now, I have this moment.
This is a link to the original article published by Charlotte, where you’ll find other posts in her series of blogs titled ‘An account of my journey through grief, without a road map’
Charlotte Heathcote is a Clinical Psychologist by background, having worked with individuals, families, and systems within the NHS for over 7 years. Charlotte specialises in working with adults with severe and enduring mental health problems, but also has extensive experience in working with other populations across a range of settings, including prison, inpatient and community.
On 4th December 2019, Charlotte’s life as she knew it changed forever, when she came home to find that Jordan had taken his own life. Charlotte’s motivation for the mission of the Jordan Legacy is clear; she vows to dedicate her professional career to supporting work that aims to reduce rates of suicide, in Jordan’s memory.
Charlotte has a particular passion for influencing change within our mental health systems, and changing societal views around suffering and mental health. Tackling the issue of suicide is multi-faceted, and Charlotte is dedicated to addressing this issue from all angles.