Sabina's story: How I'm coping after losing my father to suicide
In 2009, when I was 18 years old, my father took his own life. He stepped in front of a high-speed train, two minutes from our house at 7:30am. He left a hand-written note to my mum and I reading, “I'm sorry…but I'm mad”.
I will never forget the moment the police knocked on our door and I heard my mum screaming as they told her. Some of the darkest nightmares of that day still haunt me, but in the past six years I have come so far with my own wellbeing and mental state.
I want to use this opportunity to finally share my story and hopefully reach out to others.
Suicide is not selfish
Only a handful of my friends know that I went through this. I spent most of my undergraduate studies trying so hard to mask all my emotions. That sudden loss of my closest male figure meant severe commitment issues with boyfriends was just one of the problems I encountered.
Every other week, I either start humming loudly or stage a coughing fit in order to disguise people around me discussing the selfishness of suicide. One occasion was a journey on the Jubilee Line – there was a delay due to somebody under a train. A group of youths opposite me were swearing in outrage. You know those weird sick nightmares you can’t wake up from? It felt like that. Thankfully, I managed to restrain myself from exploding and ran off the train in tears as soon as the doors opened.
Another time, I was getting mentally focused for a rehearsal of a Mahler symphony (I’m an orchestral musician). We were about to do the last movement and I had some sweat-breaking solos on the E-flat clarinet. Already a mixture of excitement and nerves was consuming me and we were all waiting for the conductor to arrive. When he turned up he announced he was late because “some selfish **** decided to jump in front of a train”. I completely seized up, but by this point, I was discovering how to control this 'red' emotion. I quickly left the hall unnoticed, chain smoked a pack of cigarettes (I'm a non-smoker) and went back into the rehearsal after the break.
Then I was at the Benicassim music Festival in Spain – I'm an avid festival-goer. My friends and I pushed our way to the front of Tinie Tempah's set. Out of the blue, he started his unreleased song called 'Suicide'. Fuelled with alcohol and being in the festival environment resulted in one distressing emotional breakdown. But, thank goodness, I have extremely supportive friends. That incident remains the one and only time my friends have witnessed me crying. I realise now that you can't expect or want people to censor what they say and you just have to learn how to handle these situations diplomatically.
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When my dad took his life, I felt so alone (and still do occasionally) and didn’t have anyone to talk to – I’m an only child. If there was a young voice openly sharing about how they handle suicide, it would have given me so much strength. At the time, ‘Simba’ (from the Lion King) was my biggest inspiration. It sounds lame, but I tried to connect my dad with Mufasa's death.
The other day I just scooped up Wally and Meeko, my two beloved cats, and starting wailing hysterically into their little faces. I'm not sure they entirely appreciated it, but I've learnt that a huge howl whilst listening to my dad's funeral music is a very healthy and acceptable outlet.
Depression has run in my family. My uncle (dad's brother) died by suicide 10 years earlier. I myself have experienced severe anxiety, mood swings and went through a period of time where I regularly contemplated taking my own life. However, I also have a deep desire within me to ensure I look after myself so that I remain happy and positive.
When you lose a parent, there can be some awkward moments in day-to-day life. It's always an interesting challenge when you get asked what your parents do or where they're from. I spoke to a close friend who recently tragically lost her father. We laughed hysterically over a bottle of wine about all those moments - like when your friend tells you she's stressing out because she hasn't bought her dad a Father's Day present! Feeling resentment towards a person who momentarily forgets this won't achieve anything. Smiling and remembering something you're grateful for goes much further.
Understanding the mental state behind suicide is almost impossible because it's different for everyone. My own coping mechanisms have spanned from reading every best-selling self-help book on the shelves to a method of counselling called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). I also bought a beautiful personalised 'Links of London' charm bracelet with my dad's name engraved on one side and 'a beautiful end' on the flipside. It brings me peace every time I wear it.
There are hundreds more outlets I've utilised (probably ones I don't even realise or care to admit) but ultimately the one thing which works wonders for me, is simply exercise.
I've always had a competitive, fighting, sporty beast within me. I used to train with the British swimming team and now work out regularly and it frees my head like nothing else. This is the other reason I want to run the London marathon...what a great event to work towards. There's no better motivation!
Sometimes sport doesn't quite cut it, and there's one last coping mechanism I want to share. I've had a slightly tough phase this year and a few things didn't go quite to plan but doing one thing made it so much easier: remembering what I'm grateful for. There's a popular piece of advice floating around the internet and can be found in a bunch of self-help books. It's to write down 3 things you're grateful for at the end of the day.
I don't do this religiously (though when I go through a low patch I can easily fill an entire notebook from Paperchase) but it helps to do it mentally. I went to two music colleges in London, hell I actually went to university - a privilege not everyone can receive. I also have an incredible support system around me, most of them don't even know this story. Various tutors, teachers and professors throughout my education have no idea how great they've been to me. Then I have my best friends, my relatives and my greatest support beyond all else, my mum. Thank you!
I hope raising this money for the Mental Health Foundation will give me a further sense of closure whilst opening a new door of connections to other people with similar stories.
Please share my story and donate to the Mental Health Foundation. Give me an opportunity to pass hope onto others still in the dark. We can so easily suffer in silence and I want to step up and change this. Being aware of your own mental state is the first step to managing it. It can be a hugely positive, rewarding story if you want it to be.