These words would have more impact coming from Adam. A man’s words to an audience of men, telling the story of how he became depressed in his thirties. About how he felt there was no one to turn to, no one he could share his perceived weakness with. How these dark thoughts eventually made him suicidal.
But also, the moment it all changed. The moment he finally said that one magic word to just one person. Help. The story of how this one word took him on a journey of recovery. A journey that meant he will walk his daughter down the aisle, spend the next forty Christmases laughing with family and while away many more weekends getting drunk with his rugby club pals.
This is not that story. Instead it falls to me, his sister, to tell my story of the last year. The last seven months of Adam’s life and the first five months of my life without him. Adam didn’t seek help; I didn’t offer him help and on the 19th of October 2018 he took his own life. I want to share this story because I don’t want anyone, man, woman, mother, father, son, daughter or friend to feel as he did or as I do now.
Adam was my favourite brother. I have three, but they all know I thought he was the best. He was the one person in the world that knew everything about me and didn’t judge me in any way. I could take him to an art school party under London’s railway arches and the next day he’d be rubbing shoulders with friends at Ascot. He fitted in everywhere and everyone loved him.
This is not news – often those that seem the happiest are, in fact, the saddest. It’s only on reflection that I feel I’ve stumbled on some clues. On every night out, he only ever concerned himself with the wellbeing of others and not his own. Thinking back to the sober (and drunk) deep-and-meaningful conversations that we had together, I now realise they were always focused on me or someone else in the group. I now doubt whether I actually knew him – did I ever listen to him?
My parents have told me about the power of silence. My mother from her perspective as a Samaritan and my father from his perspective as a businessman. I wish I had given Adam the silence to fill with his own emotions and mental battles. It now seems that he was focusing on helping his friends to avoid opening up to us in return.
When someone dies you only hear the good about them. However, I want this to be honest and, honestly, Adam was not himself in the last year of his life. I couldn’t understand it. He was the person I was closest to in this world, but he wasn’t acting like it and these changes, I admit, made me draw away from him. That is my biggest regret. The year I lost with him when he was still alive. I’ll never get that back.
And then a potential reason for Adam’s behaviour emerged. He had been borrowing money from friends (and repaying them – eventually) to try spread betting on the stock market, which is basically gambling. His family – myself included – were furious. Why gamble? Why use your friends like that? What was the point?
At the time, we thought it was about money – that he wanted more than his current life. Adam and I are from a privileged background and our childhood was idyllic. I couldn’t understand his wanting more, until I read in Grayson Perry’s The Descent of Man that men of privilege can fall victim to huge, often self-imposed, pressures. They expect to be lawyers, bankers and entrepreneurs. Anything less than a perfect family and a high paid job feels like an opportunity squandered. My guess is that this explains a little of what Adam was going through.
But I don’t believe that Adam had a problem with gambling. I think it was merely a symptom, rather than the illness. I think Adam gambled due to his depression, and that it was a way to be someone else, even if just for moment. The wins made him feel worthy and the losses, well, they likely just compounded what he already thought of himself, and so the spiral continued.
When we found out, he sought help and was diligent in attending Gamblers Anonymous meetings. He gave up drinking and devoted himself to work, running and his daughter. But something still wasn’t right. Again, with hindsight I can see that though he’d rid himself of gambling, he’d not been able to cure his inexplicable sense of worthlessness. So, he went to Copenhagen to be with his best friend and remove himself from the pressures at home.
It was here that Adam took his own life. It had been two weeks since he last saw his daughter. Away from home and alone. It still breaks my heart.
Picking Up The Pieces
You now have the whole picture of Adam; the good, the bad and, well, he was never ugly. Which brings me on to my experience during the past five months.
I visited my doctor the week after Adam died. I was booked in for an appointment about a knee injury and I broke down. I began crying – properly, for the first time since he died – unashamedly sobbing. I wasn’t in front of someone who had lost more than me – a son, a father or a partner.
However, I was shocked when the doctor’s comments were simply, ‘well, he does fit the demographic', ‘let me know if you want medication' and 'do you have a lot of paper work to sort out?' All of which are inappropriate comments. All of which are comments that show the NHS has a long way to go when dealing with mental health.
I love the NHS and I'm not attacking it. But it is astonishing that, in comparison to how excellent the care is for your physical health, just how ill-equipped it is when dealing with issues of the mind as a first port of call. My brother had died, I wanted a shoulder to cry on, someone to talk to. I couldn't talk to my family, they were all falling apart. I couldn't burden them.
But if I, a visibly-crying mess of a woman, couldn't get any support after her brother had taken his own life, then what hope was there for stiff-upper-lipped Adam to find support? Sadness was staring them in the face and they were flummoxed.
Who was he to go to? My mother, who is a Samaritan, didn't spot that he was suicidal. He wore a brave face throughout it all. How could we have spotted his depression?
So, this is why I am telling this story. I want you reading this to talk to people about mental health, about suicide and to break down the stigma attached to it. If you love someone and their response to the question ‘how are you?’ is 'oh yeah fine – but what about you?’ Don’t accept ‘fine’ as good enough. Ask again and don’t fill the silence. Wait for them to fill the silence with the truth. Delve a little deeper. While drinking that pint, or going for that run together, use the time to find out what’s really going on.
If this story reaches just one person and helps to give them the confidence and reassurance that it’s OK to open up and talk, then it will bring some small measure of positivity to our family and friends in the darkest of times. Coming to terms with suicide for those left behind is hard. People believe that suicide ends the pain, but really it just passes it on.
Adam was not stolen from us by a disease with no cure. He chose to leave us. It is hard for me to accept this and I constantly question whether I could have changed his mind. Given the chance, I believe I could have saved my brother. Because of me he could have one day been at his daughter’s graduation. Knowing that he won’t be is unbearable.
My life was perfect. I was so lucky, and I believe that I still am. I was lucky to know Adam. His life and my future should not be defined by his suicide. But I want to try and ensure it makes a difference, however small. Adam didn't feel that his mental health was an acceptable topic of conversation, no matter who he was talking to. It isn’t a fun conversation and all he wanted from life was to have fun and make others happy. But by being open and meeting mental illness head on, I think we can avoid an incredible amount of sadness.
To honour Adam, we're raising money for mental health charities and supporting the work they do to battle stigmas and overcome illnesses. You are welcome to leave comments of support or donations through Adam James Payne's Just Giving site
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