Carolyn shares her story of how she found solace in running, and how she turned that in to fundraising success.
On Monday 31 August 2015 my life changed forever. Every belief I had was challenged, every certainty became unsure. After a night-out with friends my beautiful daughter, Samantha, took her own life. At the age of 32, Sam had chosen to leave. I was broken. Heartbroken.
I may share more of my daughters struggle with bipolar disorder another time, as it deserves to be heard. It was a journey of her self-discovery and great strength. Many who knew her had little knowledge of the depth of her illness as Sam masked her pain with a smile and kind words. All you need to know for now is, she was not only beautiful but kindness personified, selfless and courageous, a mother’s pride. I loved her unconditionally.
The weeks following Sam’s death were a blur of formalities that I performed in a state of numbness induced by shock and very little sleep. I couldn’t control my racing mind, thoughts and images constantly playing in a loop of distress. How could I ever function normally again?
Panic was my constant companion. I now had a small understanding of some of the symptoms that my daughter suffered day in and out. Physical symptoms that plague those sufferers of depression and anxiety. They are unseen and so very real. She often told me her head hurt, felt fit to burst, now I too felt I would explode or implode.
"The greatest resource for survival came as a huge surprise."
I took to searching for others that may have had a similar experience. Would I find solace in their stories? An online forum, a suicide bereavement group, endless books are some of the places my search took me. I eventually realised there was similar experiences to mine but not the same, each experience of grief is individual. The loss of a loved one to suicide is unique to the person suffering the loss. The feelings that we experience are complex and at times overwhelming. If possible it is best to share these feelings and seek a place of safety where you can be heard and supported. For me the greatest resource for survival came as a huge surprise.
I returned to work the day after Sam’s funeral while her sister Daisy, 20, left to start university. Work helped keep me in a structure and routine. I work as a live-in cook in a private country house in Berkshire, but my role is not confined to the kitchen and one of my duties is to walk the family dogs. Every morning I walked. September and October passed. The summer was over, leaves were changing colour and the fields becoming muddier, but on I walked. Sam always accompanied me on these walks, she loved the countryside and all animals. “They don’t judge you Mum”, she’d say. I still see Sam’s beautiful face in every sunrise, every bird flight and wag of a doggies tail.
"My day was made easier by the process of running and giving myself space and time to be with Sam."
A new companion arrived in the shape of Molly, a very busy, working cocker spaniel. She needed longer walks, more exercise. She likes to run, so into November I started to run with Molly and Buster, the boarder terrier. At first my head was full of pain and the continued dialog of my grief. I didn’t notice the effects on my body or wellbeing - I just had a compulsion to move. My day was made easier by the process of running and giving myself space and time to be with Sam.
The next step was to use my new found tool for good. So at the age of 54, with no previous running experience, I signed up for my very first 10k race. I started raising money for Mind in Sam’s memory. Awareness is the strongest force for good that we can give to those suffering with mental illness. Every time we talk about mental health, share our stories and open up discussion, it helps. It may only be small steps but every one counts. I wore my Mind vest with pride and ran every step with Sam in my heart. I hope that my small contribution may help someone else’s loved one.
My grief is still raw, it always will be. Sometimes when I’m running there are moments of absolute joy that flood into my veins. These moments are fleeting, but I acknowledge them and feel thankful that I have the ability to run, hear the birds, feel the sun on my skin and have Sam beside me, cheering me on and giving me strength.
Carolyn ran the London Bupa 10K in May this year and has raised over £3,200 in the process. She uses our Memory Space site to raise money for Mind in Sam's memory.
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