Luke Unger, Deputy Wellbeing Editor
TW: This article discusses sensitive information such as suicide
Luke Unger talks about how he dealt with the tragic loss of a friend and how he copes to this day.
When I close my eyes and think of Natasha, I think of the smell of baked cakes. She used to bake a few times every week and every time I opened the door of our flat this glorious smell would greet you as you entered. That smell would be followed by the shy, gentle laughter of her getting the icing wrong or reacting to my other ridiculous flatmates. She once talked about opening a bakery in Bristol when she had finished University.
Natasha took her own life around this time last year. It came out of the blue for me completely.
I remember walking out of the ASS library to be stopped by my friend who did Physics and shown the email on her phone. After reading it I sat down, messaged my flat attaching the email, turned off my phone and did not turn it on for forty-eight hours. I could not deal with any more words.
When it comes to dealing with grief, there are no set rules. I think what makes suicide harder is the idea that the person felt like they needed to take their own life, an unfathomable feeling for most people. As children, we are bought up with the notion that life is sacred, precious and that death is something we should avoid, not something we should seek. Therefore, the maelstrom of emotions that you feel when this happens is something no one can ever prepare you for. For me - someone who deals with their emotions through good old-fashioned suppression - I was at sea without a life jacket.
When something like this happens, thoughts run through your mind like 'I should have known' or 'I should have asked her this'. I certainly felt a level of guilt for a long time. I think that unfathomability also gives way to a certain degree of anger. I remember feeling distinctly angry at Natasha at the funeral as I looked around at the faces in the benches, asking myself how she could do this. How could she leave her family like this? With these thoughts came guilt, knowing that the choice to take her own life did not come out of a happy place. It was fair to say I was in a wee bit of a state.
I woke up every day to this mess of emotions - anger, sadness, guilt, confusion - and after a while, it just became too much. Work went to pot, I wasn't eating, didn't really feel anything and I withdrew myself from everyone. It came to the point where I remember breaking down whilst making cheese on toast, initially confused as to why there were drops of water forming on my cheddar.
I was lucky enough to be living in a house with a group of friends that were willing to let me just talk and vent. I'll be forever thankful for them. The feeling of relief after I spoke about everything I felt was welcome. I could finally begin to breathe again after months of feeling like I was suffocating. The more I have spoken to people who have experienced the same thing, the more I could see that these emotions are ones everyone feels when something like this happens. However, the only way you're ever going to get through it is by talking to someone about it - be it a healthcare professional, your parents, or your friends.
The feeling of relief after I spoke about everything I felt was welcome. I could finally begin to breathe again after months of feeling like I was suffocating.
A key thing when dealing with this is having coping strategies. For me, it was wearing my body out every day with exercise so that I could sleep and I had an appetite, maintaining communication with my friends and family, and planning things way in advance so I had something to look forward to. It definitely felt empty and robotic at first, but soon became what I relied on. It allowed me the level-headedness to be able to process what had happened without spiralling back under the cover of my bed.
I think one important thing I'd say to anyone who's going through something like this is don't expect those emotions you felt initially to one day suddenly disappear. This is going to be with you for the rest of your life. I often still feel like I see her face in the people I pass on the street. I always think about her every time I enter a bakery. There's definitely sadness linked in these memories but, crucially, there's also a celebration of her life - honestly, she was one of the nicest and kindest people I've ever known. It's how you work through and address these emotions that allows each day to be a little easier.
Truth be told, it has not stopped affecting me. I think about her every day and sometimes, yeah, I do need a moment. But it's getting better one day at a time and that's what you and I need to hold onto.
Featured Image: Unsplash / Annie Spratt
It will get better. Communicate with others and go through it. If you need to speak to anyone, please contact the Student Health Service or the Student Wellbeing Service.