4 years on

Today (and yesterday) are days in the calendar that I’ve come to know well. It was 4 years ago today that I glanced at my phone, got a sucker punch in my stomach and my world shifted.

The day before, the 3rd of March 2013, I’d been at Nottingham University and some attendees from Newcastle had been late as the trains were delayed due to a fatality. We all sympathised but little did I realise it was my lovely friend, Chris Allan.

In the days and weeks that followed those of us who knew Chris sought to understand the question that haunted us all – why. The guilt felt overwhelming at times; the thought that there must have been something more that I could have done, the horrible moments of realisation that at points he was trying to tell me something but just couldn’t.

His family were (and still are) amazing. It’s easy to see where Chris got his loving nature, kindness, empathy, family values and huge sense of fun from. Chris was a brilliant person to be around. Knowing him changed me and 4 years on the memories that I have are of laughter, laughter and more laughter, talking for hours about how we were revolutionise education and change the world for our children, listening to music (he wasn’t so keen on my disco hits, I loved his indie stuff and Neil Young will always have a special place in my heart) and also the bloody awful films he was always trying to make me watch.

4 years on I’m also grateful to him for cracking open my awareness (as a friend so eloquently put it) about suicide and mental health. It had been on the outside of my consciousness before but Chris’ death made me realise the importance of it and that suicide could happen to ‘people like us’. And sadly in the last 4 years I have known more people – though none as well as Chris – who have lost their place in the world so much that they think that death by suicide is the best or only way out. It’s a truly horrible national statistic that in 2015 6,188 people died as a result of suicide, with the suicide rate for men around 3 times higher than women. Thankfully, the shift that is happening in our society as a result of campaigns like Heads Together and the wonderful work by charities such as Mind, is making it more it more acceptable to talk about mental health, though the stigma still lingers stubbornly.

Chris’ death made me face up to my own mental health – and we all have it. It started me on a journey to understand more about the brain and how it works. I now have an MSc in Psychology and that, together with the huge numbers of books about mental health, wellbeing and happiness that I have read over the past 4 years, have made me realise that there is so much we can do to look after our own mental health. And yet, many of us don’t really even know what we should be doing, or indeed prioritise it. Chris’ death, my studies and other people in my life since, have illustrated to me too keenly the consequences of not prioritising our mental wellbeing.

So, I started to prioritise my own wellbeing and have ramped that up in the last year and a half after as a result of another tricky time and it has made a real difference to my life. I’ve started to talk much more about mental health and wellbeing to others and have met some incredible people who have become great friends as a result.

And I’ve become a bit more fearless. There’s nothing like death to make you realise the fragility and importance of life and so pretty much every day I push myself to do something that is outside my comfort zone. I’m challenging myself to execute my ideas, to make things happen and Mind Moose is a direct result, so thank you, Chris. We used to talk for hours cooking up creative education projects and he was always my biggest cheerleader, urging me to put things into action and believing in me when I didn’t always believe in myself. He was a very, very lovely man and 4 years on I’m so grateful for knowing him and the impact he’s had on my life. I wish he was still around.

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