25

We have always made a big thing of birthdays. Always a birthday cake with candles, always a big fuss and usually a birthday meal together. Ellen’s birthday parties were always huge events…… The LUAU party….. limbo dancing, palm trees, grass skirts and flower garlands. The KARAOKE party, The FAIRY party…… Moving on to 19 years old the indoor festival … ‘Please can I have a fantasy fairy forest’? We did it together with carpet roll tubes and ply wood, MDF and paper mache, rolls and rolls of organza fabric and a sprinkle of glitter. Often from a very young age it was a joint party with Caroline her lovely friend as your birthdays are a week apart. The 21st birthday party was legendary….. ‘Please can we have a MASQUERADE BALL’? There was a LOT of planning for this one including a meeting at a cafe in Saltaire. I had to remove little Noah from said meeting because of boredom issues but I did teach him to roar like a lion so all was not lost. There were cakes and all manner of food for the feast (Largely due to Mary, Caroline’s mum), magical touches made to the room, live music and a fabulous DJ. The perfect evening.

Today is our beautiful girl’s 25th birthday. Ellen was due on the Summer Solstice in the summer of 1994 but she was fashionably late and born on the 23 June. I can remember the fabulous full moon in all its glory as I drove myself to the hospital in the early hours of the morning. My magical little (summer solstice) moon baby.

I often wonder what you would be doing now. Where would you have travelled to over the last two years? What would your wedding have been like? Would you have been wearing one of those magical Rawrags dresses that I showed you that you loved so much? We would have planned your wedding together – huge plans involving lots of making, glitter (of course) and lots of nature. Roger and I would have been so proud as we ‘gave you away’ to one of the nicest people we know. I do also imagine the horror of you finding out that glitter is actually plastic and bad for the environment….

The last time we saw our daughter alive was on her 23rd birthday. I took her for lunch and bought her some plants. I noticed this week that the rose she chose was flowering a perfect orange and yellow flower. Noah and I made a red velvet cake (Betty Crocker of course) and we sang Happy Birthday. Noah delighted in helping to blow out the candles with his Mummy. We left Ellen at home happy and contented with her lovely little family – Her, Mikey and Noah. All was well……

All was well? It seemed that way. Ellen was much much better having survived the traumas that the previous few years had inflicted on her. She was succeeding at university with one more year to go. She had created balance in her life and had a bright future. Depression is a demon though. It lives inside you. It is not all tears and staying in bed. It lies behind that beaming smile and can eat at you from the inside. ‘You are strong’ ‘You are doing so well’ …….. Everything can seem so normal and ordinary and safe on the surface but underneath you can be fighting a war inside your mind. Overthinking, worrying, stressing, panicking…. constantly feeling fear but smiling through it. You go out of the house and try to act ‘normal’ but inside you are in turmoil. Traumatised by the past and frightened of the future.

When someone takes their own life they must think that it is the only answer to that insurmountable pain and fear in that moment. It is a desperate act to finally end the pain. In that moment they can not see that in the morning sun things will seem better, brighter, less huge and less terrifying. They can not see the pain that their leaving will cause to the people that love them and even those who don’t know them – how can they? The consequential ripples reach far and wide. I challenge anyone to say that suicide is selfish.

In the first year after Ellen died we produced our Mermen for Mind calendar to raise money for the wonderful ‘Mind’ the charity for better mental health. They campaign for better services as well as providing local care and support all over the country. Imagine being in A & E for three hours. Do you think that is bad? Now imagine having a mental health problem…… When you have finally summoned up the courage to ask for help you are then told it will be weeks before an assessment then you will go on a waiting list. The waiting list could be twelve weeks long….

The calendar kept our team of some of Ellen’s closest friends busy and gave us all something to focus on. We have had many days and nights where we have enjoyed each others company and laughed so much we cried. We have also been able to remember our gorgeous girl. It has been a lot of fun. I love to see the friendships between her friends grow and blossom. They have supported each other and us over the last two years amazingly. I know Ellen would be so proud.

Without all the planning and preparation for the calendar 2019 had been very different. It has really hit hard. Each day marches on without Ellen relentlessly. Some days are worse than others . I wanted time to stop. I never imagined I would be writing this two years on…. that wasn’t possible then but here we are. Time will not stop for anyone. The anniversary of Ellen’s birth is two days apart from the anniversary of her death. This is agony – how can we celebrate her birthday when we are so so sad? Facing a problem though is about looking at the alternatives for solving it. There are always options and opportunities in each problem to deal with it.

What we need to do is keep on celebrating Ellen’s life and her birthday. We will do this among her friends and family and all the lives that she touched. We will also do this by carrying on our campaign to raise money for this wonderful charity ‘Mind’ and continue the conversation about mental health that she started.

So please raise a glass to her today, smile and be happy that she was….. Our gorgeous girl…….

Guest Post: Alone We Are Strong

I spend my life caring for other people, I forgot to care for myself. I had been feeling strange for a while. Worrying about everything, having this awful dull ache in my chest every morning, waking up through the night, constantly feeling tired. At the time I just thought everyone must feel like I felt, I didn’t really acknowledge it as being an issue. It took a huge breakdown at work and my doctor sitting me down and spelling it out to my face that I suddenly realised I was seriously not ok.

I am a children’s cancer nurse, have been for 4 years. Almost everyone has the same response when the find out what my job is; ‘that must be so sad’, ‘you must be a strong person to do that’, ‘how do you do it’. Rightly so it is sad at times. But it’s such a happy environment to work in. I work with a team of heroes and look after heroes as well. It’s a privilege and I wouldn’t wish to do any other job.

There was a sad case that I was involved in at work that knocked me quite hard. I had a lot of guilt and sadness trapped inside me for a long time after that I didn’t speak about. I put on a brave face and just got on with it, forgetting that I am still a human. I work in an environment that can at times be heartbreaking and I forgot that it is ok to cry and to be mad at the world when not everything goes the way we want it to.

I cannot say for sure if this was the reason my mental health deteriorated, but I think it was definitely one of the triggers. About 3 months after, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression.

It took a while for me to come to terms with it all, I was unsure of how people would perceive me. I was unsure whether people would think I was too weak to do my job and I was worried that I would be branded pathetic. None of this was true. I am lucky enough to have an extremely supportive manager and network of friends at work that helped me understand what was going on and to accept it for what it was. And so I was able to start to piece myself back together. 1 in 10 nurse sick days are down to stress related illnesses. The thing with being a nurse is that you can’t do your job when only half of your body is working. Nursing is demanding, mentally physically and emotionally. We all know that the NHS is in a crisis. We are underpaid and overworked. We do long hours and we have to be alert for all 12 of them. I can’t look after anybody if I am struggling to look after myself and so I have had to have time off work which is hard. But self care is something I am teaching myself.

I vowed from the start that my experience would be something that I am always open about. Being open and talking has assisted with getting me out of hard days. I want to help people understand that mental health problems are absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Especially in my line of work. I want to encourage people to talk. If I’d have got things off my chest sooner, I may not be in the position I am today. A problem shared is a problem halved and if I can promote just one person to say ‘hold on a minute, I think I might need a bit of help’ then my experience has been worth it. I can’t help having anxiety and depression in the same way that someone can’t help having diabetes. My mental health doesn’t define who I am, but it’s a part of me and I won’t hide it.

Alone we are strong. But Together we are stronger.

Children holding hands

Written by Danielle Knapper | 15.05.2019

Mental Health Awareness Week

Ellen’s video blog

This is Ellen (Grace Kelly) who wanted to dedicate the rest of her life to helping people with mental health problems. She wanted to start a company making soap with healing properties, essential oils and healing stones. Ellen could see the gaps in the services available due to her own experiences and thought it was unfair that so many people were suffering with poor mental health and insufficient help. She kept on trying to get people to openly discuss things and start a conversation about it all. She would be amazed at how things have progressed conversation wise since she made this video blog post in June 2017.

Ellen had come so far herself and helped so many other people just by being determined and most of all by being her but she succumbed to her own mental illness only days after she made this video. If only she had re-read her own very beautiful words that night…..

“I am almost brought to tears of how thankful I am for my progress, for the person I have become and the way my life has changed. I am thankful for my mistakes, my faults. I have fucked up enormously and at twenty-two, I’m free.
I would use meditation to escape my problems for ten minutes, to settle my mind, to understand that whatever is going on isn’t equivalent to the apocalypse. Then without noticing, I gradually interpreted it into everyday life. Having a shower I would breathe in the lathering soap caressing my skin, I’d be slow. Or realising how much I love to cook, using different oils, vegetables, seasonings. To smell, eat slowly, enjoy the sensations that I’m experiencing. I’m in love with simple things again”. Ellen Scott 2017

Please share this video and the rest of Ellen’s blog. www.ellenscott.co.uk Let’s keep this conversation going and keep on making the difference that she was trying to make. Lets campaign for better services for people like Ellen or me or you… We all have a brain and we all have ‘mental health’.