As we move into Mental Health Awareness Week across the country, we take this time to reflect on our day to day practices, using the week as an opportunity to learn from our community and support those around us. Grace Curtis, Georgia Harris & Tori Wheelans are the founder of Cool Change, a movement to give the bereaved a voice and break around the stigmas of suicide. Cool Change is a place to speak out about grief, discuss how to get through trauma and to campaign change.
"Although, I wish every day that I could have Dad back I didn’t realise back then that you can truly and wholeheartedly find a peace and a purpose in the wake of tragedy."
CONTENT WARNING: This piece discusses suicide.
On behalf of the Cool Change sisters, we feel extremely privileged for the opportunity to partake in The Best is Yet to Come with RUBY. What a wonderful initiative this is!
Cool Change NZ is a media platform that is run by myself, Grace Curtis, Georgie Harris and Tori Wheelans. We each lost our Dad’s to suicide when we were in our early twenties.
‘The best is yet to come’ can mean many things to many different people. To the cool change sissy’s, it means having the patience and the humility to remember, ‘the best’ is not always reflective of traditional bests, and that is okay.
Without knowing each other prior to losing our Dad’s, we initially made contact as a means to source support. Losing a family member (or friend) to suicide is something we all wish, we will never have to experience. But, unfortunately, there are many of us who must.
It was not long after getting to know each other, that we decided to go against the status quo by publicly speaking of our experiences and sharing the importance of prioritising mental wellness, and preventing suicide.
Many of us can probably relate to the concept of social media and how it serves a purpose to share desirable versions of life. Well, we use it in a near-polar opposite way. We completely undermine the traditional use of social media, to express that life is not perfect and when we face adversity, we can get through it, and we are not alone.
Grace & her Dad
Georgie & her Dad
Tori & her Dad
Although it can make us feel extremely uncomfortable at times, we are vulnerable and transparent in our feelings, emotions and (in some cases) mistakes or learnings. Every time I second-guess whether I should share, I remember myself on the first day I lost Dad and how powerless and afraid I felt. Unfortunately here in Aotearoa New Zealand, there are hundreds of families every year who find themselves in the same position, and it is for them, that I sacrifice my ego to create this space alongside Georgie and Tori.
When you experience trauma, it transforms the person that you are and it can take a long time to acknowledge the prosperity in your future. But, rest assured, it is possible and sometimes, it is for the best. But, I know it does not seem that way in the beginning.
If I reflect on my personal experience of losing my Dad to suicide, and how this transpires to the best is yet to come… I would say that, in the early days following his passing I was utterly convinced that I would never be happy, ever again.
Prior to losing my Dad, I was a very bubbly and busy person. I was independent, determined, and a lot of fun!
Immediately after he died, I was the complete opposite. I lived through many months unable to take pride in my appearance, or indeed, take simple steps to ensure I was fed and rested. I did not sleep properly for five whole months… and that does (awful) things to a person! I was constantly yearning for my old life back, and to have Dad back.
For at least six months following his death, I was forced to give up my sport, much of my social life, some of my studies, and most importantly, it felt like I was forced to give up my youth. While friends were enjoying being young and fun at University, at age twenty-two I was on (an often lonely) path to re-learning basic care for myself and supporting my family.
Despite being incredibly lucky to have the most amazing support from family and loved ones (and to whom I will be forever grateful) I knew if I was to recover, I had to make that happen for myself.
I slowly learned ways to manage my circumstantial depression and anxiety, and this was never consistent or perfect (and it still isn’t today). But, a while after his passing (when Cool Change NZ was born) I walked this unfounded path of advocacy.
When you have a purpose and a desire to help people (even if only one or two) it is incredible to have that feeling of accomplishment, and that is what kept me going through the next few months, and years.
Throughout this process, I began to find comfort in the smallest of things I once took for granted. Whether that be a hug from my Mum or my siblings, a simple meal I had made or feeling good in a dress (many of which were RUBY dresses courtesy of my friend Olivia). I found myself acknowledging and experiencing insignificant moments in significant ways. I was fully engaged when I had a conversation with a friend, I cherished time with my Grandma and I prioritised my family in ways I never thought I even could. I felt most proud, when helping others.
Although, I wish every day that I could have Dad back I didn’t realise back then that you can truly and wholeheartedly find a peace and a purpose in the wake of tragedy. I am not happy that I won’t have my Dad to walk me down the aisle, that he missed my graduation and that he won’t meet any of the children that I hope to have one day. But, I am grateful that I will never be consumed by things that don’t matter, that I know and accept that life will never be perfect and that I have an unparalleled appreciation for the simple things in life. If you have experienced loss, I can almost guarantee that reaching out, helping others and living in the moment will help you heal (even though it can feel like it takes forever!).
I hope that while we may not feel pride or promise in our health system (at times), and especially our mental health system, that we can have hope in our personal abilities to overcome challenges. Small changes over time can have a significant impact on the outcomes that affect us. Life is not perfect, but if you can help yourself by helping others we will all be better off.
The fourth anniversary of my Dad’s death is quickly approaching, and while I’d say my life (and myself) are not the same as they once were, I am happy, I feel fulfilment and I know, the best is yet to come.
Written by Grace Curtis
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