Mental Health Awareness: Aimee's Story
Eight years after her partner Marky died, WAY Widowed and Young member Aimee shares how she overcame agoraphobia and anxiety to find a new way forward, with support from her WAY friends.
I’m into year 8 of grief after suddenly losing Marky when I was 26. Marky’s death changed my sense of stability in this world and made my anxiety and panic huge. The world felt terrifying – bleak doesn’t even begin to describe it. For a long time, I barely left the house. Most days, my depression and agoraphobia anchored me to my bed.
I lost my ability to daydream... It’s not that I couldn’t even see a happy future anymore. I couldn’t see a future at all. When I tried it was just a dark hole of nothingness.
For years I felt like a failure at grief. I would see fellow widows who were on the same timescale as me moving forwards with their life in all kinds of ways – whether that was finding new loves, new careers, new adventures, new friendships... They managed to truly “carry what can’t be fixed” and live with their grief not consuming them.
"I was consumed to the point of not functioning and I didn’t know why I couldn’t pick myself up. I just couldn’t."
The peer support network WAY Widowed and Young truly saved my life in so many ways. Other WAY members never gave up hope that one day I would escape the hell hole of isolation. They were there to hold my hand virtually in the darkness and listen to me when all I could feel was the physical pain of never seeing Marky again radiate through my body and cripple me.
For so many years, my WAY friends listened and were always there for me. WAY also built me up when I started to volunteer for the charity. For three years, I helped with WAY’s social media, making grief content to share and to help spread the word about the charity. It helped to give me purpose when I was living a very pointless feeling existence.
WAY also brought my new partner into my life. We talked online for years before we met in person. We discussed moving in together before we even met and we have just moved in together...! Our WAY crystal swans are now sitting together, displayed in a special place.
Our swans were given to us both by WAY as a prize when we both separately won the Helen Bailey Award for best WAY blogger. The swans sitting together truly symbolise how we live with our grief together.
You don’t have to do this alone
The outside world thinks you “move on” from grief, but you truly don’t. Our grief and our love for our late partners remains as loud and as present as ever.
"We talk about them all the time. We share their stories. We still love them and they are still so present in our lives. We still grieve too."
We talk about it when we miss them and when that grief comes crashing back in, as I feel it always will do throughout life. Grief becomes something you carry but it will always be with us. I will love Marky forever so it makes sense that, of course, I will also grieve him forever.
These days I no longer struggle with agoraphobia, and I even use my lived experience of it within my work. After years of being unable to work, I now work for the mental health charity Mind, supporting families and partners of people who care for those struggling with their mental health. I was lucky enough to have a manager when I first started who let me design my own carers’ course. I now run six-week courses for carers of people with mental health challenges, drawing on my own experiences.
I didn’t ever think life would feel worth living again… and it took me longer than most people to find a way forward. I thought I was a lost cause. I couldn’t imagine not living in constant pain, let alone building a life with someone new and running my own course. (I was always insanely quiet at school and holding a course and speaking in front of people has always been my idea of hell!) Yet here I am, truly living and honouring my grief and my love for Marky always.
At the end of each session of my course, I end on a PowerPoint slide with just one small sentence, a sentence Marky once said to me when I was struggling and not really letting people in to help me through it... “You don’t always have to be Supergirl on your own”.
I offer this to the carers at the end of each session as my final thought, to let them know they are not alone... And I bring it to anyone who’s reading this today too. You don’t have to do grief alone. Members of WAY get that and they all help each other through their grief – just as they helped and supported me through my darkest times. Now I’m paying that forward by supporting others and showing that there is light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how long that tunnel may seem to be at times.
So please do reach out for help if you are struggling this Mental Health Awareness Week. There are always other people who understand what you are going through and who are there to help and listen – brilliant organisations like WAY, Mind, Cruse and the Samaritans. Whatever you’re going through, you don’t have to do it on your own.
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If you are struggling to cope, speak to your GP. There are also support services available 24/7 in the UK:
Samaritans helpline – 116 123
Text SHOUT to 85258
In an emergency, or if you are in danger, call 999.