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Jenny - Interview 1

Age at interview: 35
Brief Outline: Jenny's husband had had episodes of depression. In 2007 he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Five days later he took his own life. Jenny has had support from family, friends, the WAY foundation and Cruse. Her baby is also a great comfort to her.
Background: Jenny, a marketing manager, is a widow and has a baby aged 10 weeks. Ethnic background/nationality: White British

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Jenny’s husband, David, had had at least four major episodes of depression during his life. He had tried many types of medication. During 2006 and early 2007 he had been very depressed, and had even written a suicide note, which Jenny and David destroyed together. Five days before he died, in March 2007, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and decided to seek specialist help in hospital. However, he soon discharged himself and left without any medication. The next day he told Jenny that he was going to see his GP to get his medication but on the way to see the GP he took his own life by jumping from a tower. Jenny thinks that perhaps he lost hope that he would ever get better and that he was exhausted through lack of sleep.
 
Jenny was away staying with her parents at the time of David’s death. When she heard the news she was ‘stunned’, and went a ‘bit ballistic’. Paramedics were concerned because she was pregnant at the time. They took her to hospital so that doctors could make sure that the baby was alright. Since then Jenny has found out that this sort of stressful event is unlikely to affect a pregnancy.
 
Jenny says she has experienced many emotions since David died. At times she has felt numb. She has cried a lot from time to time. She says she allows herself small periods of time just to cry and grieve.

Jenny went to the hospital to see David’s body, which she says for her was the ‘right thing to do’. Jenny found great comfort by listening to the music that David loved and used to play. She also found it comforting to spend time and effort organizing a ‘perfect’ funeral. She wanted to plan the reading, music, poems and the venue. Over 400 people came to the funeral, which was ‘perfect’ in every way. David was cremated.

Jenny has been supported by family and friends. She says that it is important to reach out to people because they will reach back and help. She has also jointed the WAY foundation, a self-help social and support network for men and women widowed up to the age of 50. She has also been in touch with Cruse (Cruse Bereavement Care) and will soon see a counsellor.

Jenny has also found comfort in setting up a bursary in David’s memory. David was a teacher. The bursary will be to help less privileged children attend the school where David taught for many years.
 
Jenny thinks it is important to raise awareness about bipolar disorder. She talked on local radio about the illness and helped to write something for a local newspaper.
 
When she was interviewed three months after her husband’s death Jenny was still waiting for the inquest.

Jenny was interviewed in July 2007.
 

Jenny’s husband was diagnosed with bipolar disorder just before he died. Jenny says he was a...

Jenny’s husband was diagnosed with bipolar disorder just before he died. Jenny says he was a...

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David, my husband died, he took his own life in March of this year, March 2007, and he jumped from a tower. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder about five days before he died and what actually happened was that he’d got very, very bad. He’d been depressed consistently for the previous six months, which was a longer period than he’d ever been depressed for before…
 
Hmm.
 
And I think we tried various different drugs. He had been on Seroxat and eventually was taking Mirtazapine. He’d also tried some mood disorder drugs like Olanzapine and it just felt like it had been going on for a long time and he was getting very, very desperate. And he had actually talked of suicide and he had written a letter to me probably two or three weeks before he actually died. But he, he confessed the letter to me and we sort of burned it deliberately together, as if to say that, you know, we’d talked about it and drawn a line under it and it wasn’t going to happen. And he said to me, “You know, I’d never do it, don’t you?” And I really believed him. 
 
Hmm.
 
And maybe he believed it himself at the time, I’m not sure. But, anyway, there had been this, this threat of suicide. And as I say, just before it had happened, just before he died he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. What had happened was we had, we’d got him into a really good hospital in London. We suddenly realised that we had some medical insurance, through David’s work, and we weren’t aware it would, would cover this kind of hospital treatment. But it did. And he was desperate to go in.
 
We got him in there and he was diagnosed with bipolar. And I think neither of us really quite believed it at first because we’d lived with David’s depression for so long and, I think, my impression certainly of bipolar disorder was the very severe end of it, the manic depression.
 
Hmm.
 

And, and, I think that’s what most people understand about, you know, they see the sort of Steven Fry documentary, that kind of thing And you think about people that maybe take a lot of drugs or re-mortgage their house or whatever it is, you know. So it’s a sort of stereotypical view of it and it’s also the extreme end of it. But this particular expert explained to us that the latest thinking is that there’s a whole, a whole sort of spectrum of, a bipolar spectrum, and you can either be, you are either unipolar depressed, what they call unipolar depressed, which is what most people understand, the kind of futility, not wanting to get up in the morning, feeling like life’s just not worth it. And that’s one end of the scale and the other end is the manic depression. But you can be anywhere between the two. This is, this is the latest thinking. And they said, you know, they thought that David was somewhere on this scale.

 

But David was a very sort of unusual person and I think, he was a real perfectionist, and I think he felt that he had to be absolutely 100% better, because, you know, he said, when he said, you know, “What if I, what if I don’t have it, any highs? What if I don’t experience my highs?” You know, I think what I’m saying is the 50% better wasn’t good enough for him.
 
Hmm.
 
And, and actually the psychiatrist said, he said, “Well we have had really creative people in here, we’ve had writers,” and he said, you know, “But we’ve, they’ve said that, afterwards they haven’t been able to write.” But he said, “They’ve been in here, you know, they, long enough that we have tweaked the drugs and with that and therapy and so on we have got them right again.” 
 
So there was, you know, they, they, you know, he was even addressing that concern. You know, we, we can get there with you. But I think David had got to the point where he had, maybe he had lost hope or he just got so exhausted, he got so exhausted by that point that he just thought, “No.” And maybe that combined with the sort of lack of sleep and so on, maybe that was why.
 
 

Jenny thinks David had a great GP and a really good NHS psychiatrist. Even though the...

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What about your feelings at the time of his death towards other people, health professionals?    Have you got anything you would like to add about the way other people were looking after him before he died? 
 
I was interviewed for local radio because I was trying to raise awareness about bipolar disorder and I remember that the guy who was interviewing me said, “Did I think if he’d been diagnosed earlier,” because of course he was diagnosed only five days before he walked out of the hospital and died. Did I think it would have made a difference? And I had to think quite carefully about it, but I think the thing is it’s just impossible for me to know and therefore because, because again the sort of other implication of that question is the, the doctors and psychiatrists that you, you know, that you had, could they have done any more than they did? I think on balance the answer is no. I mean, we had a great GP, who, you know, gave us a lot of time, wasn’t at all dismissive, was very caring and interested in David, was really sort of talking things through and really trying to understand what was inside him, what was motivating him when he was sort of asking to try different things. She was great. And then the, the NHS psychiatrist that we had, who was attached to a local hospital, he was also really good. David and I had a lot of respect for him. He seemed to, you know, I want to say he seemed like a really nice guy, somehow that sounds irrelevant.
 
Hmm.
 
You know, somebody who’s doing his job, but it wasn’t irrelevant, you know, he clearly understood his job. You know, David had dealt with other people before in the past that he felt didn’t have, didn’t have any kind of sympathy or empathy, and he really felt that this guy did. You know, he really liked him and that was really important. And David was always, I thought, a really good judge of character, whether he was depressed or not, he was a good judge of character. And I think that this psychiatrist did everything that he knew how to do and he would, he had, I think the main thing that I liked about him was he had a lot of respect for David. He didn’t try and take his autonomy away. He didn’t just say, “Right I’m going to try this with you next. I’m going to try that”. He would talk it all through with David, and with me, because towards the end David said, could I come in, and the psychiatrist said, “Yes that was absolutely fine”. I think because he just wanted, the psychiatrist was happy about it because he wanted to see somebody who knew David very well and might give a slightly different answer than David was giving at the time about how he was feeling, someone who might have more objectivity. So it was a good balance.
 
Hmm. 
 
And David liked it, I think because sometimes he was a bit distressed and so on and he thought that I could maybe sort of summarise things that happened when he wasn’t able to.
 
Hmm.
 
So that was, so the three of us, towards the end would have these appointments together and that was really helpful. And, yes, he would, he would talk everything through with David, instead of saying what, you know, “I’m suggesting this, but we could do this or that”. And, I suppose there were times when I thought well maybe you should have, almost be a little bit less like that, because obviously David’s getting to the point where it’s very difficult for him to kind of make decisions, maybe it would be good if you just said, “Right, I think we should do that.” But it’s such a fine line because, and I think the psychiatrist knew this, David was the sort of person that he really had to you know, he had to take on board what was being done. And he, he had to you know, believe in it. Or, you know, that sort of horrible phrase, he had to ‘buy into it’.
 
You know, otherwise he probably wouldn’t have done it. Because he was always, kind of changing his mind about whether a medication was right or not anyway, and I used to have to keep quite on top of it and say, “Look, we’ve decided this, so, you know, you need to at least try this for a bit. You can’t keep jumping around or it’s going to have terrible effects on you.” So you know, he had to absolutely buy into it from the start and I think the psychiatrist knew that and was very good about it and that’s why he helped, you know, made sure that David would partly be making the decision as well.
 
So yeah, that was sort a, a bit difficult. I’m sorry, I say it was a bit difficult just because, as, as I say, I wanted him to be a certain way with him but even I was chopping and changing all the time. You know, I think I’d get to the point where I was feeling a little bit kind of frustrated because I always think, “Oh God, is this next medication going to work or isn’t it?”
 
And so I suppose when you get like that although really you want to feel that you’re in control and that David’s in control, there comes a point where you just think, “Oh just tell me what the right thing is to do.”
 
You know.  So…
 
And then, but I, I think he did a good job. And, and then, of course, you see, we had this new diagnosis so you might think, “Well, didn’t the other psychiatrist not do his job then? How come he didn’t see that?” But I think, you know, the psychiatrist in, the private psychiatrist at this hospital he diagnosed David straight away. Even he said, you know, “Look, it’s very difficult to diagnose.” And he said, “I am specialist that’s why I’ve seen it.
 
And, you know, the, the NHS psychiatrist said to me after he died, he said, “I did ask David on a number of occasions, you know, do you suffer from, or do you experience highs as well as lows and, and David always said ‘No, I’m just me, or I’m low’.”
 
And even I, you know, being outside of David, you know, I couldn’t see that because, you know, I suppose because I knew him well you know, the NHS psychiatrist may have been on the other side of it, he, you could say he, well sure he was more objective he should have seen it, but on the other hand he didn’t see enough of David to know that he would have had highs.  He could only go on what we were both telling him, that’s all he could do. 
 
So, in the end he was diagnosed in a private hospital.
 
That’s right.  Yeah.  That’s, that’s …
 
By a specialist.
 
That’s right, where he was an in-patient.
 
I can’t emphasise enough, you know, I don’t blame anybody, I really don’t. But if there’s any sort of lesson to be learnt it’s that maybe there isn’t enough awareness of this whole kind of bipolar spectrum things and that, you know, maybe you can be a little bit bipolar.  And where it’s difficult to diagnose you just need to be aware because what they’re saying now is, and it, it could anything up to 50% of people who are diagnosed with unipolar depression are actually somewhere on the bipolar scale.
 

Jenny felt stunned and numb for a while after David’s death.

Jenny felt stunned and numb for a while after David’s death.

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My parents have been brilliant all the way along in fact, and, my dad, I’d, I’d taken my address book home, and so I had all the numbers, and my dad phoned everybody. And so that was really hard for him and I listened to a bit of it. I think I needed to. In some ways it was distressing but I needed to hear a bit of it because I needed to hear it being said to other people …
 
Hmm.
 
… so I knew it wasn’t just in my head, you know.   
 
Yeah.
 
That, you know, it was really true, it had really happened. And I think, I think I was, I mean I’m, I’m sure I must have cried quite a lot but I just can’t really remember now. Yeah, I did, I’m sure I did, but I was just also just quite stunned I think…
 
Hmm.
 
… quite sort of numb and there’s a poem, I can’t remember the line out of it, that somebody sent me, that said, it’s something with the effect, to the effect of, you know, people say I’m being brave but I’m not, I’m just numb. And I thought, you know, this was ages afterwards and I thought, “Yeah, that’s right.” You know, you don’t really have any choice. I mean, maybe some people are “braver” than others, in inverted commas, but I didn’t do anything special. If I was brave it’s just something to do with my personality and the way I was. I didn’t, I didn’t, I wasn’t feeling desperate and somehow denying that I‘m bottling it up. I just was the way that I wanted to be.
 
Hmm.
 
And actually I think it’s not so much bravery as just sort of numbness. You put something between yourself and what’s happened, at least for a while, just to be able to cope and deal with it. I think.
 

Jenny explains why she prefers to cry alone. Other people expect her to feel better after she has...

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But you can only deal with so much at a time and you almost allow yourself small periods of time to just cry and, and to, you know, to think about things, to grieve, to do all of that, because you, somehow you have to contain it because otherwise you’d just, you feel like you’d just be a dithering wreck indefinitely.
 
And I do have my days when I’ll, or my hours or whatever, that are really quite bad. So basically I do my grieving in private, and I didn’t work out what it was for a long time but I just couldn’t really cry in front of anybody or at least most of the time I couldn’t. And it was just because it is just such a private thing and I was aware that, I knew, I put myself, I think, in their shoes and I could see that if I was comforting a friend then, you know, I would want them to feel better and I might say, “Oh you have a good cry. Cry it out.” But afterwards when they’d stopped crying you’d probably say, “Oh let’s have”, you know, “have a nice cup of tea” or whatever and, “Do you feel a bit better now?” And I thought, “Well that’s not great,” because if that’s me I, I almost feel obliged to say, “Oh, yeah, I’m feeling a bit better now.” And I wouldn’t be feeling better. Of course I wouldn’t be feeling better …
 
No.
 
… my husband’s just died. You know, it’s not like, I don’t know, you know, if something minor had happened, if I’d lost £1000 or I’d had an incredibly bad day and someone had said to me, something nasty to me at work, you know, that I might have been a little bit upset about. It, it’s a hundred times worse than that. My husband has died. You can’t make me feel better.
 
No.
 
I think, and I think this is the thing that, you know, particularly my mum. I mean, you can imagine of course she wants to see me feeling OK. Which isn’t to say she wouldn’t say, “You have a good cry,” because she definitely would.
 
Hmm.
 
But at some point I’ve got to kind of stop crying and, you know, “Yeah I’m feeling a bit better and it’s OK.” And I didn’t want that point to come because I much prefer to just have a longer period where actually I say, you know, “Yeah, this is awful and I feel bloody awful.” And at some point, you know, hours later in the day, I’ll sort of pick myself up and think, “Right, OK, I’ve kind of cried that out enough today. I’m putting it on one side and carrying on.”
 
It may sound a bit convoluted, and it took me a long time, as I say, to sort of articulate why it was, that I wasn’t really crying in front of people. But that’s why, if they see me upset, I feel more upset. I actually feel less upset if I cry it out on my own and then start to feel OK and then come back.
 

Jenny saw her husband’s body at the hospital. She stayed with him for almost an hour. She found...

Jenny saw her husband’s body at the hospital. She stayed with him for almost an hour. She found...

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And I did go and see his body. Again that’s something that I absolutely, utterly had to do and spent, I think, about the best part of an hour there with him. And that was both upsetting and comforting. So I talked to the coroner a little bit, I knew that he [David] had internal injuries, but I didn’t see that. I just saw his face and his hand. 
 
If somebody else was in your situation…, was it important for you to see his body?
 
It was important for me, but I’d think, as with all of this, the whole experience, you have to do what you feel is right for you.
 
You say somebody suggested that you should [see him]?
 
I think, I think they just said, did I want to.
 
Yes.
 
I think it was just that. Did I want to? And the coroner was absolutely lovely. She was the loveliest person. She prepared me for how he was looking, you know, and actually my friend had already identified him so that was helpful because my friend could say, “It’s very much David. Don’t worry that you’ll go in there and just see this dead body that you won’t recognise because maybe he’ll have gone sort of stiff or he’ll be a different colour or because he’s not animated it just won’t look like him or …”. She said, “Yes, of course the animation isn’t there, but it’s still very much David,” was just how she put it. And I thought that’s good enough for me.
 
Hmm.
 
And then the coroner, I when I got there, she said, I think again she just told me what I would see and she explained that he did have some internal injuries but he was covered up and I would see his face and his hand and his arm. You know, and I can’t remember what else she said, but whatever else it was, I remember arriving and was at that point incredibly upset.
 
Hmm.
 
And she was just very, very calming, very nice and I don’t know whether everybody has the same experience, I guess it depends on the individual coroner or coroner’s officer that you, that you see, but I must say, that, I think I’ve been very fortunate because everybody I’ve dealt with in every sphere, there’s been nobody who’s been insensitive, I don’t think. No, nobody.
 

Jenny agreed to be interviewed for an article about David, partly as a tribute to him, partly to...

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I have a mixed, but mostly good, experience of media involvement in my husband’s death. On the one hand, a national tabloid left a note in my postbox asking me if I’d like to talk to them, which I felt was pretty insensitive given it was just days after David died – and I felt uncomfortable that they had been snooping around where I live whilst I wasn’t there. On the other hand, a national broadsheet invited me to do an interview for them which turned out well. I decided to do the interview for the feature for several reasons' firstly, as a tribute to David and the exceptional teacher he was; secondly, to raise awareness of mental illness; and thirdly, because I suspected I would find it cathartic, which I did. I also felt it might help friends and acquaintances understand what had happened without me having to tell the long story to each and every one of them. The one thing that perturbed me a little was the article headline, which I felt gave the wrong impression. It’s as well to be aware that, whilst a journalist might write a wholly sensitive piece, a sub-editor can always edit it and/or add a headline you may not be happy with. That is the risk you take though, and I knew that before I went ahead, and on balance it was worth it.

 

I also did a lot with the local media. I did an interview on local radio about bipolar disorder, having learned quite a bit following David’s death. Again, the reason for doing it was to raise awareness and I was very pleased that I was given around 15 minutes on air – I felt the time made available really did justice to a complex topic. This contrasted with local TV, where it was clearly going to be impossible to do anything meaningful about bipolar – however, they focused on the bursary we set up in memory of David and so it was helpful for promoting that cause to the local community. Finally, there were a number of pieces in the local press, and the purpose of those was to raise money for the bursary. I also persuaded them to do a small inset about bipolar spectrum, and I felt that for a local paper to include that was really impressive.
 

Jenny found that officials reacted best when she opened the conversation by acknowledging that...

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I mean, occasionally you might deal with somebody when you’re trying to close a bank account or whatever it might be, or inform the AA, you know. People take a bit of a deep breath and sometimes you can see they don’t know what to say. And I have found the best thing to say is, just to say, “I know you don’t know what to say, don’t worry, it’s fine. I’m coping. I just need to deal with this practical thing with you.”
 
Hmm.
 
And then they just do. And that’s fine. But I haven’t had anybody who’s been really insensitive at all, and I can’t really believe that because, you know, looking on the WAY Foundation website so many people have dealt with people that have been insensitive and horrible to them and I just haven’t had that at all.
 

Jenny wanted David’s funeral to be ‘perfect’. She chose the readings and poems and who would read...

Jenny wanted David’s funeral to be ‘perfect’. She chose the readings and poems and who would read...

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The things that I wanted to organise were the music and the poems and the readings and who would do the readings, and the venue, you know, where it would be. It had to be perfect, preferably, there had to be the right kind of undertaker with the right kind of cars and things that David would have liked and everything had to be just absolutely bloody perfect. It had to be absolutely perfect.  I didn’t want to spend ages on the phone with people arguing about whether we could have one venue or another. So my friends and family were brilliant at that. My family found an undertaker and I said, “Yes, they seem right.” And my best friend and one of David’s very good friends were absolutely excellent at just sorting out the background stuff. I said what I wanted, you know, and they were able to get in touch with the right chaplains and the right person to organise where we wanted the funeral. So that was great. But I just read a whole load of poetry. I’d listened to all the music anyway. There were a whole load of people that could have read at the funeral but, you know, I chose some people who I thought would, would read just, just right and, you know, how David would have liked it. It was a very long funeral. I mean, I think it was about an hour and a half, but people said, you know, that they didn’t notice the time, it just sort of flew by and some of them said it was like a wedding but sort of without the groom, which was a bit bizarre. But I think they just meant because it was so beautiful. 
 
And you say it helped you because you felt you were in control and planned it. Is that what you said?
 
Yes, Yes. I wanted to be in control but more important, it, it wasn’t, I think more important than being in control, it was that I wanted it to be perfect. And I suppose I am a bit of a control freak and I didn’t really trust anybody but me to make sure that it was absolutely right. And anyway I was the one that I thought knew David best and, and that I could second guess best exactly what would be perfect …
 

When Jenny joined the WAY Foundation support group she found a link to an email support group...

When Jenny joined the WAY Foundation support group she found a link to an email support group...

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I mean, I’ve actually joined an organisation called Widowed and Young, WAY for short, and it’s pretty obvious what it is, it’s, you know, everybody who’s a member has been widowed young and it’s for women and men. I think it’s anybody up to the age of 50 because I think after 50 they have other organisations that are appropriate. And there are just so many people in their 20s, 30s and 40s who’ve, who’ve been widowed young. Although I have found a few in my situation where they’ve been bereaved by suicide but it’s certainly well, well, well in the minority, even with that organisation. But, anyway, I’m digressing a bit but I, you know, I joined the WAY organisation and one of the things they have is a sort of email list, where you can just write in and talk about your experience or how you are feeling or …
 
Hmm.
 
… and, you know, whether you were bereaved 10 years ago or last week, you can talk to people and people reply and people to whom it happened, you know, a long time ago can be more helpful, other people it’s raw and they’re sort of just seeking help and so on.
 
Yes, I was talking about the website and the books, but I guess really the key thing is   yes, meeting people. And I haven’t met anybody yet, but I’m going to in about five days. There are lots of local organisations under the WAY umbrella and so the local WAY groups, and the one that’s local to me has a, a meal out for people to get together once a month and I only joined about a month ago, so I think I missed the last one, or I wasn’t free to go. But I’m going to this one next Thursday and I’m really looking forward to it actually. I mean, I can’t talk about what it’s like because I haven’t been yet…
 
Hmm.
 
… but you know, I imagine obviously it’s, it’s like any kind of social situation, you get on with some people and not with others and it takes a, a long time to get to know people properly and some people are more shy than others so…
 
Hmm.
 
… I don’t know quite how it, it will go but I imagine there’s a good chance that, you know, I’ll probably make some friendships, you know, through that group. And it’s just the fact that, that other people are in, not exactly the same situation as me, as I say, you know, I, whether anybody in that group has been bereaved by suicide I don’t know. I think, in the local group I think there’s one other person out of about 70 people, but whether that particular person will be at this meal on Thursday, I don’t know.
 

Jenny felt driven to ensure that David would be remembered through fitting tributes for the...

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The things that helped me the most at the beginning were planning the perfect funeral, setting up the bursary and doing the media stuff (to raise awareness about bipolar disease). I felt driven to ensure that David would be remembered through fitting tributes for the exceptional man that he was and I didn’t really care how many hours in the day or night it took to achieve that end. Listening to David’s music (he had an enormous collection) and seeing our friends and family helped too. Then our daughter was born, and although it has been tiring, looking after her has probably saved me from going under. She is part of David but also, of course, an amazing little person in her own right and she gives me her biggest smiles when I really need them! I have also just started seeing a counsellor from Cruse and think that is going to be helpful. Finally, there is an email support group for those widowed by suicide – a spin off of the WAY email support group – and I am finding that especially helpful, as so many of the emotions expressed are so similar to those I have felt.

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