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Stars disappear“I am enormously glad I did not kill myself”

BMJ 1998; 317 doi: (Published 15 August 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:480

Stars disappear

Why do I write? Because my mother killed herself. Twenty five years ago, one sunny autumn afternoon my father was mowing the lawn. My mother went down to the dank cellar of their Georgian house. She looped a belt around her neck, tied the other end to a beam, and stepped off a chair. She was 60. Because mental illness remains an unmentionable topic. Because sharing my experience may give you some insight into depression—30% of you may have this disease. Because I am alive today due to her suicide.

What happened to me? Twelve years ago, after a long crescendo of stress, I stopped singing and started to cry—at night, while driving, at work—in fact anywhere and any time when my brain was not actively engaged. My attention in theatre was not significantly affected, but I watched the patient and the monitors through a veil of tears. Few knew how I was feeling—I was very good at covering up. Pain took up residence in my chest, lodged stubbornly beneath my sternum, and stayed for three years: an overwhelming ache, a tight band, a pervasive feeling of doom.

The evenings were the worst. I couldn't sleep; I woke at 4am. The hideous circuits of pain were particularly distressing at night. I resorted to sleeping tablets very early in the illness. Without sleep I could not …

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