Don’t tell Konnie or Matt, but you were always my favourite Blue Peter presenter. Your calm, measured tone and wide smile were inspiring and uplifting. Your skills as a presenter are clear, and you’re right – when you’re on screen, no one would ever know that you were not coping. That is why it is so important that you shared, with brutal honesty, how you were feeling.
This open letter is to tell you – you’re not alone. I can’t begin to understand your pain, I do not know you, Gemma or Ethan. My mum battled cancer for two years – nothing like Gemma’s three days. Your pain is unique to you, but the dark place you’ve been in, the cave you describe – I’ve been there. I know what depression feels like. I know how terrifying panic attacks can be. I worship the God you worship and I know what it is like to be angry, confused and stumbling through the dark. In my lowest points, I too walked out of the church I love, unable to even sit through a service without breaking down in tears.
Across the world, the stories are scarily similar
We may not appear to be that similar, you and I. But your comments about depression in your now famous blog post are like reading my own inner thoughts.
“Mostly I faced this new battle alone, unable to admit to, or talk about the depression that had taken a grip on my life. I felt totally cut off from the world around me. It was like being in a parallel universe – life carries on as normal around you and you’re part of it, yet you feel totally cut off from it. You’re in the world but not of the world.”
I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in 2017 after two years of apparently coping really well. I wish I had had the bravery to admit that I wasn’t ok, as you did. Instead, I answered “fine, thanks” to every question and buried myself in my final year of university. When I finally allowed grief some space in my consciousness, it hit me hard and like you, I contemplated suicide.
It’s terrifying isn’t it, how many people totally understand what you are saying because they’ve experienced the exact same feelings. Despite different circumstances, thousands of people have responded to your blog post with their own stories of suffering and depression. I’ve been honest about my grief for a while now, and it’s hugely liberating. But my dream is that one day the cries of “I am hurting too” might end, and everyone might get the support they need after bereavement.
Thank you for using your platform to subvert our ‘man up’ culture
Lots of young people have contacted me through Let’s Talk About Loss to talk about their own feelings. However sadly, the overwhelming majority of them have been women. We still have a long way to go before men feel as comfortable reaching out for help as women do – but with courageous individuals like yourself, Rio Ferdinand, Jeff Brazier and Princes William and Harry, men around the world are starting to speak up about their experiences and open up to those around them if they are not ok.
“For those reading this who understand – don’t suffer in silence. Like me, remember, you didn’t choose to be this way. Don’t sit on and bury the uncomfortable murmurings of mental illness – talk. Talk to your other half. Talk to those friends you trust, try and open your heart and your mind and allow the soothing balm of openness to begin to heal. Compared to others my experience is limited but this is all I can offer.”
You might think that your experience is limited but it is so precious and helpful. I know that Gemma is, right now, rightfully proud of everything you are doing – not just for yourself and Ethan, but for the whole community of people in the UK who have suffered a bereavement and don’t know where to turn. When I lost my mum, I couldn’t see any reason to carry on living. But to make things better for others after we have suffered tragedy ourselves is a selfless and loving act – and it might help you as you try to understand why Gemma has gone.
“Don’t be strong. Be weak.”
I love Pete Grieg’s books and I have found them insanely useful as I try to navigate a world without my mum, and where a large piece of my heart is missing. He is so right – being strong is stupid when you have suffered so much. You need to be weak, vulnerable and allow your mind to fully process what has happened. Of course that will hurt, of course that will make you cry – and so it should. You’ve suffered a truly heartbreaking loss and as you say with such wisdom and grace, from your weakness will come the strength to carry on.
“When people ask me how I’m doing, I long for the day I can say with authenticity that I am OK; but right now I can’t say anything other than I’m not OK, I’m really struggling.”
Simon, your blog posts have made me and many others weep for you. But they also make me insanely proud to live alongside you in this crazy world. You are a true shining light, and despite being internally in the darkest of caves, your raw honesty and vulnerability has made you into an inspiration, a survivor, a light in the darkness for so many.
Thank you so much for what you have said and I pray that you will heal and recover in peace and grace, loved by the Lord who grieves with you.