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I Didn't Know What Inner Strength Was Until My Husband Took His Own Life

02/05/2017 9:33 PM IST | Updated 02/05/2017 10:41 PM IST
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I'm lucky.

When you hear my story, you may not think of me as such, but I know I am.

I'm 36 years old, and for 31 of those, I had a pretty calm and easy life.

My parents love each other and are still together; my sister and I are best friends. During my teens and twenties, my biggest concern was whether or not I was going to get a job, and where I was going on Saturday night.

When I was 31, I found out I had a hole in the heart - which I had since birth. It went undetected because I was pretty healthy and my body had managed to cope until that point. But it was fixed quickly with keyhole surgery and I'm now so much fitter than I was before the operation.

In my 30s, I met and married the love of my life. He remains the biggest love I have ever experienced. His name was Rob, and he was the most beautiful, intelligent, infuriating and complex man I had ever met.

He worked as a science journalist and he swept me up in his humour, kindness towards other people, and his unconditional acceptance of who I was as a person. He magnified who I was.

But like I said, complex.

Rob had struggled with depression since he was a child, and was so tentative in how he talked about his illness when we first met, I had no idea of how huge the impact on him actually was.

As part of what I believe was a struggle to self-medicate his illness (he also had big problems in fully acknowledging the extent of his depression) Rob also was an addict. He kept this hidden from me for three years, and eventually confessed.

Although I struggled with a broken heart at being lied to, I understood for the first time that life wasn't black and white.

It deals exclusively in shades of grey. There is a sadness when you realise this because often, it comes about because of a hard lesson, but at the same time, your compassion and understanding for people expands and grows.

They may not talk about it, but each person around you is walking their own bridge, and on that bridge, at some point, sits their own immense sadness, shame and happiness.

In May 2015, Rob ended up taking his own life.

Everyone has their own views about suicide, but I knew it wasn't because he didn't love us or care about us. If there was one thing that could be said about Rob, it was that he loved you without judgement or reservation, and although sometimes he could be seriously hard work, he was an easy person to love.

He died because he couldn't cope with the struggle inside his own head, which had been going on for such a long time.

When he passed away, it decimated everything I thought I knew. Everything was darkness for a time; I lay at the bottom of my own ocean.

But slowly, there were pinpricks of light.

I'm not going to say it was easy. That I am here, that I didn't die from my own grief, is the result of the hardest work I have ever had to do in my life.

People have called me strong - I guess because I went back to work and I didn't go catatonic from the shock. I used my job at HuffPost to create a platform where people could talk about mental health, masculinity and suicide. And I wrote a book about Rob and our life together because I felt that a big part of what trapped him into keeping up appearances of normality, was that we just don't talk about depression or addiction. And we especially don't talk about suicide.

Being called strong is a compliment, and I would rather be called strong than weak. But I have a complicated relationship with the word because often I don't feel strong. Some days I'm right back at the bottom of that ocean, wondering how I ended up there.

The problem with grief is that it is love without an anchor; its timeline only goes one way - stretching back into the past because the future you had with this person no longer exists. And when you think about how powerful love is, when it no longer has a home, it can generate a vast amount of internal chaos.

When Rob first died, and everything was mist and fire and pain, I didn't think: 'I have to be strong'. And I certainly didn't care whether people thought I was or not. But while I didn't have a plan, and for a lot of months my main goal was literally waking up and going to bed, I held onto this idea of the person I wanted to be.

I wanted to have dignity. I wanted to have compassion. If someone was going through something similar, I wanted to be able to hold their hand and help them. I wanted to be the kind of person my husband always believed I was, even though I didn't quite believe it myself.

Inner strength isn't something that you are innately born with. I know I didn't have this strength before Rob died. How could I? It wasn't required of me yet.

I got it partly because of luck, and partly because I had to fight for my own survival. Luck, in that I had good friends and family around me, who lifted my head above the waves when I was too tired to keep paddling. But the fight was the making of me.

The fight was, and is, every day. It was present in a hundred different, tiny decisions that I had to make about my life and this person that I was starting to become.

If someone was to say, well okay, but how specifically did you get past it, I couldn't quite tell you. All I know is that I had to keep doing the things I loved (working, running and writing), I learned how to say no to people a bit more, and I understood that this grief would always be with me, but it wouldn't always overwhelm me.

Because what I think inner strength is, is an ability to truly see the world for what it is and bend with it: always changing, shifting and growing. To press yourself into the moments as they arrive rather than always wondering what could go wrong. And while you will always carry the ones you have lost with you, the strength that beats alongside your heart keeps it open to all possibilities.

Poorna Bell's first book Chase The Rainbow, about Rob and their life together, is out on 4 May, £12.99 published by Simon and Schuster.

Life Less Ordinary is a weekly blog series from The Huffington Post UK that showcases weird and wonderful life experiences. If you've got something extraordinary to share please email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com with LLO in the subject line

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