What’s your life purpose? Why are YOU here? What’s the meaning of your existence? It took the suicide of my 31-year old brother and 10 years of fleeing from my grief to eventually discover mine.
My brother, Danny, had been diagnosed with depression, ADHD and ultimately, schizophrenia; diagnoses which invited the scrutiny of tens of doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists and their hit-and-miss prescriptions of questionably effective medication. He’d spent half of his life a revolving patient of A&E, each visit a different interpretation of ‘a cry for help’: overdose, attempted hanging, jumping off a roof. Failed suicide attempts which saw him moved from police-cells, to mental institutions and even prison. His life was turmoil.
I’ll never forget the torment in Danny’s face when he told me and my mother that he just wanted to die; to lie down on the nearby railway track and await his death. As my mother collapsed on the floor in uncontrollable sobs, Danny pleaded, ‘Why am I like this, Mum. Why?’ And it’s a question which has haunted me ever since his fateful overdose 10 years ago. Why? What was the purpose of my brother’s life. Why was he made to suffer so badly?
Holocaust survivor and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor E Frankl wrote, ‘‘Suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning.’ And it has taken me a decade to identify a reason for my brother’s suffering, enabling me to reframe my grief and slowly come to terms with his tragic life and death. I know that if something positive and beneficial for others can occur because of our experiences, I can find peace with his death.
This Spring, my husband and I began a new venture called Off the Ropes (boxing parlance; said to encourage a fighter to manoeuvre away from the ropes; a position of adversity and weakness). Each week, via our podcast, I interview some of the world’s most inspiring and courageous individuals who’ve overcome personal adversity to achieve success and happiness; those who have not only survived adversity, but have thrived.
Paralympians, Invictus athletes and disabled climbers; mountaineers, explorers and record-breaking endurance athletes; actors, writers and world renowned musicians, each share their personal story of courage, and triumph over hardship, hopefully inspiring others that they, too, can achieve extraordinary feats, no matter the size of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles blocking their path.
Each day I feel enormously humbled and grateful to speak with remarkably, inspiring individuals who have all used their pain as fuel for their courageous journeys: the world’s first blind man to solo climb a 3000ft rock-wall; a BAFTA winning writer who overcame depression following sexual abuse; an endurance cyclist who escaped an abusive religious sect to become the first woman to circumnavigate the world on bicycle; the one-armed veteran leading a team of disabled explorers to seven of the world’s tallest mountains and hopefully into the record-books. They’ve suffered, but enormously positive things have been achieved despite their troubles.
The podcast is just the start of the journey. Ultimately, we’d like to create an Off the Ropes Foundation to support individuals who’ve overcome adversity and want to participate in life-changing adventures, but as we all know, ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.’
To honour the memory of my brother, I want to encourage as many people as possible to live their lives ‘off the ropes’: optimally, passionately and without limitation. He couldn’t, but I can. And so can you. If just one person’s perspective on life can change because of the words heard on the Off the Ropes podcast, my brother’s life, tragic death, and my grief will have a long-lasting meaning.