My eyes shot open, as a clattering of dishes sounded from downstairs. Groggily, I turned in the bed to see an empty space beside me. As the blurred numbers on the alarm clock came into focus, I realised it was 4am. Grumbling, I threw the duvet off and reached for my dressing gown.
Downstairs, I found my wife, Sue, 43, bending over the dishwasher. ‘Can’t sleep again?’ I asked, as she jumped, startled by my voice. ‘Sorry, did I wake you?’ she said. ‘No,’ I lied. ‘Why don’t you come back upstairs and we’ll try some more relaxation exercises.’
I held out my hand but Sue looked reluctant to accept. ‘You might as well try,’ I said, noticing the dark circles under eyes. She hadn’t slept a wink the night before either. ‘Okay,’ she finally agreed.
It wasn’t the first night Sue had had trouble sleeping. She’d been an insomniac since I’d known her, and I could count the number of unbroken night’s sleep she’d had on one hand.
When we first got together in 1994, the situation wasn’t as bad. Sue always managed to drift off but would wake up throughout the night. After three years together, life took us in different directions, and we ended up breaking up.
Then, eight years later we bumped into each other in a local pub and our romance was reignited. We married in a dream wedding on the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar in 2011.
In the years we were apart, Sue’s sleeping pattern had become much worse. She’d try and keep me up all night talking because she was too afraid to go to bed. ‘What if I can’t get to sleep?’ she’d say, frantic.
Soon, we’d tried everything from hypnotherapy, acupuncture, meditation to cognitive behavioural therapy. We made sure we didn’t watch TV too late and avoided certain foods and caffeine, but nothing worked for long.
If Sue could sleep, it was often during the day, which made matters worse. She was a primary school teacher, so the pressure she put on herself to perform didn’t help matters.
Sue was a perfectionist, and would often sit at night until 2am planning lessons for the next day. Everything she did was with military precision, and she wouldn’t be able to settle until it was finished.
She saw not being able to sleep as an imperfection she couldn’t deal with. Nobody at her school suspected her problem, because she refused to let it interfere with her work.
While she was smiley and bubbly during the day, she crumbled at home. I often found her crying on the sofa when I came home from work. ‘Why can’t I sleep?’ Sue wailed. ‘I’m exhausted.’
‘You need to try and relax,’ I said. ‘Stressing won’t help.’ ‘That’s easy for you to say,’ Sue snapped.
When Sue’s insomnia started in her early teens, she was prescribed sleeping pills. She’d begged and pleaded for more, but the doctor refused, in case she became reliant on them. Out of desperation, she decided to take matters into her own hands.
‘I’ve managed to get my hands on some sleeping pills,’ Sue said, brightly one day in 2011. ‘The doctor finally prescribed you more?’ I asked, surprised. ‘No, I found some on the internet,’ she said.
Her smile faded and she noticed the worried look on my face. ‘Don’t give me that look,’ Sue scolded. ‘It’s not like I’ve got much option.’
‘How do you even know what’s in these pills?’ I said. ‘They could contain anything.’ ‘I’m willing to take my chances,’ Sue said stubbornly.
The sleeping pills arrived, and for a few months, they helped Sue drift off to sleep.When her body became immune, she increased the dosage. Watching Sue shove six pills in her mouth at once, I snatched the packet from her hands.
‘This is getting ridiculous,’ I scolded. ‘You’re going to end up overdosing.’ ‘You don’t understand what it’s like. I need them,’ Sue shouted back at me. ‘There’s got to be a better option than this,’ I sighed.
Despite my pleas to stop, Sue kept buying the pills online and soon, they stopped working. Every night, I’d wake up to find the bed beside me empty. She spent more time awake than she had done before she’d started taking the pills.
Somehow, despite her lack of sleep, Sue managed to keep an active social life. Among our friends she was always the life and soul. On December 21, 2014, we went to a friend’s party, and the walls shook with her laughter.
The next day Sue stayed in bed until the evening. ‘Still hungover?’ I asked, popping my head into the bedroom. ‘Just tired,’ she grumbled. I walked over and sat down on the bed beside her.
We were meant to be going into Blackpool later on, but now it seemed unlikely. ‘We don’t have to go out again tonight,’ I said, stroking the hair away from her face. ‘No, I’ll be fine,’ Sue said. ‘It’s not like I’ll sleep anyway.’
Later that night, Sue and I had a fantastic time. After a couple of glasses of white wine she was giggling like a schoolgirl and prank phoning our friends.
Back home, Sue and I lay across the sofa watching TV and when I heard the sound of snoring, I smiled to myself. ‘Finally,’ I thought.
I gently laid her head down and pulled a throw over her. I didn’t want to risk moving her to bed, in case I woke her up. ‘Goodnight sweetheart,’ I said, kissing her forehead.
The sun was coming up when I woke the next morning. I realised Sue hadn’t come to bed, so I went downstairs to check she was alright. The sofa was empty.
‘Sue?’ I called out, but there was no answer. ‘She must have gone out for a walk,’ I thought to myself. She often did when she couldn’t get to sleep.
Then, an hour later, there was a knock on the front door. Swinging it open, I expected to see Sue, but my heart jumped as two police officers stood in front of me.
‘Mr Greenwood?’ one of the officers asked. My body went stiff. Why they were here? ‘Can I help you?’ I asked.
‘We’ve found a body in the woods,’ the officer said. My stomach churned as I tried to make sense of the situation. ‘We think it’s your wife,’ he continued.
I clung to the door frame to steady myself, as my head began to spin. I had to stop myself from being sick. ‘H-how?’ I managed to splutter, tears streaming down my face.
Sue had been found dead by a dog walker in the wooded area at Haslam Park in Bolton, Greater Manchester. Just a few minutes from our house.
The next few days passed in a grief-stricken blur as I tried to piece together why Sue had taken her life. There was only one explanation…lack of sleep.
Identifying Sue’s lifeless body I felt my heart break. She was the love of my life, and now she was gone. After 30 years of insomnia, Sue couldn’t take it a moment longer.
Over 200 people came to pay their respects at Sue’s funeral and it brought comfort to know how much she was loved. Two of Sue’s friends told me how they sang Sue to sleep in boarding school,
when she was just 11.
It’s been a year since Sue’s death and I miss her terribly. I never imagined she would take her own life and I wish there was something more I could have done. My only wish is that something positive can come from Sue’s death.
I want to raise awareness of insomnia and urge other sufferers to get help, before the illness spirals. It’s too late for Sue, but if her death can save just one other person, she made a difference.
Have you lost a close one to suicide and want to raise awareness? Leave your details on out homepage – www.sell-my-story.com