Last June, Kirsty Farmer, 38, an NHS worker from Inverness, lost her identical twin Dawn to suicide after a lifelong battle with mental health.
Here, she reflects on life without her ‘other half’ as told to Eimear O’Hagan.
Sitting up in bed, half-asleep, I asked my fiancé Craig to repeat what he’d said, desperately hoping that it had been a bad dream.
“Dawn is dead,” he said, his voice breaking with emotion. A chapter of my life ended in the early hours of that June morning last year. For more than 37 years I’d been an identical twin, one half of a whole. When my sister Dawn took her own life, after years of suffering from mental-health problems, I became someone else – a twin without a twin.
Growing up in Comrie, Perthshire, Dawn and I were inseparable, an instinctive feeling we belonged together hard-wired within us. We played with Barbies, squabbled and made up, and played tricks on teachers by pretending to be one another. Eleven minutes older, I was bossy, while Dawn was always more sensitive. I was practical, she was creative.
Dawn was diagnosed with depression in our mid-teens and was prescribed antidepressants. She was a very emotionally fragile teenager, and if she didn’t get good marks in an exam, or a relationship came to an end, she didn’t cope well.
After leaving school at 18 in 2000, Dawn went to study veterinary nursing in Aberdeen, while I moved to the West Midlands and began working for the NHS as a healthcare assistant.
Apart for the first time in our lives, we called each other all the time and both came home for Christmas and our birthday. I thought Dawn was loving life, enjoying her course, meeting new friends and working part-time in a bar. But as time went on, she began to open up.
She admitted she was very down, had no self-confidence and felt like she didn’t fit in. She also suffered from endometriosis, which compounded her depression. She told me she’d asked her GP for help, but they just prescribed different antidepressants.
Dropping out of her degree in her final year, she struggled to hold down her bar job because she called in sick so often, and ended up living on benefits. She drifted away from friends, spending most of her time alone in her flat. When she’d visit me, I could see she’d gained a lot of weight and was self-conscious about it.
Dawn was by my side when I gave birth to my son Cameron in 2003, and later she told me she envied me. I had a job, a relationship, a baby, friends… She said she felt like she was living in my shadow. As twins, we were meant to be the same, but now we weren’t and that was incredibly hard for her.
By then I’d seen the scars from her self-harming, which she said was a way of releasing her negative emotions. Once when she came home from hospital after having stitches, she told me she’d been made to feel she was attention-seeking. I was horrified.
She wanted psychiatric treatment but said all she was offered was online CBT, which didn’t help. Perhaps I should have tried to intervene, but she was a grown woman and hated anyone interfering in her life.
As the years passed, Dawn seemed to get worse. She didn’t work, had no friends and insisted that she just liked to be at home, where she fostered cats. I’d suggest she travel or use her creative skills – she was a great photographer – to start a new career. But she just couldn’t seem to break out of the negative spiral she’d been in for so long.
Then, in 2013, after having my daughter Paige, my relationship broke down and I moved back to Scotland with the kids. I’d barely unpacked when I got a call from my mum Wendy, 58, saying Dawn was in ICU having attempted suicide.
I couldn’t believe she’d fallen to such a dark place, but hoped she might now get the help she desperately needed. However, she was discharged and became increasingly reclusive and pushed us all away. We were so worried, but didn’t know what to do. Mum and I tried to convince Dawn to move home, but she refused. Stubbornly, she insisted she could look after herself.
I’d hold back sharing things about the kids and telling her all about meeting my now-fiancé Craig in 2016, in case it upset her, but then I’d resent it. I loved her deeply, but I came to dread our calls because she was consumed by unhappiness. Months could go past without her speaking to me or seeing any of the family. I knew she was emotionally spiralling, but I couldn’t force her to see me or try to get help.
The last time I saw Dawn was December 2017 when she spent Christmas at our family home, and was quiet and withdrawn. People often don’t understand how I could have last seen my twin two and a half years before her death, but that shows how high the walls Dawn had built around herself were. Even I couldn’t break them down.
During those years, we occasionally spoke by phone and messaged one another, but she’d rebuff suggestions I visit or she come to me. She preferred to be on her own and, as much as it pained me, I had to accept it.
When the pandemic hit, we spoke on the phone and she joked her life hadn’t changed because she’d been in a self-imposed lockdown for years.
The night of Dawn’s death last June, she popped into my mind – something I now put down to twin intuition. I’d done a Zoom quiz with friends and thought it might be a fun thing to lift her spirits. I messaged her before I went to sleep, not knowing that, just over 100 miles away, she was already dead.
It was my mum who phoned Craig at 3am on June 12, 2020. Police had visited her – every parent’s worst nightmare – to tell her Dawn’s body had been found on her sofa by her lodger. She’d taken an overdose.
I learned that night that you can worry about someone for years, but nothing can prepare you for losing them to suicide. I cried uncontrollably, shocked, devastated and in disbelief. I felt an emptiness that hasn’t left me since. A part of me is forever missing.
The day before Dawn’s funeral, I spent a few precious hours with her at the funeral home. It was then I experienced a feeling of relief – for her. She’d been so tortured for so long, now she was at peace.
I whispered to her: “I understand. I forgive you for going.”
It’s now 14 months since she died, and I’m still coming to terms with what happened. I miss her just being in the world. I don’t agonise over whether I could have saved Dawn – I know I couldn’t. Now I’m part of an online community of twins like me. Knowing I’m not alone has helped.
Being a twin is part of my identity and that will never change. Dawn and I came into the world together, and even though she left before me, our bond endures – and always will.
Photography: Roddy Mackay
If you need help and support, you can call Samaritans 24 hours a day, 365 days a year on 116123.
You’re Not Alone
Every 90 minutes in the UK a life is lost to suicide.
It doesn’t discriminate, touching the lives of people in every corner of society – from the homeless and unemployed to builders and doctors, reality stars and footballers.
It’s the biggest killer of people under the age of 35, more deadly than cancer and car crashes.
And men are three times more likely to take their own life than women.
Yet it’s rarely spoken of, a taboo that threatens to continue its deadly rampage unless we all stop and take notice, now.
That is why The Sun launched the You’re Not Alone campaign.
The aim is that by sharing practical advice, raising awareness and breaking down the barriers people face when talking about their mental health, we can all do our bit to help save lives.
Let’s all vow to ask for help when we need it, and listen out for others… You’re Not Alone.
If you, or anyone you know, needs help dealing with mental health problems, the following organisations provide support:
- CALM, www.thecalmzone.net, 0800 585 858
- Heads Together, www.headstogether.org.uk
- Mind, www.mind.org.uk, 0300 123 3393
- Papyrus, www.papyrus-uk.org, 0800 068 41 41
- Samaritans, www.samaritans.org, 116 123
- Movember, www.uk.movember.com
- Anxiety UK www.anxietyuk.org.uk, 03444 775 774 Monday-Friday 9.30am-10pm, Saturday/Sunday 10am-8pm