Chase the Rainbow by Poorna Bell

“Because real love is light, it is fire. It catches and blows into a million sparks and it settles down on you hot and sizzling, and when it cools, it becomes strength, it becomes part of you, it changes you entirely”

Described as ‘an honest yet uplifting account of a woman’s life affected (but not defined) by the suicide of her husband and the deadly paradox of modern-day masculinity’ I was apprehensive about reading this book. I knew the topics were heavy: mental health, addiction, drugs and suicide. I felt it would be too painful, too raw and too sad. 

But having followed Poorna on Twitter for some time and seeing her openly share her experience with candour, grace and wit I felt compelled to buy the book and at least give it a try. 

And I am SO glad that I did. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 and a staggering 1 in 4 of us will experience mental illness disease at some point in our lives, but the stigma surrounding mental health means that millions still suffer in silence. We need to learn more about this and try to understand the causes and impact of mental health and suicide. I wanted to hear from someone who has lived it and what her thoughts are on this important topic.

Poorna writes a powerful book that shares her personal story with lots of facts and research around mental illness. She hates how crippling depression was for Rob but is also candid about the impact it had on her: “This is one of the hardest things when it comes to looking after someone with mental illness. It doesn’t matter what problems you have or if you’re having a bad day. You have to constantly shelve your emotions because the other person will always need looking after.”

It is deeply moving and yes sad but also laugh out loud funny. The part about Rob eating Indian food with his hands (not using the tips of his fingers but smearing it all on his hands like a glove!) And also wearing a lungi that once fell whilst he  was washing the dishes …these anecdotes bring lightness to this book and helps us to understand their love story. 

Poorna shares eloquently how her husband Rob, who is described as a punk rocker, bird nerd and book lover, a man who had a full, happy life, a loving wife, a big-bottomed dog named Daisy and a career as a respected science journalist, struggled with mental health and a drug addiction that began as a means to self-medicate his illness. In 2015, he ended his life in New Zealand on a winter’s night.  

The question on her and everyone’s mind reading is: what happened? How did a middle-class Catholic boy from the suburbs, who had an ocean of people who loved him, and a brain the size of a planet, end up dying alone by his own hand? How did it get to this point?  

A month after his death, Poorna shared her personal tragedy in an open letter to Rob on the site, which went on to be read by hundreds of thousands of people across the world. I was one of them. I remember reading that letter with awe for this incredible woman who had the strength to share her pain. 

This is Poorna’s story, not only of how she met the man of her dreams and fell in love, but also Rob’s story and how he suffered with depression since childhood and had secretly been battling addiction as a means to cope with the illness.

Poorna is a beautiful, gifted writer and her book consumes you in a way only a great book can- I couldn’t put the book down and read it in one day! It felt like a conversation with a dear friend, you find yourself rooting for Poorna and Rob and even though we know how it ends for Rob you find yourself willing him to get better. This is such an important memoir and we are so proud that a woman from the South Asian community has used her voice and platform to share her incredible story on these important topics.

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