*WARNING – this post discusses some very upsetting topics. Do not read if you’re feeling fragile.*
“You didn’t have to stop… but you stopped” Eight words that moved me to tears at the Mind Awards (When I say tears I mean serious blubbering).
In 2007 Jonny Benjamin stood on Waterloo Bridge, planning on taking his own life. By stopping and simply asking “are you ok?” Neil Laybourn inadvertently saved Jonny’s life.
The term ‘commit Suicide’ implies an act that is criminal by nature. In fact it was only decriminalised before parliament in 1961. The punishment in previous years? Death. Oh, the irony.. you can never fault true English common sense!
Jonny’s story inspired me to finally write about a topic that I often avoid. Suicide. The very act of voicing that word is enough to make people flinch. Why? Because it’s “unpleasant’ and not suitable for the dinner table. The usual response is “let’s talk about something more cheerful” – and I can’t say that I blame anyone for thinking so.
I’m ashamed to admit, that up until recently I was one of them. It’s the one aspect of mental illness that I avoid, mainly because it scares the shit out of me. I’m also very wary about hurting those closest to me with my honesty. But here goes… I’ve never said any of this publicly before and I hope/trust that my readers won’t think any less of me.
December 29th 2013 I was in the midst of (what I now know was) a nervous breakdown. Dan and I had both been on the phone to various NHS helplines for hours, but sadly nobody could/would help. I’d taken some Nytol and drank a bottle of champagne (sounds a lot cooler than it was.. 11:30pm, the corner shop had shut and champagne was the only booze we had in). The initial panic had been placated enough for me to crawl into bed. However, thirty minutes later another sensation began to rise from the pit of my stomach, a monster far worse than I could’ve possibly imagined. It made me feel hopeless and blurred my reason. I quietly rose from bed and walked into the hall. It whispered something in my ear that I will not share, (because I have a fear of giving others ‘tips,’ on this sort of thing.) Furthermore, whilst doing some research I was stunned by the amount of pro suicide information available. I found a ‘How to Kill yourself” resource that could be purchased for the bargain price of £19.97!
The terrifying thought circulated through my brain like a broken record, as I sat on the floor for over an hour. It was detailed in it’s instructions and I cried silently, begging it to leave me alone. I didn’t want to die, but I couldn’t deal with this either. I didn’t know what to do. I was lost. Eventually I crawled back into bed and put my ipod on full blast to drown everything out.
The second time it happened was two days later. I was at home and this time told my mum immediately. In fact my exact words were “Mum, I feel like a horse that needs to be put down.” I can’t imagine hearing anything worse as a mother, but she handled it amazingly well, both my parents did. We stayed up late into the night drinking wine and watching films, until I fell asleep. The next day we went straight to the doctors and the rest is history.
My brief experience with the urge to kill myself was enough to scar me for life.
In the UK alone 6,000 men take their own lives each year and this is simply unacceptable. This statistic both shocked and intrigued me. In comparison with women (less than 2,000) it’s over three times the number. But why?
In my opinion traditional masculinity has a lot to answer for, and in my generation it’s become redundant faster than the world could evolve. Here are a few of my favourite sayings:
- Be a Man
- Boys don’t cry
- Stop acting like a girl
- Don’t be a pussy (I’ve just realised how offensive that it on all levels)!
All of the above demand certain characteristics from a male, that are not only unrealistic but unreasonable.
If Dan needs to cry then he can bloody well do so, and without shame! God knows he’s seen me do it enough. It’s a natural way for humans to release emotion. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that we all sit in a circle and sob into the night. But I wouldn’t judge anyone who needs to do it.
If from a young age a boy is instructed not to show emotion, always be strong and NEVER show any sign of weakness…. then tell me, how will he cope if mental illness strikes? Not only will he be devastated by the symptoms, but he may also not confine in those closest to him through fear of rejection. Sounds like a prize setting for disaster to me.
Here are a few NEW sayings that I will say to my children if I’m lucky enough to have any:
- Be exactly who you are, (unless you’re a serial killer, in which case we should probably have words).
- Cry if you need to
- Always tell me if there’s a problem and we’ll deal with it together
Depression is one of the main causes of suicide, particularly in men. So for this piece I interviewed a long time follower of mine, Morgan. Amongst other things he’s dealt with sever depression for years and offered some genuine insight into his experiences.
During his recovery Morgan knew five men who took their own lives and he finds society’s attitudes towards it disappointing.
“I think (suicide) is one of the last taboos. The brother of one of my best friends took his life several years ago. To this day I’ve never spoken to him about it, although in contrast we’ve had long conversations about my condition.I feel quite ashamed by that.”
He was also shocked by the lack of support offered by the NHS.
“It was a horrible, painstaking process of banging my head against a brick wall, which took months.The mental health services have been largely privatised which means they all guard their funding jealously. Around 20% of hospital admissions have some degree of a mental health component and yet mental health budgets have been cut by 10% under the coalition and the current government.”
I’m no expert by any means, but I don’t think that I could cope with feeling suicidal for months.
Is it any wonder that so many men feel hopeless? In their darkest hours people need guidance, not rejection and confusion.
But there is a way out. This is something I’m certain about, infact Morgan summed up my beliefs on mental illness recovery perfectly when he said:
“Whether it’s depression, anxiety or both, we lose our self esteem and have no perspective on how far we have come. The hard truth is that a fairy isn’t going to visit you and sprinkle magic dust that will make you well. It’s down to the agencies that are out there, however elusive they may be and also us to do some work. DO NOT GIVE UP.”
So what can I say… what is there to say? For all those who have/do suffer with this beast, I’m truly sorry. It’s not fair and if I could take away the pain I would.
But for now, let’s be practical. Below is a list of things that you CAN do to ease the burden.
- TELL SOMEONE. I won’t lie, you might not get the reaction that you want, particularly if it’s a loved one. Suicide is terrifying prospect to most. But at least they’ll be aware of how you’re feeling. If you can’t tell a loved one then maybe a friend or at least your doctor. Do not keep it to yourself.
- The Samaritans – one the greatest charities around. Open 24 hours a day 365 days a year. http://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help-you/contact-us – their message is simple “If there’s something troubling you, then get in touch.” The person on the other end of the line might not be able to solve the problem, but they’ll listen. Sometimes just having someone to talk to does wonders. Particularly as it’s 100% anonymous. It’s always easier to tell your darkest thoughts to strangers.
- Morgan spoke at length about The Recovery College (there are many locations) http://www.southernhealth.nhs.uk/health-and-wellbeing/recovery/college/ which provides courses on anxiety management, depression and all sorts of stuff including creative things. One thing in particular that worked for him is stand up comedy!
- Finally – no matter how bad it may seem things can get better with the right help. Nothing is hopeless and people do care. So don’t give up, especially on yourself.
What do we say to the god of death? NOT TODAY.
A special thank you to Morgan for sharing his story. You’re a legend, please start your own blog!