Trigger warning: this post may be uncomfortable reading for those close to me and contains open discussion about suicide.
Over the past year or so, I have been really open about my own experiences of mental illness, including the fact that I am not the most resilient person and stress is something I find particularly difficult to manage. I work myself in to the ground, often only realising that I’m not taking care of myself when it is too late. I absorb everyone’s anxieties and take responsibility for problems that are not mine to take. I have written and rewritten this post numerous times over the past 6 months and only now do I feel I have reached a point where I am ready to open up. Last year, I had a breakdown. A full blown, all-encompassing mental breakdown.
Monday 11th September 2017, one year ago tomorrow, is a date that will remain ingrained into my mind. It is the date I planned to end my life.
I’m not going to go into deep details, as much of it is incredibly personal and stuff that I will never feel comfortable sharing, but suffice to say that the preceding month had been the most difficult of my life. I’d been working between 60 and 72 hours per week in order to pay for day to day life, a future for my family, and a family holiday/wedding, which saw me out of the house for the vast majority of my son’s waking hours. My primary day job presented me with a number of emotional challenges, including the sudden and unexpected loss of two patients in one weekend, which led to me questioning whether I was really cut out for management or nursing any more. In the weeks leading up to the holiday I became more and more aware that my mental health was suffering. I felt isolated and unable to appropriately express what was going on in my head. Within 48 hours of arrival at our destination I received a telephone call to tell me that my best friend and loyal companion of six years, Marshall, a Collie Cross Labrador rescue, was gravely ill. I was left to make the decision to have him put to sleep in my absence. This broke me and was the final straw on an already wobbly camel. From that moment on I knew that I didn’t want to be around anymore. Throw in a Category 5 hurricane or two and a cancelled flight home and I lost all sense of reasoning.
I do not have a history of suicide plans or attempts. I’ve previously struggled with intrusive thoughts of suicide when suffering with bouts of depression and have had the usual ‘it’d be easier if I wasn’t here’ type thoughts. This was different. This wasn’t intrusive; it felt considered and well thought out. It felt like my only real option and I’d even go as far as saying I considered it relief to have an opportunity to escape. I spent the next 6 days in a haze, not helped by the all-inclusive alcohol and perceived isolation that mental illness can cause you to feel. Unfortunately for me, my breakdown was played out very publicly in front a large number of guests who were also there for the wedding.
Monday 11th rolled around. I had everything clear in my head. On my return to the UK I would go briefly back to my family home, before going out to end my life. My method, timing and location all carefully considered with regards to lethality, risk of being prevented and causing minimum distress to the smallest number of people possible. I had a 10 hour journey home to think about nothing more than putting myself out of my misery. I spent a large proportion of this time writing letters to my family and friends. Letters to say goodbye, apologise and vaguely attempt to explain why I’d come to this conclusion. Letters detailing my bank accounts, pension details and wishes for my funeral. Letters to my son to explain to him why one of his parents had felt the need to leave him and how in my head I was doing the best thing I could. It was not a cry for help and I didn’t want saving.
Looking back on it now, I can barely believe I am talking about myself or that I ever got to that being a realistic option. I can’t believe I came so close to ending it all, believing that there were no other options left open to me. Thankfully, my wife twigged on to what was happening and needless to say put in every barrier possible to prevent me from carrying out my plan.
In the weeks that followed I had lots of contact with various professionals, including my GP who saw me frequently for a number of weeks. My situation was complicated by the fact I was professionally involved with the majority of the local mental health teams and so didn’t feel comfortable accepting support via this route. As a compromise I spent a lot of time speaking with Papyrus, a charity whose sole focus is to prevent suicide in the under 35s. Whilst she found it incredibly difficult to understand and discuss openly, my wife stuck by my side every step of the way to recovery. I was supported through the darkest days of my life by a multitude of amazing people and thanks to those people, I am still here.
Suicide is not selfish. Suicide is not the ‘easy way out’. Suicide is not a simple or easily understood subject. Suicide is still taboo. But it is a very permanent solution to often temporary problems. Some of the issues have resolved and some are still difficult. My dog has obviously not come back, but rescuing another dog has given me the opportunity to love again (despite her multiple issues that sometimes add to my stress). My job is still stressful, but I’m working out ways to manage it more effectively. I still work too many hours, I probably always will, but I have more of an idea when enough is enough and try to ensure I book regular annual leave. I’m working on how to ask for help from my wife, my family and my friends and when to say ‘no’ to things that will be damaging for my mental health.
Things have been difficult again recently, and I’ve just been diagnosed with PMDD, but I know that some of the problems are transient and they will pass. I’m fairly confident that having been to that incredibly dark place, it isn’t somewhere I plan on revisiting. However, I hope that should I ever reach that point again, I am fortunate enough to receive the care and support I received last year. If you’re feeling low and unsure of whether there is a productive or positive way out, try speaking to people. My inbox is always open…