Suicide awareness week/month/forever…
I don’t know if you’ve seen a plethora of Facebook statuses about suicide awareness week (September 6th – 12th), month (all of September), being copied and pasted around. Awareness is an excellent step, because it still frightens me to know that the biggest killer of men aged 18 – 45 is suicide. Did I know this before I lost my best friend to suicide? No.
I wish I was as aware of the help that is available before January 2013 as I am now. I will never know whether the existence of anonymous helpline/web chat services from amazing groups like CALM would have helped my friend, but I’d like to think that there was a chance.
I’d like to think that listening to Scroobius Pip’s podcast with Eddie Temple Morris, as they talked openly and frankly about mental health and the struggles most men experience, could have made a difference to my friend’s life.
I’d like to think that recommending my friend listen to Frank Turner’s life affirming album ‘Positive Songs for Negative People’ might have made a difference. The album is a journey through his battles with his own mortality, triggered by the loss of his friend Josh to suicide.
Awareness is part of the battle. Getting help to people who need it is another, as is talking. I’m not one to share and repost things on Facebook as I’ve often thought a quote from someone else is never going to communicate how I truly feel. If I’ve learnt one thing from listening to Eddie Temple Morris talk and Frank Turner sing, it is that I shouldn’t be afraid to talk openly about how I feel.
There is nothing wrong with telling a person who cares about you that something is wrong. Bottling up negativity can lead you to an incredibly dark place and send you further down to the point where you feel like you have no way out. That is a place I do not want to be. That is a place I do not want my friends to be. That is a place I do not want my family to be. That is a place I do not want complete strangers to be!
By talking, I might make a difference, and by doing it publicly, it might help someone else. So, rather than just sharing someone else’s words, I’m going to try and tell my story, in the hope it might make a difference to someone, somewhere, somehow.
I don’t think I will ever be able to find the words that effectively communicate how I felt on the fateful day that I got that phone call.
I was somewhere between Heathrow airport and Victoria Station on the final leg of a journey home, that started in Las Vagas around 20 hours earlier. Between a sleepless night and time zone confusion, the world felt like a confused dream, that rapidly became a nightmare.
I managed to hold myself together until we arrived at Victoria Station and got on the bus back to Cardiff, thankfully it was a relatively empty bus, I found a seat away from my brother and friend and cried myself to sleep.
The next few weeks are a complete blur. I only took one day off work (excluding the funeral), which on reflection was halfway between complete fucking idiocy and the best thing I could have done. I’ve always found normality and being able to achieve things, no matter how small, are steps to recovery.
I went out for my friend’s birthday and shared some fun and laughs, win.
I went to an engagement party, the future groom’s (then) 6 & 8 year old girls’ excitement to see me really helped.
I went to band practice. I went to the cinema. Normality.
Without a shadow of a doubt the biggest thing was making it through a day in work without feeling like I needed to cry. I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t have to ‘go to the shop’ or ‘go to the bathroom’ as an excuse to gather myself and take a deep breath, for months. I am grateful for a friend/co-worker who seemed to notice when I was having a moment and usually distracted me. It’s amazing what someone signing and dancing to k-pop can do to your mood.
I managed to smile at his funeral. That was a very big moment. Every time I hear Stan Bush’s “The Touch” (from Transformers: The Movie) I will always be reminded, not of the dark moment that was my best friend’s funeral, I will be reminded of the moment when I glanced around a church and saw smiles from others who knew how perfect a moment it was to remember our friend.
In the two and half years since that fateful day, I have done my best to find a path to something resembling recovery. There have been ups and downs, moments where I didn’t expect something to trigger a flood of emotion, but at every turn, every single turn, I’ve started to realise that there are people who love me and want me find my way one step closer to recovery.
At a gig watching a singer tell a story about losing a friend too, I felt a flood of emotion and I have never felt so completely alone in a room full of people as I tried not to cry. Then I felt two friends come close and hug me from either side through the whole song. I didn’t say anything, they just knew.
Training and completing the London Triathlon was a rollercoster of stubbornness, struggle, sadness and elation. I did it to raise money for CALM, in the hope that the money I raised would give someone a platform to reach out and not go through what I had. The biggest moment of this process wasn’t the completion, it was about 6 months into training.
I felt emotionally and physically destroyed. I had spent far, FAR too much time alone, anyone who has trained for endurance events can attest to this. The loneliness and isolation of the training was really getting to me. I came back from a difficult cycle (windy and raining) totally despondent. I opened my computer to find I had a donation from one of my friends, then her Mum and then one of her mum’s friends…two people who had never met me or my friend had reached out and supported me because they had lost someone to suicide as well. It wasn’t the amount of money that mattered, it was the action. It gave me a beautiful moment of clarity, I felt like what I was doing really meant something. It stopped being about my friends supporting me, it really hit home that I might be helping other people too. This was one of the biggest gifts on that journey at a point I needed it most.
Some of the things I have done for my friend’s parents, I hope they helped with their recovery as much as it did mine. I know I’ve said I’m trying to open up, but I want to keep the specifics private because I did it as an act of kindness I hoped would help them as much as it did me.
The friendships I have cemented. One in particular…I think we would have both called him our best friend, but we live at different ends of the M4 and despite the connection of our friend, we were never that close. After the funeral, we agreed that it was our responsibility to each other the fill the void he left in our lives. I can’t think of anyone who has come to mean the world to me so quickly.
There have been a few other things that have happened to me that have been incredibly significant. I don’t think I will ever feel comfortable telling anyone who I am not incredibly close to, and there is nothing wrong with that. The important thing is, through the process of learning about my mental health and how much some of the people I’ve mentioned already meant to me, I’ve been able to tell them about what is happening, and that has made the load a little lighter. The old saying is, “A problem shared is a problem halved.” That isn’t always true, but it is however a step in the right direction.
When you are locked in a loop of negativity and trying to fight your way out on your own, it can be cyclical and only make the situation worse. I found I got more annoyed because I couldn’t fix what was going wrong, making the situation worse. Having a friend tell me what I was going through was totally understandable, made it a little easier to face. Step one was admitting it, step two was admitting it to someone else, step three was admitting I was human and couldn’t fix everything on my own.
Support isn’t a bad thing, its a good thing.
Asking for support hasn’t made me any less of a man, it has made me stronger and made me more capable to face the challenges life throws up.
My name is Michael, I lost my best friend to suicide. I hope that being open and honest about my struggle can stop someone else being a #mandown.