***Warning – this post discusses self-harm and suicide. If you are not comfortable reading or thinking about this topic, there is no pressure to read on. If you need someone to talk to you can ring the Samaritans on 116123 free from any phone in the UK.***
Yesterday – the 10th of September – was Suicide Prevention day. The group most at risk of killing themselves is men – who are three times more likely to take their own life than women. Around the world, one man dies by suicide every minute. The reasons for this are many and varied, but contributing factors include perceptions of masculinity and emotional illiteracy – men often believe they have to be strong, and they struggle to talk about how they feel.
This week’s blog comes from a male friend. It is powerful, raw, and shows how depression nearly took his life.
There are a few final thoughts and links to resources at the end of this post.
Me and my Shadow
I think, deep down, I’ve always known.
From schooldays – feeling inadequate, worthless, stupid despite my good grades – to adult life, it was always there.
Depression has been a constant for me. Like a toxic shadow, casting its shade upon even the sunniest of days. I tried to keep moving, keep myself away from it. But running away from your own shadow is impossible.
My happiest was working at HMV. It was where I found myself with my passions of music, films and games; I was good at it, and was surrounded by coworkers that were more like family. When the store closed, and I was left wondering where I went from here, I saw that shadow once again. And this time, it was here to take me over.
My bedrock, my workplace had been taken from me by circumstances outside of my control. And I slowly began to lose control of the rest of my life. With my depression, the world around me seemed disconnected. Nothing mattered. I learned to drive: no sense of achievement greeted me. I got a better paying job, but I felt like a loser. I got married, but felt more isolated than ever before.
The male mentality that is drummed into all boys is to not show weakness. To ‘man up’ is to basically become stone, and stone is what I turned into. All emotions, emotional attachments, switched off: because without them, I could merely exist.
My new job did not excite me or fulfil me. I didn’t care and, thus, the only worry I had was that this job would too be taken from me, and I would be left with no stability once again.
I took to self-harming as a means of regaining a semblance of connection with the here and now. Physical pain was the only way I could ground myself back in reality. My arms, legs, and feet are marked with my attempts to keep connected. All the while, my shadow Depression grew stronger, and the me that was me grew weaker.
Depression is an odd beast. It can dredge up any long-forgotten memory and replay it on a loop until you can no longer sleep. It can cause anxiety attacks so bad it feels like your entire body is being shaken apart from the inside out. It can even cause you to forget you’re even worth the breath you inhale.
I thought about death. A lot more than I care to admit, actually. I was stuck in a job I didn’t like, I couldn’t feel any emotional connection to the people I loved, I couldn’t even do any of the hobbies I previously adored. Surely death would mean I would rid the world of the burden of me?
My shadow, Depression, grinned at its success, and made a bid for my life.
As I sat there, blood dripping down my torn arms, head woozy from the painkillers I had downed, I blinked. I got up. I threw up, removing my body of some of the meds I had ingested. I fought against the shadow. I sought help.
The doctor put me on antidepressants. My shadow railed against this, calling me a failure to be a man, a weakling who was a drain on the already-drained NHS service. I was given counselling. My shadow clamped its hand around my mouth, making speaking out about my problems nigh on impossible.
But I spoke.
And I still speak.
I will be on antidepressants for the rest of my life. I will be in counselling for a long time to come. I will always have that shadow hanging around me, waiting to envelop me in darkness once more.
But I made the step out of that shadow. And the light I found was blinding, at first. But I see now that life, for all its hardships and heartaches, is worth the fight. And the first step was to admit to myself that I am worth living.
And so is everyone who walks with a shadow.
You can read more about men and suicide in a report by the Samaritans at http://www.samaritans.org/sites/default/files/kcfinder/files/Samaritans_Men_and_Suicide_Report_web.pdf
Movember have just launched a new campaign to encourage men to talk about how they are feeling and you can find some great resources at https://uk.movember.com/mens-health/mental-health
Finally – the International Association for Suicide Prevention – who organise World Suicide Prevention Day – explain that many people considering ending their life want someone to help them:
Taking a minute can save a life
People who have lived through a suicide attempt have much to teach us about how the words and actions of others are important. They often talk movingly about reaching the point where they could see no alternative but to take their own life, and about the days, hours and minutes leading up to this. They often describe realising that they did not want to die but instead wanted someone to intervene and stop them. Many say that they actively sought someone who would sense their despair and ask them whether they were okay.
Sometimes they say that they made a pact with themselves that if someone did ask if they were okay, they would tell them everything and allow them to intervene. Sadly, they often reflect that no one asked.
So if you notice a friend is acting differently, please take a few minutes to ask them how they are. Talking is hard, but together we can challenge stigma and support each other.