The last few months, a lot of my time has been taken up with running! I’m preparing to run a half marathon in Hampshire on June 17th and have decided to raise some funds for Samaritans whilst I’m at it.
As it’s Mental Health Awareness week, I’ve decided to share some of my own story below to help spread awareness and encourage others to talk about how they’re feeling.
If you’re feeling healthy at the moment, read on below to hear a bit more about why I’m supporting Samaritans Manchester & Salford. If you’re not feeling so great yourself right now, perhaps consider going for a walk or phoning a friend (or Samaritans) instead.
I’ve been building up to writing this for some time. I’ve looked up the facts and figures, I’ve read back through old messages and I’ve actually Googled ‘How to talk about suicide’. Despite the fact that I have experienced suicidal thoughts numerous times throughout my life, I still have no idea how to tackle talking about this difficult subject publicly.
This in itself highlights a big part of the problem.
Suicide is still a very taboo subject to talk about, despite the fact that over 5,500 suicides were recorded in Great Britain in 2016 alone. Unfortunately, admitting that you feel suicidal tends to go hand-in-hand with feelings of guilt, shame and self-blame and unfortunately because of the lack of understanding it’s not uncommon for these feelings to be confirmed in the reactions of others. We need to change this.
Anybody can feel suicidal and one person in fifteen has made a suicide attempt at some point in their life. There are many factors which can increase a person’s risk of dying from suicide, perhaps the most obvious being if somebody has a diagnosed mental health condition. According to statistics from the Mental Health Foundation, more than 90% of suicides and suicide attempts have been found to be associated with a psychiatric disorder. But heartbreakingly, three-quarters of all people who end their own lives are not in contact with mental health services.
Also, people who have previously been supported by mental health services do not automatically jump to the front of the queue if they become unwell again. This is the position that I found myself in last winter.
I was feeling well last summer and, despite some potentially triggering life events, I was feeling more resilient than ever. As autumn came to an end, I was living in Manchester and working full-time as a face-to-face fundraiser. As someone who has experienced debilitating depressive periods in the past, I knew the warning signs. As winter approached, I realised that getting up each day was beginning to get more difficult, worries and anxieties were clouding everything I did and the voice of my inner self-critic was getting louder and louder.
I kept going. I tried to do the things I knew could help me – get outside, eat healthily, speak to friends, go to yoga. But gradually, these things became more and more difficult. My eating and sleeping became more irregular, I cancelled plans, ignored phone calls… I was falling. One Saturday at the beginning of November, I couldn’t get out of bed. It felt like somebody had injected concrete into all of my limbs, every part of me was heavy and painful. The cinema in my brain was showing a non-stop montage of every wrong decision I’d ever made, every argument, every regret. The self-critic was narrating this montage with increasing hostility. I was paralysed.
Ridiculously, I still went to work that Monday although I spent a lot of time crying in the toilets. I finally called in sick and made it to the doctor the next day, where it turned out my body was trying to fight two infections as well as everything else. A week off work and two courses of antibiotics followed. The doctor also referred me to the local mental health services but warned me that I wouldn’t hear anything for a few months.
I tried my best to continue with life, but I was really struggling and growing increasingly desperate. I had felt similarly before, and logically I knew I would feel better again but as time went on, I began to lose sight of this. Winter was setting in, my house got burgled and I had to move in a rush and my romantic relationship was starting to breakdown. I’d been given some tablets to try and some numbers to call, but the thought of both just increased my anxiety. Many times, I’d call a helpline and then hang up – I was struggling to get the words out, and I was self-conscious about being overheard by housemates. The thought that life wasn’t worth living was beginning to enter my mind.
Telling people who love you that you don’t want to be alive is a very difficult thing to do, which is why organisations like Samaritans can truly be life saving. When you are deep in the midst of the hopeless, desperate place that a suicidal person exists in, admitting the darkness of your thoughts to a stranger can be slightly easier. And the great thing about Samaritans is that there are numerous ways to contact them – by text, email, phone and even in person. I took advantage of all these methods of communication last winter in Manchester.
I started texting Samaritans at the beginning of December. I poured out the thoughts going round and round in my head, culminating in the statement “I don’t want to do it anymore”. Their response was simple – they acknowledged my feelings and asked me directly if I was thinking about ending my life. I finally confessed that yes, I had been thinking about dying a lot and we continued our conversation over the next few weeks. They spoke to me with kindness – “I’m so sorry how difficult things are for your and how low you’re feeling” – and they softly challenged my confused outbursts with direct, investigative questioning – “Can you explain why you feel guilty about being alive as well as feeling guilty about taking your own life?”
One day on the way to work, the world crashed in on me and I couldn’t hold it in for a second longer. I burst into tears and finally spoke to my boss, who told me to go home. On the train back to Manchester, I knew I would be going home to an empty house and a room full of various medication and I simply could not trust myself to stay safe.
I’m very lucky to have a wonderfully supportive sister and some incredible friends. That day, my sister stayed on the phone with me until I got to Samaritans office on Oxford Street. I was experiencing intense anxiety and was very sensitive to noise and light so walking through a busy city was extremely difficult. I pushed open the door and rang the doorbell on the little hatch inside.
I don’t know the name of the man I spoke to, but I am so so grateful that he took the time to sit with me that day. I’m not sure how long I was there or really what we spoke about. All I know is that he was kind, calm and made no judgements. I made several attempts to leave and each time I stood up and sat down again in tears he gently reminded me that I could stay as long as I needed to. In the end, I think we simply spoke about what I could eat for lunch later.
There were many more difficult times over the next couple of months as I waited to access professional services, including twice that I left the house with the intention of not returning. I continued to call, text and email Samaritans when I needed to and in all honesty – if it wasn’t for their support (along with my friends and family), I can’t say for definite that I would be alive right now.
If you’d just met me – even during some of my most difficult times – you probably wouldn’t think I was unwell or even unhappy. It is not always obvious and it can happen to anybody. If you suspect someone may be feeling suicidal, try to ask gentle direct questions as opposed to skirting around the subject. I know this is difficult – I’ve been on the other end of the situation myself and I definitely did not handle it perfectly. All we can each do is our best in that moment.
Going out for a run is usually impossible if I’m in the midst of a depressive episode, but getting outside at all is very beneficial for me. If anxiety symptoms are more prominent, running can be a really helpful way to burn off some nervous energy. I started running regularly again in January – at first, only managing a mile or two and sometimes all I could make myself do was go for a walk – but slowly I have built it up and now I’m running further and more often than ever.
The structure of training for a race has definitely helped me through life’s ups and downs over the last few months. Gradually building up my distances has encouraged me to be patient and kind with myself – something I find difficult! I’ve now left Manchester and moved back to Brighton to be closer to friends, family and the sea. I’m feeling much more positive about life at the moment, but I know it’s likely I will feel similarly to last winter again at some point. Luckily, I know there are organisations like Samaritans out there to help me through the difficult days.
I’m sharing some of my story in the hope it can open up conversations and let other people struggling know – you’re not alone, it’s not your fault and you will feel differently in the future.
Thanks for reading! Much love x