Better Days

On Monday morning I was searching for train times to London. The TFL journey planner showed severe delays on the Jubilee line. I didn’t need to look any further, I just knew that on the first post summer holiday Monday, life for someone had finally got too much to bear.

I remember being on a stationary train, possibly 15 years ago now and an announcement was made, by the driver, that there was a casualty on the track, hence the severe delays. There were visible looks of distain on many faces and more shockingly, audible mutterings of disgust.

I admit, I never understood the mindset you have to be in, to wake up one morning, say goodbye to your family, leave for work and then take one step off a platform into the path of an oncoming train – annoying your fellow commuters is the least of your worries, traumatising the driver for life doesn’t cross your mind and the friends and family you will leave behind is irrelevant. If you were in the right mindset to think about all of the above, you wouldn’t do it at all.

And that is the point I have to emphasise again, I did not understand the mindset of a person moments before they lose their life to suicide. I still to this day recall a conversation I had many years ago saying I didn’t understand why anyone would want to kill themselves. I said suicide was selfish. I now admit that I feel utterly ashamed to have even thought I had a right to offer an opinion on something I knew nothing about.

Yesterday was World Suicide Prevention Day, a day that would have previously passed me by. But now I am drawn, for obvious reasons, towards any articles in the news about mental health and I am specifically alarmed since lockdown, how many articles sadly tell the story of lives lost to suicide; often celebrities, sometimes their relatives but mostly just normal everyday people who, for whatever reason, just couldn’t cope anymore. I have noticed in recent months, the sensitive shift in the use of language to describe these tragic events – ‘they lost their fight against mental illness’, a further positive step to acknowledging that mental illness is a fight like every other illness.

I am writing this blog with a cup of ‘teapig’ English Breakfast Tea and a Fry’s Turkish Delight next to me, my guilty pleasures, that two years ago would have been meaningless. Two years on, corny as it sounds, I am here to tell the tale, surrounded by photos of those who mean the most to me now in life and a cabinet full of memories that remind me that my life is precious.

But when you can’t cope anymore and your mental health is affected, your mind and your body are numb. Every mental illness is different but I think it’s fair to say, whatever your symptoms, if you are struggling with life, your mindset is in a similar place. The important word here is life. The desire to not want to live feeling like one does should be able to be vocalised without being judged or classed as being suicidal.

For millions of people who rid themselves of their mental pain in the most harrowing ways, I am in a unique position now to try to vocalise the fragility of their mind-set, which they will never be able to share.

I didn’t want to live feeling as I did but I didn’t want to die either. I have parents, I have children, I have friends – but when you feel so utterly horrendous none of that enters your mind. Getting through every second is what matters and I mean every second. You count the seconds, and then the minutes and then the hours; every hour feels like days. If anyone tells you to live for the people around you, it means nothing at all. You have to want to live for yourself, no one else and I did.

But now 2 years on, I now know why I felt like I did and I am so grateful for the people around me that finally got me the treatment I needed to get me on the road to recovery.

The impact of the pandemic has taken a huge toll on people’s mental wellbeing. People are worried about losing their jobs and businesses, not being able to pay their rent or mortgage, being unable to support their family, and ultimately have a fear of homelessness. I wonder if any of these were going through the mind of the casualty on the Jubilee line tracks last Monday morning, seconds before he or she jumped?

During lockdown I connected with a foundation called OLLIE, One Life Lost is Enough, set up by 3 parents who experienced unimaginable loss after losing their sons. Through this charity, I was connected further with Olly’s Future a charity set up in memory of Oliver Hare who took his life 2 days before his 23rd birthday. With Rose Allett and Start the Conversation, I took part in just 90 minutes of training to gain the tools and the confidence to start a conversation about suicide, the aim of the training being to make people realise that talking about suicide is the best form of prevention we have.

Suicide is a difficult issue to address, accompanied by a myth that suggests talking about it may make things worse and put the idea in vulnerable peoples heads. The offer of support and a listening ear of someone with compassion and empathy are more likely to reduce distress, as opposed to exacerbating it and can help restore hope.

Lockdown has had an impact on mental health on a level never seen before and we must all be tuned in now to each other’s mental struggles and take just a minute to check in on friends and family. Ask how they are, but be prepared to listen, really listen, to find out how they really are.

I have used this quote before but my sentiments are sincere and true, I would rather listen to someone’s problems than listen to their eulogy.

The best thing anyone can do to support someone who is struggling with life, is to keep talking and keep listening, to help give that person a chance to find better days.

The Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123.