As the Co-Founder of a Charity all about mental health and wellbeing through creativity I need to lead by example and write about it. To erode the stigma attached to mental health, we must all talk about it, write about it, and in doing so, make a positive impact for ourselves and others.

You’d have to be living in a cave to not realise a change has begun. We are talking more about mental health, it’s in the news, it’s woven into the plots of TV programs with ‘normal’ characters struggling in situations where they might previously had been told to man up.

A picture of a man with fake strong arms

Struggling in situations where they might previously had been told to ‘man up’.

We’re seeing examples in the limelight, famous people we’d otherwise assume had it all, opening up about it and, in the worst cases, taking their own lives. Many of them are men.

In 2017 there were 5,821 suicides registered in the UK. Males accounted for three-quarters of those (4,382 deaths), which has been the case since the mid-1990s. Whilst the UK male suicide rate is the lowest it’s been since 1981, it’s still too damn many.

For females, the UK rate remained consistent with the rates seen in the last 10 years.

These are horrific numbers. And yes, they’re slowly decreasing through communication about it increasing amongst men; but the majority of suicides in the UK are still men. The most common age range of those men taking their lives is those aged 45 to 49 years. That’s me right now.

And here’s the thing. I get it. I can only speak from a personal point of view, but I really do understand how someone could see that ending it all would be easier than carrying on. I say that because I’ve had suicidal thoughts. I’ve just not – fortunately – had suicidal tendencies.

Depending on a person’s perspective, I have failed in life. Maybe I have also excelled in life. What I seem to have an issue with is deciding which one is the correct answer. It’s what keeps me awake.

I’m here writing it out, with my grown-up face on – so I’m winning today, right?

A picture of a smiley face at people's feet

I have failed in life. Maybe I have also excelled in life.

When I shared my last post on Facebook, the support was overwhelming. Some friends were surprised I regularly wrestle with the black dog. Whilst it’s been more prevalent the last four years, I’m beginning to think I’ve been depressed for most of my life – ever since I began to numb myself.

Under my left nipple there’s a large scar where I used a small swiss army knife to stab myself when I was about eleven. A bit ridiculous, as the length of the blade couldn’t have done much damage; but was this an early display of self-harm or self-destruction? It’s no secret I chose booze, accelerants, and depressants instead, to harm myself much more slowly over many years.

In doing so, I have some tales to tell. I have lived a life of debauchery and partying that would rival a rock and roll star. I have done and seen things people only fantasise about and have achieved superficial things many would aspire to. Outwardly, I appeared to be a man living his best life for twenty years.

If I had grandchildren, the tales I could regale them with when they were old enough to hear them!

But I don’t even have children. That’s the flipside. To maintain a Peter Pan party lifestyle, one must avoid all things serious. I was sensible enough to enter, albeit accidentally, into long-term relationships and purchase houses with long-term partners. I’ve been engaged twice, and bought three properties, the first over 25 years ago. If I’d been sensible like my peers, I’d now have a house of my own worth close to half a million, mortgage free; or at least close to it. But I wasn’t.

Everything I did was exactly what I wanted to do at that moment in my life. I lived a crazy life. Now, I regret it so much. As I said in my last post, in my 4am hours I dwell on the ‘what-if’s.’

There will be others like me out there. Other men that carried on partying when their friends grew up. Men that chased their youth and hung out with much younger people to perpetuate that lifestyle only to find the same thing happened when they, too, choose more sensible routes.

Then, suddenly, you find yourself at nearly fifty. Good looks have faded, and you can’t get rid of that belly so easily. You grew up having it hammered into you that you had to have bricks and mortar when you were older, otherwise you were a failure. But you’re priced out of the property market and have no chance getting back in.

Your friends have families that they put first, so you see them less, because they naturally gravitate to others with kids. It’s the path of least resistance for them. Your lifestyle for the years that counted meant a career was always secondary to a weekend caning it, so you didn’t stay in that job long enough to move up the corporate ladder. You are not the MD of a swanky company.

In fact, what are you? It’s a question delivered with sledgehammer delicacy.

Men have fragile egos. They have a foolish pride that no doubt goes back twelve millennia to our hunting and gathering days. It’s in our meat to succeed. To excel, regardless of how forward-thinking we like to think we are. With these counterproductive traits and a ‘failed’ lifestyle; it’s no wonder people like me may seek the ‘easy’ way out when depression clouds judgement and reality.

Men have fragile egos. They have a foolish pride.

Of course, it’s all bollocks. I haven’t failed. On many levels I have succeeded. Instead of starting  to die in my twenties (which is how I saw calming down), I chose to pursue happiness. If I’d been hit by a bus in my late thirties, I would have died a happy man. It was only when I ‘grew up’ and shunned that lifestyle that I began to be so very cruel to myself. Too much to think, replacing too much to drink.

Real life is quieter and slower. Life admin is boring and necessary. Clarity is clearer than numbness. It’s hard to hide from yourself when the dimly lit corners are shone brightly upon.

If I allow it, my thoughts will maelstrom into dark negativity. I touched on how I avoid that in my last blog post. I fill my time with loved ones and nature. My girlfriend and I were never suited ten years ago, yet now, our opposites complement each other. My good friends, when I make the effort to see them, and I do need to do that more, are there for me with kindness and piss-taking in all the right measures that only they know how.

My family are my roots and my relationship with them is awesome. I see my Mum and Dad often and spend good times with them enough to help me feel grounded in all the right ways. My Sister lives in Scotland but we’re like best buddies when we get to meet up.

To be apart from these grounding elements allows my darkness to creep in. For me, it’s the purest case of cause and effect. I don’t see them, I spiral. I see them again and I’m reminded of what counts and who I am. That I am loved. I know this because I give them the chance to show me.

A picture of someone reaching out with a tattoo.

I’ve seen the aftermath of suicides and it is always people wishing they had reached out.

And what that galvanises within me is just how much they would miss me. I’ve seen the aftermath of suicides and it is always people wishing they had reached out, had shown a person how much they meant to them when they were suffering, thinking the opposite. No one should go through either side of the process.

The way we avoid that? We communicate. We talk. We spend time with our loved ones and check they’re ok. Give them the chance to tell you they’re not, or just give them a chance to feel needed.

Don’t suffer in silence. You can refer yourself to PoetsIN groups by filling out the get Help form here. In addition, if you are feeling low, speak to the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123.


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Writer Profiles: - Writer and Spoken Word Poet, Elise Wouters
Writer Profile: Writer, Poet and friend of PoetsIN, Helen Gould

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