THE BLOG

Slipping Away From The Crooked Grey Hand

02/12/2016 12:45 GMT | Updated 02/12/2016 12:46 GMT

The last time I wrote a piece for the Huffington Post was back in April. By that time more than a decade had passed since I returned home and found that my brother had hanged himself in my kitchen. It took many years for me to discover that the only way that we, as a society, can deal with mental health issues is to talk about them. I have written and talked extensively about the power of freeing the thoughts we have, sharing our fears and anxieties and 'normalising' the feelings that 1 in 3 of us regularly have. Removing the ridiculous stigma that mental health issues carries.

At the end of April this year, I was finishing up filming a documentary with Simon Gamble on the subject and I must admit I felt a little off-colour. I wasn't sure whether it was the sheer strain of talking about the events that had happened in my life or whether, as part of filming, it was revisiting the places where I had spent my bleakest and darkest times. My sleep was suffering. I couldn't quite focus. I could feel the crooked grey index finger gently prodding me, warning me to take care of myself. I chose to ignore it.

Times were tough. Family life was difficult. As was work. I had a book to finish. I was leaving my publisher. Joining another. But it was more than that. And deep down I knew it.

I hadn't suffered from any serious mental health difficulties since 2007, a few years after my brother had died. At that time, after three years of storing every feeling inside, I got to the point where it was impossible to continue. Each day was another breath into an already over-filled air mattress. I was going to burst. My seams were splitting. I couldn't take anymore. The explosion would have been so powerful that there would have been nothing of me left.

Fortunately, at that time two things happened. The first was that I began writing. The second was that I realised that I wasn't going to get out of this alive without help. I saw the doctor. I saw a therapist. I talked. And took pills. And talked. And wrote. And gradually things became lighter. My novel A Tiny Feeling of Fear focuses on this period of my life. The main character decides to tell all, in a straight up attempt to save his own life.

Fast forward to May this year and the gentle warning prod had disappeared. Instead the grey hand (probably annoyed by my lack of acknowledgement) had reached down and collected me. I was now under its control.

But still, I did nothing. I wasn't sleeping. I couldn't eat. I wasn't going out anywhere. I was avoiding everybody. Nothing felt right. Texts went unanswered. Calls and voicemails piled up. The only people I saw were my wife and kids. I tried to cover it. And as the weeks passed, the grey hand tightened its grip. It now held me in its fist. My head poking from the top. The ground below getting further away. The Heavens closer.

I told no-one. Exactly the opposite of the message about sharing our deepest thoughts and anxieties. I told myself I would be alright if I could just get some sleep. I hadn't spoken to anyone for months. And no matter how much I tried, I couldn't write. Panic gripped me and my heart seemed to race to a stop at least once each minute.

And then it happened. I was laying on the sofa in an empty house. I had stared at the same place on the wall for more than three hours. I wanted to get up to visit the toilet but I couldn't move. I was suffocated by fear. I was cocooned inside the grey hand and it had pulled its fingers in tightly. I couldn't breathe. Through a crack between its fingers I could see the ground far in the distance. I know it wasn't a conscious decision to do what I did next.

Just like the last conversation I ever shared with my brother, when he told me of the suicide websites he had been scouring that week, I found myself googling easy ways out. Website after website, telling me that one way was quicker than another. One less painful than the last. Where to get the right pills. Where to go so you wouldn't get found. Wouldn't get helped. Percentage chance of surviving.

A week passed and I spent every moment I could searching, reading, researching. It was time to make a choice. I forced myself to write it all down. Reasons to be here. Reasons not. And that moment was my wake-up call. I began to talk. To my wife. To my parents. Eventually, my doctor.

And now six months later, I'm making plans. I'm just about ready to see my friends again. Just about ready to move on. Just about to edit the novel I somehow managed to get written over the summer. Looking back now, as I write this piece, it's terrifying to think of what could have been. It's also true to say that all those months ago, I would not have believed how excited I could feel about life sitting here today.

We need to keep talking. Speaking out about how we feel. That's why I've written this article. To tell people it's okay to feel this way. We're not weird or crazy. We're much like anyone else. And by talking, we can get better. I'm absolute proof of this.