I suppose I've been banging the drum of sharing and discussing mental issues for a little while now. It seems I have been dealt a hand of life experiences that have qualified me to talk about the subject.
I was seventeen when my brother and best friend, Simon threw himself from the top of the local multi-storey car park. He was nineteen and happily, he survived on that occasion. It would be another thirteen years before he finally succeeded and took his own life at thirty two.
At seventeen, I had no idea how to deal with the unexpected impact of my sibling's attempted suicide. The family didn't talk about it. Instead, we all focused on getting Simon back to full health (he had broken the vast majority of bones in his body) and the reasons behind the original suicide attempt were never discussed. They were pushed to the back of the cupboard and the door - bulging with unanswered questions - was squeezed shut. Life went on, and things seemed okay.
As my brother recovered, my sister began to suffer in the same ways. It was terrifying. I spent night after night by her side talking, comforting and counselling her deep into the early hours of the morning. Her life collapsed on several occasions and it took many many years for her to finally get a diagnosis of bi-polar disorder.
As the years passed, I found myself slipping into my own dark world of anxiety and depression. I held down a successful job but suffered from difficult bouts of not being able to get up in a morning and not being able to cope with the world outside. There seemed nothing to live for. I wanted to talk but I didn't feel there was anywhere to go. I had therapy and counsellors who all helped but really I wanted to speak to my parents and my friends and ultimately my brother. But there was always the seemingly impossible issue of bringing the subject up. Nobody wanted to open the cupboard door again.
And then, suddenly almost without warning I returned home after a short break with my wife and daughter to find that Simon had hanged himself in my kitchen. Just like that. My marriage broke down shortly afterward and I was alone.
And this is when I began to speak out, in the only way I knew how, by writing. I've always loved writing - I self-published magazines and sold them at school when I was twelve. Throughout my adult life I've collected journals, notes and scribblings everywhere I went.
In 2009, I began to write the story that became The Radio. It tells the story of a father coming to terms with the suicide of his son. I set up my garage as an office, planned the story in my mind and began to write. Of course, I had no idea whether it was any good or not. What mattered was the feeling of total relaxation I felt as I brought my characters to life. The real world paused each time I wrote and instead I entered a world I had created. The years of trapped feelings poured out and there were many times where a writing session ended in me sobbing at my desk. But these nights were far outweighed by those when I felt a sense of achievement. I now spent my days thinking about what to write next, instead of focusing on the past and how things could have been different.
I was fortunate enough to be nationally shortlisted for my debut novel, a publishing deal came soon after. My third novel, A Tiny Feeling of Fear deals directly with anxiety and depression. The lead character decides the only way to save his life is to be open and honest about everything he feels. It is a story of hope.
And it is drawn from my own life, because through writing, I can allow my mind total freedom; total calm and above all, total honesty. This brings me not only a release from the real world but also a cathartic way to deal with my feelings. Now, after writing this book and being totally honest, I have been lucky enough to have GPs and other medical professionals thanking me for helping them to understand how sufferers actually feel.
I am now committed to getting people to share their feelings, whether by writing or verbally. I find it so much easier to speak about these issues now I have finally released them from inside me. I speak openly about my brother and sister with my children and explain depression and encourage them to talk about their feelings. I am on a campaign to get people talking and speak regularly in regional schools about my journey. I want to promote the message that if at that moment you don't feel you can say it, then write it. It really does help.
In some ways, I feel privileged of the experiences I have had. I want the world to know of them, so that someone somewhere will hear and know they are not alone.