Running this year's London Marathon for Heads Together is a chance to show the journey that my Dad and I have been on. Our journey has been difficult but is one of hope. It tells the importance of support that helps us through the hard and gruelling times that many go through and, ultimately, surviving suicide.
At 16, whilst experiencing terrifying psychosis and paranoia, I attempted to take my life. I was in a very dark place where my mind had become polluted with what I can only describe as huge waves of distortion that I felt were engulfing my very existence. The attempt left me with a broken back, bed bound and paralysed for 10 months. After that happened I didn't feel lucky to be alive, I just felt guilt and shame.
My parents came to visit me in hospital and my dad asked me very simple and straightforward questions, such as "what's going on?" "Do you feel that you can talk to us about it?" I felt supported just by my dad normalising it and by saying "ok, what can we do?" with a collective "we".
I did attempt suicide but had we been able to talk before, had my dad known what was going on, I probably wouldn't have done what I did. Talking certainly saved my life. I'm glad I eventually talked about it but I do wish I'd talked about it sooner.
My dad was good at introducing the subject matter of mental health without directly asking me to talk about it. He would speak to me generally about mental health in a way that was inviting but not intrusive, which was massively helpful in encouraging me to open up.
Now today we are supporting each other through training for the London Marathon for Heads Together. As we encourage and motivate one another, guide our way through the difficult and hopefully fun times of training we will together cross the finish line once again.
I've never run a marathon before, but my journey to recovery was through running. Before I started running, I had relied on prescribed medication or my own self-medication. Once I gave exercise a go I became Forrest Gump about it. I ran religiously every single day for about three weeks until I started to feel a little bit better. Running meant I had to focus on my breathing and this distracted the negative thought processes that I had going on in my head. I found that running gives me a sense of achievement even if I feel like I'm not getting anywhere in life.
It's been hit and miss. When I get depressed long distance is even harder. What my dad's taught me is to admit to myself when I'm struggling and not to be too hard on myself if I can't do what I've set out to. Even if I can't run, walk. What I've found with marathon training is that doing something is better than nothing; which is easier said than done when someone is experiencing a mental health problem.
Ultimately our challenge is a celebration of our relationship, our recovery and a thank you to my father for giving me my life back, one in which I can now truly experience laughter and joy. As we achieve our dream, we really hope our journey offers courage and hope to many other men who are struggling to find their strength. We want to help make this year's London Marathon the mental health marathon to give more people the confidence to talk about it.
All the funds we raise will go to the mental health charity YoungMinds, which is one of the charity partners of the Heads Together campaign. I chose YoungMinds because we need to start early, making sure children have mental health resilience. My dad wanted to offer hope and inspiration to parents to not be scared of mental health and have that conversation with children.
Our recovery has followed the many rough and smooth terrains of life, but ultimately my father's support has saved my life. This is an opportunity for me to support him to overcome his challenge of exercise; he is running for the first time in 30 years!
I know there a lot of people that don't get that support from their nearest and dearest. If you don't know where to turn there are a lot of support groups, online support and services out there or maybe it is your GP that gives you that guidance and support. You can find out more about support here.
There will be lots of ways to support Team Heads Together on London Marathon day, see how you can get involved and help make it the moment when the country starts talking about mental health.
Paul and his father are running in the 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon for Heads Together, Charity of the Year. Paul is fundraising for Young Minds, a Charity Partner of the Heads Together campaign, which wants to end stigma and change the conversation on mental health.
You can sponsor Paul here