Updated: Mar 30
MY STORY – BY STEVE WHITTLE
As an adult, I was diagnosed with ADHD and bipolar disorder, and I wish I'd realised it, and sought help sooner. It's fair to say I've always had mental health problems, but 2021 was a very bad year for me, culminating in my decision in early 2022 to take my own life.
In 2021 my life hit its peak. I have a great relationship, a fantastic job and a great circle of friends. Even so, every day, I felt like I was not contributing to those around me and regularly suffered from anxiety which sometimes manifested in panic attacks. This self-doubt cycle continued for months before hitting its peak in January 2022. I believed that I was now not only not contributing to, but actually detracting from the life of everyone around me.
My self-worth had turned into self-loathing, and I felt helpless. For months I'd thought of completing suicide* and had planned it out in my head. I'd thought of everything from my apology note to how to make it as final as possible. It was important to me not to survive the attempt and become an even greater burden.
I suppose it didn't help that I'd been signposting Dave the chef to help him with his mental health problems and keeping in regular contact with him. I was devastated to hear that he took his life whilst I was on holiday. I wondered whether, if I'd been around that week, we would have had enough contact for him to recognise his value to us all.
I sat in my home office thinking about all the people I would have to apologise to when I died. I opened up a word document on my computer and started bullet-pointing the people to say sorry to. First, I put down the train driver, who had no idea I would ruin his day. Next, I put my girlfriend, my mum, and my son, and the list went on and on. After a while, I stopped putting reasons and just names. At that moment, I saw a list of people whose life I had made worse by being in it. I had let them all down and had not fulfilled my potential. They would all be better off without me.
I set my computer to not shut down and left the apology note on the screen. I left the house a walked to the train crossing about 10 minutes from the house. There was one next to my house, but it was always busy, and I didn't want the fuss of anyone seeing me. I stood leaning on the gate that leads to the train tracks waiting for the next train and going over in my head what I would do to make sure this worked.
It was all about timing, don't come out too soon so the driver brakes or too late not to get under the train. This needs to be final.
Some children started playing on the opposite side of the tracks, about 10 metres away. They were laughing and joking. They saw me, made eye contact but carried on. The train was coming, and I got myself ready. I was confident this was the right thing to do and planned to step out when the train reached a certain point on the tracks.
The children saw the train coming too and climbed up on the gate opposite to watch it pass, and one got their mobile phone out to video it. As the train approached, I started to think about how this would affect them, watching me throw myself under the train in front of them.The train reached my stepping-out point, and I looked at the kids...and I didn't step out, and I'm not sure why I hesitated.
I missed my opportunity but knew I'd be ok. There would be another train shortly, and the children would hopefully be gone. Eventually, I was alone again, waiting for the next train. I was still thinking about how this would have affected the children. How a video of my suicide would affect my girlfriend and family. I started to feel guilty but this only added to the list of why everyone was better off without me. I began to think about big Dave and what it must have been like for his family to find out how he took his life and if they knew why he felt so undervalued.
Feeling out of control and sick, I started with a panic attack and tried to control it. I began to walk it off and control my breathing. By the time I felt some control, I was back home and in my office, staring at the apology list. I felt humiliated and a failure. Look at me, back home, I can't even manage to kill myself. This feeling was made worse because this wasn't the first time I had failed.
A while passed, and I had a moment of clarity. I'm not sure what made me ask for help, but I contacted the NHS support line and told them what had happened. They were sympathetic without being patronising. The therapist knew what to say and asked many questions to ensure I wasn't in immediate danger.
They talked to me for a long time and wouldn't hang up until they were convinced I would be ok until they could get me support. I was given some advice to let those closest to me know what I was going through so they could support me. I agreed but knew there was no way I was doing that. I felt humiliated that I had let myself get in such a bad way and had to get help. The last thing I needed was for those around me to see how weak and pathetic I was. I can do this on my own with the help of strangers, without burdening those closest to me.
The NHS gave me emergency counselling but had assessed that I needed trauma counselling, which would take up to 6 months. After a few sessions, the counsellor said she was discharging me, and I was to wait for the trauma sessions. There were not enough councillors for the number of people needing urgent help.
I hit a new low in February as my work started to suffer. Mel, my boss, had picked up on this, and rightly so. She arranged a meeting with me to chat. I interpreted that as 'I'm getting fired, I've failed again' and prepared for the worst. I tried to pre-empt the conversion in the meeting and head Mel off by recognising my work failures and explaining that I could turn them around.
Mel let me burn myself out and waited for me to stop talking. She told me she didn't care about the work. She wanted me to know that she had noticed a significant change in my behaviour. My outlook and attitude had changed, and people were worried about me. Of course, I reacted defensively to this and tried to play it down. Brilliantly, Mel let me talk myself out again and waited for me to finish.
She reassured me that everything was ok and I shouldn't worry about work. Mel explained that she was worried about me and that I was her primary concern, that my welfare was important to her and the company. She said it was ok not to talk to her about what was happening with me, but if I did, she wouldn't judge me and would just listen. I'm not sure how I actually told Mel what was going on. My memory is a blur. I think I just rattled out all my problems, including the suicide attempt, like a machine gun.
I have never felt so vulnerable and was sure she would brush me off or laugh at me and tell me to pull my socks up. We had a great conversation, and Mel showed incredible empathy and helped me develop a plan for the next steps. I agreed to speak to my girlfriend that night about my feelings and suicide attempt, take some leave and book in with the GP immediately. Mel asked me if she could share what I was going through with HR to see what support Cooper Parry could offer me. I agreed but was worried. This was the turning point for me, finally finding the strength to talk through the persistence of someone willing to listen and not judge.
IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE. Of course, those closest to me, like my girlfriend, would have reacted exactly as Mel did, but I would never have willingly opened up to them, as I have always seen myself as their protector. It's a man thing and this is the stigma we need to work together to destroy.
My GP and I agreed to start medication and wait for the trauma counselling. Through CP, I started trauma coaching through Sanctus. I was dubious about sharing my issues with a stranger, but it was life changing...and terrifying. I also had 3 months off work to get my shizzle together.
So how am I now? Well, I'm in a much better place and have a structure to help manage my mental health. I've not been let go by CP, so I can only assume my work is no longer affected. Seriously, I have a healthy relationship with myself and those around me and a passion not to become so unwell again.
I do have days when I'm not "top banana", and I know the best thing to do is tell those closest to me, use the protocols I've learned through coaching and trust the process. I've made that sound easy, but it's really not - it's still incredibly difficult to talk about things when I'm having a bad day. It isn't easy for anyone suffering, and I hope you talk, like I eventually did, if you are struggling.
I've shared my story to let people know it can happen to anyone and show you all that without the help of those around me, I wouldn't be here to tell that story. I would love to inspire those who need help to seek it and those who might be worried about someone to help in any way they can.