As those readers in the UK will know there was a tragedy last weekend when a well known television presenter decided to take her own life, aged 40. As I head towards 57, I realise just how young that is and how desperate this young woman must have been to end a temporary problem with a permanent solution.
I won’t go into the whys and the wherefores of the situation, that’s for others to do, but it got me thinking honestly when it comes to mental health. Meningitis can cause all sorts of issues mental health wise whether you have survived an attack or lost a loved one and whilst people say they understand, unless they can see into your head and know what you’re thinking they can’t.
I suffered a near fatal attack of VM in 2002. I grieved for a long time for the life I lost and the impact it had on me but what most people don’t know is that I was also diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder in 1997. Put those two together and you have a potential mental health time bomb. Although I am ex RAF my PTSD was not caused by battle trauma but the loss of our second daughter who was born prematurely at 22 ½ weeks and died in my arms in 1993. My wife had been given so much morphine that she wouldn’t remember anything about the birth which I am grateful for in a way, but it affected me in ways I didn’t understand. I was bereft and alone, my wife didn’t remember anything and people kept saying to me ‘your wife must be devastated’. I wanted to scream, we’re both devastated but I didn’t, I just nodded.
Now move on to 1997 and for the past four years I had been struggling with everything that life could throw at me. I had a falling out with my brother in law (in fairness he is a weapons grade muppet) and he was able to push all the vulnerability buttons and push me further down. I struggled to keep a job down and became increasingly more depressed. I was forced to go to my sister in law and my now brother in law’s wedding and two weeks later I had a breakdown. I remember it vividly. I woke up one morning and thought to my self if I turn left and get out of bed that’s another day I can carry on, if I turn over to the right then I can’t. I turned right.
I was put on medication to stop me thinking and I went for counselling which made me feel worse. Fast forward again to 2002 and surviving near fatal viral meningitis. I had gone from being a triathlete, busy dad and husband to a wreck. Depression set in and I became anxious and very much alone. My GP wouldn’t and didn’t help, he told me I was better after three weeks because ‘it’s only viral meningitis’. This even though I could barely walk, couldn’t string a sentence together and struggled with even the simplest of questions. No one understood and they all thought the GP was right that I was better but had somehow (as my mother in law said) 'gone doolally'.
I got so desperate that if I could have done I would have driven to a notorious high bridge and jumped. I was totally convinced that everyone would be better off without me, after all what use was I to anyone. It seemed so rational at the time and worse than that it seemed like a really logical solution too.
I went back to work after 6 months and struggled to cope and when I was threatened with losing my job the old feelings came back again. The way the company I was working for did it in such a way that I was effectively being bluffed out of a job because it later transpired that they couldn’t make me redundant. I left that job and went to another one which did make me redundant a year after joining them.
I fought the redundancy all the way but the feeling that I was letting everyone down, again, was overwhelming. My wife can’t work and my children were still at school so it was all on me. Four weeks after being made redundant I picked my car keys up and started the walk from my garden office to the car fully intent on fulfilling that logical feeling that, with the life insurance they would get, me ending it all would be the best solution. I was headed for that bridge.
As I started to walk up the garden the phone rang in my garden office. I went back and a friend of mine was ringing from the USA, it must have been 2 or 3 in the morning for her, but she woke up and felt that she needed to ring me, urgently. I quite calmly and rationally explained my plan. That’s what really surprised me, I always thought being suicidal would be in a state of extreme desperation but for me it was cold hard logic. I would jump 130 feet off a bridge and that would be it.
As you can probably tell, I didn’t go through with it and my friend said some very prophetic words to me. What you’re planning is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. She insisted I seek help and I did receive a course of cognitive behavioural therapy and anti-depressants, again. When I told my wife how I had felt she said she had no idea and I didn’t feel like I could tell her, what was the point it was my logical plan and she would be better off without me of that I was totally convinced.
There is a phrase, it’s OK not to be OK, and that is true, but it is also true that a smile on the outside can hide a world of torment going on inside. I wasn’t manic, I wasn’t desperate, I was cold and calculating but was able to smile and behave like all was well. Principally I think because with a plan in mind I felt all would be well, just without me.
The logical way I was thinking was clearly illogical and I am scared that I ever felt that way but at the time it seemed normal and perfectly sound.
So occasionally ask those around you if they are OK, you’d be surprised how much difference that makes even if everything looks well in their world, it may just be the smile behind the torment and if you think things might not be right don't leave it there.
Lastly, let’s be honest about mental health and not treat it like an illness we are ashamed of. The number of people post meningitis who report anxiety and depression is greater than we all think. Let’s make this the one place where people can say I’m not OK and where we all can support them.