I’m sorry there’s been blog “radio-silence” recently. I’ve not really thought I’ve had anything worthwhile to say about the day-to-day things that are happening here. Not that nothing has happened, it’s just that I get tired of hearing my inner voice bang on about the same old things and I assume you get tired of reading it.
However, I’m moved to write something about mental health. This has come to mind after a few people I speak to on Twitter have received a hard time from mindless bullies about their own mental health conditions. I can’t help but think that Twitter, and life in general, is full of people who would mock others’ difficulties without insight but don’t have the intellectual or emotional capacity to either try and imagine what other people are experiencing or justify their cruel jibes.
But the over-riding catalyst for this post is the tragic death of Gary Speed. Gary was a man who, on the surface, seemed to have had a generous helping of the good things in life. He was a successful professional footballer with a long and distinguished career. After his playing career, he moved into football management and was latterly the manager of the Welsh national side. He had looks that were made for television, he had a family which, by all accounts, loved him dearly, and his amiability and warmth made him a man to be admired by his contemporaries and those who looked up to him. Yet he was found on 27th November 2011, having taken his own life at the age of 42.
I felt his death very deeply despite having never met him. I can’t adequately explain why the death of a stranger has touched me in such a way. Perhaps it’s because he was a similar age to me. Perhaps because I’ve watched him throughout his professional career and, like people who appear on our home television screens, I felt as if I knew him or, at least, was acquainted with him. More likely it’s a combination of these two elements alongside a third. That being that he’s alleged to have suffered from depression.
Following Gary’s death, media speculators jumped to the conclusion that he was depressed. Not an unreasonable assumption given the circumstances surrounding his death. One of the questions asked most frequently in the media is how someone who only hours after appearing on live television seeming to be happy, can be driven to such a point as to not only consider ending his own life but acting on it? I suspect that even with all of the enquiries that will follow, no-one will get an adequate answer. The only person that could shed any light on that would be Gary himself.
I’ve written about the fact that I suffer from depression before. This may be the overwhelming reason why I feel such empathy with Gary Speed – the idea that despite the differences in our lives and lifestyles, he could be me and I could be him. I’m somewhat ashamed to say that I know how it feels for my mood to shift radically from relatively happy to extremely despondent in a short space of time. I’ve thrashed this post around in my head for a good couple of months now; as to whether I should tell you one of the darkest secrets I carry. Because, to me, it’s shameful. I don’t want to write it in a search for sympathy for myself but if I don’t include it here then I’d be doing myself a disservice, and, in a way, to Gary Speed as well. Here goes.
I have, in the past, felt so low as to actually consider that ending my life was the best way out of how I was feeling. I’d even planned a way of doing it that required no equipment. A river ran near my house and, since I couldn’t swim, I thought it would be easy to walk into the river, keep walking and that would be that. See? When you put it into a sentence, it doesn’t seem much, does it? 29 words and a life is gone. That thought bounced about in my head for months. It popped up at work, during the night, on the bus, everywhere. I cried more than I thought was possible when it appeared because I felt I’d not got the courage to go through with it, and not enough courage to carry on living the life I was in. I was a mess.
That was 10 years ago. What stopped me was meeting MW, and leaving a house and relationship which was abusive. Now, I find myself in dark places on a regular basis because of a different trigger. I’m sure I don’t need to spell out what the triggers are now. If you’ve read this blog, I hope you have the intellectual and emotional capacity to try to imagine what they are, and what the consequences might be of dwelling on those triggers for hours on end. The shifts in mood I experience now are still as strong and as sudden as 10 years ago. And it frightens me because, although I still have some scraps of courage to call upon to keep going, I know that there is a breaking point when a person might think that enough is enough.
Which brings me back to my Twitter friends and Gary Speed. Following Gary’s death, distasteful comments were rife on social media sites. My Twitter friends have received the most appalling comments ridiculing their publicly admitted mental health issues. It’s well documented that mental health issues are treated with scepticism or, worse, with disdain and ridicule. I could go on at length about the rights and wrongs of this attitude but that’s for another time. For now, it’s enough for me to say that each of us should think before we blithely make light of such a serious subject. It might save a life.
I’ll finish by paraphrasing a line from a BBC drama, Garrow’s Law, which seemed rather poignant as it was broadcast around the time of Gary Speed’s death. It seems rather appropriate.
Gary Speed has gone. When a good man dies, so much dies with him. Not the goodness, I hope – we have great need of that here. We, who have held him in such respect and regard, should demonstrate it now.