On 9th January 2019, I found myself at A&E in Barnsley, on the brink of a nervous breakdown and potential suicide.
I had been suffering from anxiety and depression all my life (I am a 51 year old male), with episodes of anxiety and social phobias detailed throughout my life, typically every 5 years they would flair up. My life to most from the outside looking in, appeared highly successful and content. I am married with a loving wife and two wonderful sons we adore.
I was handed a leaflet at A&E, containing several phone numbers of organisations that could help me get over these life-threatening feelings I was having. My life had become like a flood of water deluging over my head, drowning me, I couldn’t do my life any more, I was 50, fed up with work, in some debt, and although I didn’t want to die, my thoughts were certainly turning towards that as the only answer to get some rest from the demons plaguing my mind. One of the numbers on the list was for Barnsley MIND (I phoned them all from my car in a carpark of a local pub I found), having left a nightmare job over Christmas and New Year 2018-9, and having attended my new job for a total of 2 days before driving to A&E on that Wednesday morning in January.
To my horror, having been told to go away and phone the numbers on the list at A&E, I found some on the little A5-sized list did not answer at all, some answered but sounded apathetic to my acute situation (I was thinking of killing myself to escape my pain), and others sounded sympathetic but after several minutes going into all my personal details of my feelings , my life and my immediate situation, reluctantly informed me due to recent cutbacks, the services and courses to help deal with how I felt right there and then were all full, or due to be discontinued. I NEEDED HELP RIGHT NOW, THAT VERY MINUTE. I DIDN’T NEED FOBBING OFF, yet that was what happened.
I felt completely humiliated, made to feel like a waste of space, a second class citizen, I felt betrayed and fobbed off, choose any cliché you want, I felt like it. I wanted to rest my mind and my soul, and there was no one willing or able to help, or so it seemed.
I was worrying about my new job, I texted my new boss, told him I was ill, but was too ashamed to say in what way, mental health issues are embarrassing, not manly, not professional, not strong enough for today’s society even now, but hopefully things are changing for the better.
Then I phoned MIND In Barnsley off the list. A man answered, he sounded sympathetic, well trained to my untrained ear to respond to my plea for help and even rescue. I explained I was sat in my car, I hadn’t gone to my new job, I couldn’t tell my wife, she’d have a fit, I was desperate for rest and someone to listen and most importantly to help me. I didn’t want to die, but my mind kept returning to that thought as my only way to rest. What about my kids, I adore them, my wife, my family, my Mum, sisters, cousins, friends? What would my suicide do to them? I couldn’t burden their lives with my death, I loved them all far too much to do that to them. Yet if it was just down to me, I would surely have jumped off that nearby motorway bridge, or crashed my car at 100 miles an hour into a brick wall, or any other method that would end my pain. That couldn’t be the answer. The voice on the phone at MIND in Barnsley helped me to calm down, talking for a few minutes to me, and inviting me down to the MIND offices in Barnsley. I felt immediate relief, having been turned away like a lepper everywhere else I had been to so far. I managed to drive (in despair), down to Barnsley MIND offices, situated on a pleasant pedestrianised back street, where there were cafes and a lovely tree overshadowing the street scene. I went through the front door, unmarked for privacy, and rang the buzzer. A friendly voice welcomed me in by my first name, in a warm and respectful way, which gave me some comfort that I was valued and appreciated. With the exception of the man from MIND on the phone, this was the second time I felt wanted and appreciated that morning, even if I didn’t value any part of myself at that instance in time. It is important to note when someone is feeling like this, their thoughts are in danger of becoming irrational, extremely negative, and all senses are on hypersensitive alert. Just the way someone talks to you in this situation matters enormously.
I waited in the waiting area at the top of some stairs, and had an initial hour long free 1 to 1 consultation with the man who had answered the phone to me earlier, who’s name I forget, (Andy?) we went into a private and pleasant yet spartan room to discuss what was happening today.
I went through my troubles, I was 50, hated my job, hated my life, wanted to quit my job and become an artist, wanted to run away and not live a life I hated for what was left of my miserable life. I had no hope and wanted peace and solace from it all. He managed to listen without prejudice, to be sympathetic, he made me feel OK to have these thoughts, even though I am a man, and he made me feel safe and valued as a human being even though I felt like I was dying inside.
He asked me some questions about my life, my past, and he very quickly got to the essence of what it was that was troubling me, and how everything had built up over many years, and in particular over the last year, at work, at home, within my own private thoughts, in my past, and present situation, in my relationships, in a way that was supportive, and non-judgemental. If felt safe and thankfully at ease sat in that little sun-filled room.
The session ended, and we arranged 6 hour long 1 to 1 counselling sessions with a counsellor at MIND in Barnsley: Tracey Stephenson, which I attended from January to March 2019. I was in a dark place, my home , finances and work life was collapsing, I was worrying about now losing my home, my family, no money coming in, wanting to escape, feeling weak as a man, a husband and father and unable to see how I could carry on with any of these areas of my life for a minute longer. Yet I didn’t want to die, not for me, but for my kids and loved ones. I didn’t want to ‘grow some’, or ‘man-up’ either, macho phrases that have no doubt been responsible for many male suicides in recent times.
Almost within the first 10 minutes of explaining how I felt and what had happened over the last few days, Tracey ‘stopped me there’ and asked me a question: What about your needs, how are they being met? I had tried to sort all my problems out myself in the past decades, leading up to that Wednesday in January, I am a man, a father, a son, a brother, as cousin, a mate, a Professional, that’s what men do, they sort out their own problems, they don’t cry, they don’t appear weak, they don’t talk about any issues they have, they bury them deep inside like a cancer and snap out of it, right? Wrong, very wrong.
I paused, I didn’t know how to answer Tracey’s question. My point is that without help from Tracey, I would have never been able to ask myself that question. I would have never thought to ask myself that question, yet within 10 minutes of me talking, she had got to the essence of all my problems that had plagued me all my life, from being bullied at school, to my relationships, to my work situation, why I hadn’t achieved what I wanted to in my life, why I was so unhappy with my entire life and always had been.
She got me to step outside myself, and look at my life objectively, why was I feeling suicidal, why had it all come to this? What was wrong with me? Or more importantly, what was right with me. She asked me to write down my fears, worries, why I felt guilty about leaving my job, why I had no hope, what positive things did I want to do, how could I take achievable steps on the road to achieving the goals in life that had for the last 50 years alluded me despite all my best efforts. She on many occasions ‘stopped me there’, and cleverly extracted the underlying issue that was influencing my immediate and past behaviours, and made me realise my negative feelings had turned into negative thoughts, manifesting into negative opinions of others I hadn’t even met before, and ultimately negative behaviours like socially withdrawing, packing my good job in that I was so good at, and had worked for years to achieve, putting my whole life and family in danger.
So what I am saying, is without MIND in Barnsley, and those 6 hours of counselling with Tracey, I may well not have been still standing today. My family could have been mourning my suicide. At best I would be still out of work and no further on, in fact getting worse.
Instead, I have gone back to work, I don’t feel right yet as it all takes time to sort out, but Tracey has equipped me with the coping strategies I need to stay calm, not to over react to negative situations regarding work, money, home life, and most importantly to realise, when I am having negative thoughts, and then to challenge those thoughts. Is that right, or is it being negative. I am now starting to become much more social than I ever had been in my life before, and am gaining the plentiful positive benefits of social groups like the ramblers, meditation class, art class, reading club, swimming etc. all available if you just make the effort and don’t keep it all in, festering away. I am now more open with people about my problems, and find they too have similar problems, or are only too willing to help me with mine. I have been supported by a charity throughout the last 3 months, which has saved my house from reposession, and mounting debts otherwise. I am not saying live a life of naivity, but what I have learnt from all this is that there are good people out there who are genuine and only too happy and willing to help me and others in times of great trouble. That inspires me to carry on. It inspires me to keep calm. It inspires me to be more positive and see the World in a positive way even though there is much to get negative about if you let yourself do that. I am still on a journey to recovery and a happy fulfilling life and it is really not easy.
I COULD NOT HAVE GOT HERE WITHOUT THE HELP AND EXPERTISE AND HUMAN KINDNESS OF BARNSLEY MIND, AND MY WONDERFUL COUNSELLOR TRACEY STEPHENSON.
Thankyou Tracey and everyone at Barnsley MIND
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