Major depressive episode. That is what the doctor wrote in my medical file. It was August 10, 2014.
The day before, some friends had pulled me off the sidewalk outside the office building where I worked and brought me to the nearest hospital crisis center.
They would come because I posted a message on Facebook with the text: “I need help.”
Kevin Braddock, pictured, from Shropshire made a call for help on Facebook in August 2014 when he was actively considering ending his own life while sitting drunk on the sidewalk outside the office of a job that was gradually destroying him
I was a wreck, a broken man as they say: stupid, drunk, tearful and overwhelmed by panic, fear, shame and confusion, hardly able to stand, let alone speak.
I had decided to find ways to end my life, though I go through the list of known methods. Earlier I had written a letter of resignation to leave the job that I knew was gradually destroying me. I started crying and then left the office.
There was a non-permit nearby, so I decided to drink: bottle by bottle. Ending my life would be an end to everything: all the torment and trouble, the need to make decisions and responsibility, the requirement to be me. But then an alternative thought came up, I don’t know where from. I could ask for help. And so I typed those words into Facebook, added my phone number and location, and waited a while, wondering if I’d post it.
What would people think? Maybe they would laugh or think that I was just looking for attention. The time passed, I don’t know how much.
And then I pressed the “post” button. My phone started beeping, blinking, ringing quickly. Then friends came in a taxi, scraped me and took me to the hospital.
How I ended up at a low point
I told the doctor my story, as well as I could: I am Kevin. I’m in my mid 40’s and I’m from a small town in Shropshire. I grew up there with my father and mother, who were teachers, and my sister.
When I was 20, I had panic attacks. A doctor diagnosed “stress-related depression” and a psychiatrist recorded “obsessive compulsive disorder.”
I received a short series of antidepressants, which smoothed the twists and turns in my thoughts and feelings.
When I was 29, my girlfriend and I broke up, I found a new job and lost it, started a new relationship that didn’t last long, and then found a succession of places where I had to leave. Between anxiety, depression and panic attacks I went to a doctor, did a little therapy and again got antidepressants. I’ve been taking them since.
Being gloomy or sad, or anxious and preoccupied, became completely normal: I seemed to be used to it.
When I was 20, I had panic attacks. A doctor diagnosed “stress-related depression” and a psychiatrist noted “obsessive compulsive disorder” (photo shown by models)
I was a journalist, mostly working for magazines and newspapers, and my freelance life might have looked carefree and gadabout, but I felt very lost inside. I felt that I needed change, so in 2009 I moved to Berlin.
The work, editing a fashion magazine, was always stressful. I generally succeeded, but I also caught glandular fever, which had added a layer of misery. I wasn’t drinking too much for the first time.
I was in love but the relationship had hit a difficult period and there were conflicts and arguments that I didn’t know how to deal with. And I doubted and struggled with what to do and how to be.
I have tried to answer the question why this all amounted to a disruption, burnout, crisis, whatever you want to call it, many times. Above all, I felt a void. A huge, overwhelming empty nothing. And that is what a step away from suicide looks like.
In the teeth of a crisis, things are no longer rational and explainable, because this is the process by which psychological disorders, something I have long suffered, become real unreasonableness: a madness.
And it came quickly.
The doctor asked me to promise that I would not kill myself. So I said the words, “I promise.”
From there the only way was up
The great thing about lows is that we can only go up from there. Shortly after I asked for help, when I returned home and tried to understand what had happened, I read about a useful mental exercise: if you are going through a difficult period, imagine five years that you will return to yourself today ‘with a message.
At that time it was best that I could wish that things would ultimately be ‘good’. Today I am five years before me … and things are really “okay”.
Since my collapse I have completed qualifications in coaching and mentoring at University College London and I have studied humanistic and psychodynamic counseling at Goldsmiths, also in London.
A few days after I was taken to the hospital, someone I hadn’t seen for ten years read my Facebook message and wrote to say, “From now on, be completely honest and open. Face it up. And if you are a writer, write it all down. “
It turned out that his sister had taken her own life – and I followed his advice, which was the first step in what would eventually become my book, Everything starts with asking for help, which will be published next week.
It involves four things: depression, anxiety, bad luck and recovery – what they mean to me, how I have navigated them and what I have seen and heard that it is worth passing on.
Writing it was part of overcoming the intense shame I felt about the man who had been the editor of a glamorous fashion day, scraped off the sidewalk and taken to a crisis center.
Depression is of course not a “man thing”. But it injured men in a certain and cruel way. So I hope men are able to relate to or identify with what I have to say.
My first and most important message to everyone who is struggling is: ask for help. In that critical staring moment, it could mean the difference between dying and surviving, recovering and moving on. I believe in this message because it naturally kept me alive. And I also realize how hard it is for many men to do.
Depression happens to ordinary people
There were 5,821 suicides in the UK in 2017 – and three-quarters of them were men. Suicide is even the biggest killer of men under 45 – more than traffic accidents.
In general, the figures are falling. But last year 121 boys between the ages of 15 and 19 took their lives in England and Wales, more than double the number of young girls. Suicide rates are rising fastest in this age group.
Last week a coroner recorded an open verdict in investigating the death of Prodigy frontman Keith Flint – the 49-year-old was hanged at his home in Essex on March 4. Actor Robin Williams committed suicide when he was 63 years after I was hospitalized, and last year we lost chef Anthony Bourdain at the age of 61.
Last week a coroner recorded an open verdict in investigating the death of Prodigy frontman Keith Flint – the 49-year-old was hanged in his home in Essex on March 4
And in recent years, countless high-profile men have talked about their own mental health – from Prince Harry and pop singer Gary Barlow to cricket stars Marcus Trescothick and Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff.
But mental illness is not just a story in a newspaper; it is a real, lived thing. It hit me hard when I heard about the death of a man I met last year. Gareth was 41 and a member of an art project in the city where I grew up. I met him when I went there to talk about my own experiences. A few months later I read a report in a local newspaper about a missing man. The accompanying photo was from Gareth. Days later his body was found. He had taken his own life.
Gareth was a “normal” man, who now suffers from psychological problems so often that they are also considered normal.
Men are ashamed to be vulnerable
In her 1990 book The Beauty Myth, feminist writer Naomi Wolf argued that women’s lives are subtly determined by the pressure to be beautiful. The same argument could be made about the relationship of men to strength: it is the marker of a man’s potential in the sexual market, his value at work, his status and his relationship with himself.
A man who feels weak – physically, intellectually or emotionally – experiences a feeling of shame.
It is a cliché to say that men do things, but there is good evidence that it is true. Studies suggest that soldiers suffering from serious, life-destroying symptoms of post-traumatic stress – once called shell shock – seek help on average for ten years.
A man who feels weak – physically, intellectually or emotionally – experiences a feeling of shame
Women are much more willing to talk about their feelings and emotions, which is again supported by research.
I think men are ashamed of everything that makes us vulnerable, so we hide it at times when we have to admit the most. But this “strong and silent” myth endangers our lives.
There are many other reasons why we do not ask for help. We may be afraid that people may laugh or judge. We worry that we seem needy. Maybe we don’t want to bother people, or we want to protect them from the truth. But especially many men do not ask, because we do not realize that there is a problem at all.
Dr. Luke Sullivan, a psychologist who works in a NHS crisis service in London, talks about ‘the unacceptable moment’: a series of stressful events or situations – problems at work, illnesses, relationship conflicts – that build up and eventually become overwhelming.
Suicide suddenly seems the only way out.
“It doesn’t matter if you are depressed or not,” says Dr. Sullivan, who also manages Men’s Matter Matter mental health care. “If you find yourself in emotional distress and it is persistent, you will do everything to get out.”
Like many people I know, I had a mental health diagnosis.
But I was surprised to discover later that two-thirds of people who commit suicide do not.
I remember thinking I could only do a soldier. I was at the breaking point when I asked for help – and in many ways it all happened so quickly, I didn’t see it coming.
It’s a story I’ve heard repeatedly: a man takes his own life, and friends or family say they “had no idea” that things were so bad.
How to start again? for me it was the cutting of logs
After my breakdown I moved back to Shropshire from Berlin, put all my belongings in storage and moved with my father and mother.
The following winter I walked a lot: to the library, to the shops, to nearby fields, along the railway line. Some mornings, bored of walking, I jogged. I got a saw from the garage and started sawing logs that I had collected from a nearby log. It gave me a routine and the realization that moving my body could change my mind.
Every day I decided to do something physical: to cut a few more logs, to take a longer or slower walk, even to press a few times. It is easy to forget that you have a body when depressive and anxious thoughts dominate your field of experience.
Ex-Premier League footballer and professional boxer, Leon McKenzie and Jagjit Birha, Samaritans Ealing branch helped launch a new campaign to help those who need it
I didn’t know it then, but this routine caused a chemical reaction in my body. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain linked to mood, is often at least in the morning, but exercise stimulates it.
I speak with my therapist once a week, both on Skype and personally.
So how do you ask for help?
My advice is this: think about things that you might need but that you don’t ask for.
It can be a hug, or advice about a decision you need to make. Maybe some money to help you, a break from work, someone’s attention, or just to listen to for a while.
If you are worried or need to ask for help, it probably means that it is good to do.
Ask your doctor or someone you trust – a good friend or family member.
Talk to your manager at work. Or ask someone you know who has experience with psychological problems.
The Samaritans have a 24-hour helpline, at 116 123, and CALMTE also have one that runs from 5:00 pm to midnight, at 0800 58 58 58.
Just say: “There is something I am struggling with, can I ask for your advice?” Or maybe: “I can’t handle it and I don’t know why.”
The simplest and most honest thing to say? ‘I need help.’
During our 50-minute slots I feel my prejudices – my fixed ideas about “happiness”, “strength” and “man” for example – are challenged and pulled apart. Medication has helped by removing some gloom and putting a distance between me and the depths of despair.
These days I don’t drink (mostly): sobriety fits well with my mental health. But I also do not give abstinence.
And opening up – for others and myself – was the key. I encourage everyone who thinks they need help to write their own story: ask yourself, when did you start to feel that way? When did things change?
I wake up some mornings and feel OK. On others things look gray and empty, colorless and hopeless. I feel lonely. But after seeking help from doctors, therapists, and from reading and talking and learning, I know that life is a combination of the things that happen to us, the things we do every day, and all the things we do to improve be and keep well.
I can’t make promises. I cannot say, “Follow me, do this and you are guaranteed to get better.”
But I hope my story will reassure other men who, like me, may feel that recovery is possible.
© Kevin Braddock, 2019
- Everything starts with asking for help by Kevin Braddock (Kyle Books) published on Thursday, £ 9.99. Offer price £ 7.99 (20 percent off) until May 19. Order at mailshop.co.uk/books or call 0844 571 0640; p & p is free for orders over £ 15. Spend £ 30 on books and receive free premium delivery.