Olivia Newton-John circa Physical strides through the streets of Brighton with purpose. This confident woman has a plan and finally has the permission to see it through. People cheer and jeer as she struts home but it’s all irrelevant now, as soon it will all be over.
She knows how, she knows why. She’s going to do everyone a favour and she will do it, causing minimal distress to the others she is protecting. She turns the key to door and is unexpectedly greeted by the housemate who wasn’t meant to be in.
And like that I realise I missed my opportunity.
On the night I nearly killed myself, I had started the day with a very different aim. After months of feeling detached from everyone, I convinced myself I was ready to commit to my friends, to enjoy this party and to go full out with my costume.
It was a dear friend’s 30th birthday, 80s themed and at our favourite bar in Brighton. I pushed myself to make an effort. I wanted to feel normal, to feel like I was involved in my own life. And it was working. I was the life of the party. I felt more like my old self than I had in months.
In the run-up to that night it had become the norm for me to ‘forget’ to dress up, or ‘forget’ to even turn up sometimes. But not this time. I made a perfect replica of Olivia Newton-John’s outfit. And I wanted the costume to represent so much more. It was a statement that I was going to commit to my friends. Commit to my life in Brighton. Commit to living. Yet, within hours, I was back to where I started, trapped in my own head, surrounded by people who I was convinced deserved to be free of me.
Wanting to kill myself wasn’t a new feeling. I had been testing the waters from months. There had been hinting, suggesting, teasing that I wanted to end everything. I even, maybe once or twice, texted a friend exactly that, knowing full well they wouldn’t get my messages until ‘after’ the deed was done.
Therapy has since shown me that my own sense of guilt and responsibility for others both caused these feelings and saved me from them. I was torn between knowing everyone would be happier once I was gone and the more practical, immediate inconvenience my death would cause to those around me. I was in a constant battle, never knowing if I should trust those around me who say they wanted me here, or to believe that I can make people happier by removing myself from everyone’s life.
I came to the party determined to trust I should be here. I danced. I sang. I laughed like I hadn’t in an age. But my mind didn’t let me off that easy. With all the best intentions, a simple comment can bring me crashing down. And the fall this time took me so far I finally decided I was going to commit suicide.
The thing that this day scares me the most is how easily I convinced myself. It was no dramatic confrontation. No grand realisation. No traumatic experience. In the end a few words from an acquaintance was all it took. They didn’t realise that I would take their words and use it as it proof that people would benefit from me no longer being around, but that’s exactly what I did. I was freed. I had found the permission I was looking for to do it.
I left the party with a different kind of confidence, more resolute in my thinking than I had been in years. I found the walk home invigorating as people pointed at me in my pink tights and unitard. It seemed a fitting final walk and gave me the opportunity to sort out logistics. That was the strangest thing, I was happy and very matter of fact. I felt like I was finally going to help everyone and so I wanted to do the best job I could.
Whilst I’m convinced I would have gone through with it, I will never know for sure what would have happened if my housemate had been out as planned. All I know is that when I saw him, I realised it wasn’t going to be that night. It would have been a hassle.
As I took off my costume, it slowly hit me just how close I had come to the edge. The extreme emotions of the whole day, of being up, and down, confident and scared, seemed to shift something in me. The next morning I finally reached out for help.
A year later and I’m still here. Things got worse before they got better but I started talking. To friends, to family and doctors and slowly, it made a difference. Being open and honest helped. December last year, missing a creative output, I decide I wanted to get more people talking about mental health. One friend became the co-host on the MenTalkHealth podcast, Damian O’Friel. The moment I came up with MenTalkHealth I knew Damian had to be part of it. He is someone who radiates openness and humour and has his own colourful history battling mental health. And he’s the friend who saved my life simply by talking to me.
I used to work in television, so I know how to help others tell their stories. I knew we had to start a podcast in which we talk honestly about our lives and our mental health. My one condition was it had to be real conversations. We needed to feel able to laugh and joke about our mutual struggles.
But our team was only complete when we enlisted Eli; an experienced and fantastic TV Producer and a strong presence that would represent the listener and keep us in check. Thinking she would only be there to launch the first episode, she quickly became central to the heart of the show. The final piece of the MenTalkHealth (plus woman) puzzle and we haven’t let her go.
With the launch of episode one we had an immediate flurry of interest. People responding. Men responding – especially from within the LGBTQ+ community. Identifying with the honesty and humour that made our conversations so convincing.
Nine months later and MenTalkHealth has 15 episodes, a massive presence at Brighton Pride, sponsors and supporters, and big plans for the next six months. We are recording episodes all over the country, have just returned from Berlin, and are on the cusp of launching a new initiative to collect men’s stories and conversations about mental health that will make our listeners the presenters and promotors of their own stories.
None of this though would have happened if I hadn’t started talking. Even in the LGBTQ+ community we are still reluctant to come out about our mental health. And that won’t change until we start making ourselves comfortable with talking about how we feel.
Daily we get messages from listeners who are ready to share and MenTalkHealth is going to be there to make it happen. I’m going to be there to make it happen, something I didn’t believe a year ago. I wonder what the version of me dressed, as Olivia Newton-John would say to someone now? “Tell me about it, stud.”