WARNING : this is an emotional read
World Mental Health Day 10th October 2021. A day to raise profile of mental health issues. A day we are all encouraged to check in on each other and reflect upon ourselves.
I present my lowest day in the short-story below. The person described is gone – I stand in his place. I therefore share this as a moment long past. A little piece of my history now at peace.
Take care of yourselves. Look out for those you love. Those who may act fine. Those too proud – too unworthy – or too sunken to care – prepared to do anything but raise a hand and instead determined to be alone with their despair.
Final WARNING! – this was my lowest moment of despair
A bridge too far
A fun day. A relived Friday to follow the last three with same upbeat revelry. But these events, this last months’ worth, had been the first in a while. And this one only a few days since doctors had confirmed what had been suspected. Exogeneous depression. A diagnosis that surprised no one when thought of retrospectively. Circumstances made this diagnosis easy to accept in hindsight, but the demeanour of the man (me) was such that surprise to many it still was. A stubborn resilience, at least on the surface. Typical of middle-aged men – hiding all until eventually broken – revealed. Unavoidably, it was forced into view.
This trip along the Thames walkway had been made hundreds of times. It was a commuting option often taken in the summer, from the insurance district of EC3 to London Bridge. This evening however, drunken euphoria and prolonged endorphin rushes of laughter, were all too quickly being replaced with the sobering melancholy of life and challenge. I stopped at the railings of the tow path. There was estuary salt, diesel, and demons in the air. A blanket of gloom descending like the pea-souper smog of London’s distant industrial past. A thick imagined smog, now resting upon my shoulders, pushing my head forward and all hope back.
Onward a few paces and I am surprised to be looking into eddying waters below. The steps leading back up to London Bridge pass over a narrow inlet, where the river draft was deeper. The clop-clop sound echoed below. The ozone heavy air lifting a faint smell of urine into the nostrils of unsuspecting tourists and absent minded commuters alike. Keeping good cheer subdued. I leaned over the metal banister. A cold imprint upon my shirt clad chest quickly prompting hands to take some weight. The water was churning below, mesmerising, hypnotising, an anaesthetic to sombre mood. The urine smell however was overpowering, and reason enough to walk on.
Crossing London Bridge could present challenge or wonderment in equal measure. There was a rush north in the morning, and a rush south at 6pm. At these moments you walk against the flowing stream with care or impudence, but either way can be assured of a healthy shoulder charge somewhere along the way. This time of night however was easier to navigate – other than the odd meandering homebound reveller or two to second guess and steer clear. These are the moments for a wonderment. A look over to the left offers a reward that many forget to claim. For Tower Bridge with a moon behind, or just lit up by standard lights, is a view many pay to see just the once. I typically took this in, but today was not one of those moments. My mind was awash with devilry, hopelessness, and despair. I halted short of the far end. I was still on the bridge. I had not yet past the crowd control barriers and concrete blocks – state paid vandalism now littering many of London’s streets – the new anti-terrorism norm. I was leaning over the thick wall, hoping to once again be swept into the hypnosis of eddying waters below. No such luck this time though, for low tide on this side of the bank meant mud flats, and ebbing waves. “No matter”, I thought as a I maintained a downward glare.
Except it did matter for some reason. I took several sideways steps along to where the water was imagined to be still, and black, and undoubtedly cold directly below. I leaned over and stayed starring into the black. The mesmerising eddies were what I had hoped to see, but instead the blackness, the stillness, held all my thoughts in suspended moment. There was a stillness that appealed. A silent emptiness. No feelings of duty, obligation, or expectation. It was intoxicating against the drunken ramblings in my head. The replayed discussion being reworked, rephrased, in the echo chambers in my mind. All had quietened. All was still. No thoughts of deadlines. No concerns for what medical need awaited at home. No to-do-list of pointless chores. It was a peace. It was my sweet silent siren to the fallen.
That’s the moment it appeared. The temptation to make good on promises of recent past. More spontaneous than a hangman’s rope, I thought. Less violent than opened veins. Less fashionable than being ripped up under the wheel sets of a train.
I did not even notice when my feet had left the ground. Leaning over so far that the corners of the thick metal topped wall were pressing hard against my pelvis I seemed to be allowing the sirens to win this time, and there was nothing within finding means to intervene.
A bus roared past and sounded its horn. Pulling my mind back from the black and filth below. Standing back a little from the barrier now. My adrenaline fuelling a sobering but befuddled and despairing mind. I digested what had just happened. This one had been different. This one was not a cry for help, this one was a willingness to maybe just let go. This realisation made quite the impact. Not the messy, muddy, emergency services called impact. A cerebral shock moment. A beacon or alarm that therapy had given warning to. But only in this moment had my realisation of possibilities of self-harm truly been understood.
My quiet mind began to race again. Can I even get onto a train now without fear of temptation’s return? It’s not even 11pm yet, so maybe I can just get to the station and think it through. Possible dangers were recalled. Those macabre secretly imagined options – of terminal methods and means – held in mind on those bad mornings as I wrestled to get out of bed. I did have a winner in mind, and knots in old rope lay as evidence of same. Knots learned in my youth, mostly in jest. The other options were all at home too so each was slowly swept away as no threat here and now. The only one of concern was my least likely to enact. Train track death was concluded to be a rotten way to go. So, my decision to board a train was quite straight-forward. Diving under one had been dismissed in every scenario I had contemplated.
Now however was the bigger question. For I now had to admit something new to myself. A questions now answered, or an answer now changed. Suicidal thoughts had just been scaled up. Ticks in boxes not ticked before. There were twenty-five minutes of a train journey to debate the next move. And they were all used with a trembling finger hovering over the Samaritan helpline already logged in my iPhone.
As I pulled up at my station, a decision had been made. iPhone back in pocket. It was time to come clean. To make good on better recent promises – those of transparency. Already a month into therapy, but now a less guarded discussion was going to be had. And it was going to be had as soon as I got home.From my journal
That event was a Friday in July, 2019. Today I am pretty much back to a fully recovered state of mental health. Normal. No easy journey, but the subsequent bounce back reflects the depths of the fall.
Normal – whatever that may mean. I am still on 100mg of Sertraline a day. Those London Bridge beers were my last. I meditate or contemplate every morning. My twice a week therapy is now just once a month. All now just part of life – just like the gym is for some – a place of transformation becoming part of the maintenance routine. I work hard to be fine. I now know how. I have a clarity on my why.
Journaling is also part of my new normal. Blogging a natural progression to take. I have been writing daily for nearly two years. It was late January 2020 that this short-story appeared. It is all true. Detailed to ensure it stays real. It was the first moment I felt bold enough to replay this event in full. To face it. Own it. Understand it. Accept it. Accepting me. And now daily, knowing a little better the best version of that I can be.
Normal blogging resumes again tomorrow. The Samaritans own this story now. I just wanted to give it some World Mental Health Day context and air.
In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.