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Column: Gary Speed, like others in his position, was scared

After the Welsh football manager’s suicide shocked the world, Francis Bowden describes the twisted logic of depression – and his own suicide attempt.

Image: *etoile via Flickr

IN LIGHT OF the tragic death of Welsh footballing legend Gary Speed, and the circumstances surrounding this event, there will be much discussion in the coming weeks and months regarding the issue of depression. Depression, although a very common disease, is something which people are uncomfortable talking about, and therein lays the danger this terrible disease poses.

There will be countless debates as to what brought a man who apparently had it all to breaking point. A hero at any club he played for, a highly-regarded young manager with a bright future, and a family man; yet he opted to end his own life. Many people in the media will speculate in their writing, and that’s okay to a certain extent, but one thing we all must realise when discussing this tragedy is that suicide happens on a regular basis to people who just don’t have the tools necessary to overcome the horrors of depression.

One has to realise that no matter what fortunes a person may appear to have, it has no direct correlation to how happy they might be. For someone to get to a point where the only way out of their troubles is to end their own life, that is a scary notion. Nobody expected this from Gary, it came completely out of the blue to us all. But unfortunately, Gary would have given this much thought and consideration.

I have been depressed before, and still battle with bouts of depression on occasions. I have been at breaking point and have felt that there was no way out other than suicide. I was lucky enough to pull through, and have worked very hard to not only better my own life, but to ensure that other people in a similar position see beyond the seemingly practical option of ending your life, and instead work towards coming out of it and becoming a happier person.

‘People fear being ostracised for having the disease’

One problem a lot of people with depression face is the fear of being ostracised for having the disease. It is not an irrational fear unfortunately, as I have endured it myself and can relate to the feeling of rejection and heavy criticism from ignorant people. I was bullied on Facebook and people were spreading stories about a tragic time of my life that was very private to me, and I had to take control of the situation by setting the story straight publicly, which was an extremely difficult thing to do, although in the long run beneficial to my health.

Hours before the death of Gary Speed, another ex-footballer, Stan Collymore, used his Twitter account to discuss his own most recent bout with depression. This may seem a bit strange as a means of discussing a topic so serious and thought provoking, but to me it was a very intelligent thing to do. His tweets had personality, were articulate, and very honest. I am of the opinion that he did this for several reasons;

Number 1: He wants to educate those who are unfamiliar with depression, or even intimidated by discussing it, and hopefully engage them in conversation that they wouldn’t normally dare to approach.

Number 2: He wants to encourage those who suffer from depression to speak up and realise that they are not the only ones who are in such a dire frame of mind.

Number 3: He did it to maintain his own sanity. I am of the belief that a problem shared really is a problem halved. People suffering from depression can be their own worst enemy at times, and opt not to speak about their affliction, and from my own experience I can say that it really is necessary that people talk about it.

All logic goes out the window when someone with depression is at their wits end. It can get to a point where you can get so accustomed to being in such a negative state of mind that you almost don’t want to make things better. You lose all motivation, you abandon all social interaction, and you do everything that is detrimental to your progression. You eat too much, or don’t eat at all, you drink to ease the pain, you turn your phone off and you become a recluse.

‘In my eyes, things were looking good’

In my case, I had gotten my own flat in inner-city Dublin, I had started a job in an area that was known for its social problems, and I worked unsocial hours to fund my college tuition. I had a girlfriend of four years, and was excited about the prospect of finishing my final year of college and being independent. In my eyes, things were looking good. But things went pear-shaped rather quickly for me. I soon realised that the area I was living in was rather dangerous, that my working conditions were equally dangerous and I’d be working until midnight on weeknights. On top of that, my girlfriend was leaving me.

In order to fund my rent and tuition, I needed the job, so it began to take preference over my studies. I foolishly thought that I would be able to handle all of this stress, but it overwhelmed me to the point where I was losing my mind.

I wasn’t turning up to lectures, I was blanking my friends, and I was staying in bed until 5 pm every day. My day consisted of getting out of bed at 5pm, going to work at 6pm, and getting home at 12.30 am. I wasn’t sleeping, so I’d have a drink on my own and watch endless amounts of movies. Sometimes I would drink to the point where I’d pass out on my couch and not wake up until late the next afternoon. I would then spend the weekend at my parents’ house, lying to them about how well I was doing in college and how great everything was going.

The pressure of everything was proving too much to cope with. The guilt of my underachievement was crushing me, I was letting my parents down and they had no clue of it. I was failing in every aspect of my life. The frustration of not being able to get back on my feet is something I still can’t begin to explain. It was like the running dream we all have when we are chasing something, but can never reach it.

‘This was the strangest day of my entire life’

It all came to a head on December 9, 2010. I can say without any hesitation whatsoever that this was the strangest day of my entire life. I woke up that morning with a feeling of revitalisation, and I felt better than I had in years. I felt so good for a reason; I knew that I was going to take my own life that day. I had stayed in my parent’s house the night before, so when I woke up, I made them breakfast and sat and watched TV with them for the day. But my mind was elsewhere, I was planning the night’s events. Prior to leaving to make my way back to Dublin, I gave my Mam and Dad a hug and a kiss, told them I loved them and that I’d see them next weekend. They had no clue that a police car would be arriving to the door that night to inform them that I’d been rushed to hospital.

The details of how I attempted suicide are irrelevant, because no matter the method, it is a horrific thing to even consider in the first place. I will mention one thing however, after forensic consideration, I was of the belief that the further I went away from my family home to take my own life; the easier it would be for my parents to cope with me not being there anymore. I think this alone illustrates how irrational one’s thinking can be when they are in that state of mind.

Since that night, I have tried to come to terms with my actions, and the damage it did to the relationship I have with my family and friends. My relationship with my parents has changed forever. They will never sleep soundly again if I’m not at home on a certain night. It has been really difficult to process just how bad things were for me at that time, but almost a year later, things are beginning to make sense to me.

I decided to return to college and repeat the year, to do it properly and do myself and my parents proud. I have been lucky enough to find myself an amazing job doing something I love and am very passionate about. More than anything else however, I feel like myself again. I feel very happy with life; I love interacting with people, seeing my friends, going to work and college, doing assignments. I enjoy it all.

I feel like I have been given a second chance to achieve something in life, and I’m relishing every opportunity that comes my way. I am aware of the fact that many people who have suffered from depression experience it more than once in life, but I’m okay with that the prospect of it returning. I’m going to suffer numerous setbacks in life, but that’s part of life isn’t it? The key is to have the tools and support structure in place to cope with such setbacks. It is vital that you have these tools.

‘I’m now stronger than I ever was’

To hear of Gary Speed’s death cut me, my heart ached and I cried for him and his family. I’ve been lucky enough to see him play, I have followed the latter parts of his career, and I’ve always really liked him as a person. To watch him on Football Focus on Saturday morning, and to see him smiling and laughing with the co-hosts put me in a great mood for the day, it really was a pleasure to watch. But to then hear of his death 24 hours later crushed me. It brought back the day that I tried to take my own life; how happy I felt, how empowered I felt, how relieved I felt. I can’t help thinking that Gary had similar thoughts on Saturday, and this is why he was in such good form just 24 hours before his death. The thoughts of it makes me feel weak.

It brought back painful memories that even after a year I still haven’t fully managed to come to terms with. But I have the strength now to know that I can come to terms with them with a little work and better communication.

What I did was horrific and it has changed my life forever, but I’m now stronger than I ever was. I just wish that Gary had spoken to someone about his woes, it really does make such a difference to your psyche. I do my very best to be on the lookout for signs of depression in others, and I try to be there for them however I can. Gary opted to end his problems with the quickest and in his mind perhaps the most logical of ways, but we only need to think of his wife and children to realise how much devastation suicide leaves behind.

Anyone who says that what he did is selfish (and I have heard this already) is in my opinion ignorant to just how soul-consuming depression can be. They do not realise that the mind is so powerful that it can play horrible tricks on you. Depression eats you alive if you don’t take control of it early.

Gary, despite his status, fortune, achievements and loved-ones, was in the darkness and couldn’t escape.

Gary, like many others suffering from depression, was scared.

The Console support helpline is 1800 201 890, or visit console.ie. You can also get help from the Samaritans on 1850 60 90 90, or visit samaritans.org. The 1Life Suicide Prevention Helpline, available 24/7 free of charge, is at 1800 247 100 and 1life.ie.

Francis Bowden is a pseudonym.

Column: Suicide isn’t just about depression – it’s about all of us>

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Francis Bowden

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