'Two Foot, Twenty-Four Inches' - One Her.ie Reader Recalls The Moment He Decided To Take His Own Life
Over the coming weeks, Her.ie will be putting a special emphasis on the topic of mental health in Ireland.
As part of the #TimeToTalk series, we will be sharing stories from our readers about their experiences with anxiety, depression and many other conditions in an attempt to open a conversation and battle the stigma surrounding mental health issues.
In the first instalment, Paul Healy from Kildare opens up about his struggle with depression and a moment last year where he came close to taking his own life.
"Do you know if life insurance pays out in the event of suicide? I do, cause I have checked.
I checked as I sat in my car alongside a deserted canal bank, shrouded in darkness and free from view from the outside world.
Secure in this knowledge that the policy would be paid, I tossed my phone into the centre console of the car and stood out into the dark and the cold, fumbling in my pocket for my cigarettes as I did so. Lighting the cigarette, I took the first deep pull and then slowly exhaled, allowing my worries to wash away as the smoke was taken away by the light wind.
This pull and blow was repeated time and time until I flicked the cigarette butt away, took one final deep breath and began my walk towards the canal bank.
Then an image seared my mind, shot before my eyes with a pain I have never felt before. The image was one of my wife getting ready for a night out. Dressed in her favourite black dress and with her hair curled, it was the most beautiful I have ever seen her.
This image was followed a split second later by images of my sons, swinging from a tree without a care in the world and a smile stretching from ear to ear.
I remembered the noise and the smell from that day in the woods, felt the freshly fallen leaves below my feet and the cold, autumn air fill my lungs.
Then I felt the rain… but this was not a memory of that day with my children, it actually was raining and was getting progressively heavier.
I took a step back towards the car, seeking refuge from the rain. Considering what I had just been about to do, wanting to get out of the rain did not make an awful lot of sense but at this stage, little made sense to me.
I wiped the rain from my face and the tears that had mingled with it. I reached for my phone to discover those images I had just seen in my mind but could not focus on the screen. My eyes burnt and my vision was blurred by tears that continued to flow. What was I doing? Why was I here?
I had stormed out of the house an hour earlier, driving aimlessly but sub-consciously looking for the spot I found myself in. I knew I would end up here, I just had to drive the anger out of me first.
Earlier that day, we had received confirmation that we would, for what felt like the millionth time, be down even more money each month. Already struggling to keep our heads above the bread line, this news hit both me and my wife hard. It again felt as if our world was falling apart around us. This was followed by a fog descending in my head that prevented me from seeing the outside world.
This fog is a returning feature of my recent life but one that had been kept in check since I admitted my struggles with depression and sought help from my local GP. The drugs he prescribed made me feel weird, not myself, but they kept the depressive thoughts in check so I persisted with them. Actually, that day my prescription had just been renewed so it was my two-month ‘anniversary’.
I doubt the strongest anti-depressant in the world could have helped me that day.
I didn’t actually feel depressed. Instead, I felt desperate. What could I do to keep my family safe? To keep the only house that my two boys knew above their heads?
So I did what I always do and worked. It is second nature to me, doesn’t require me to be particularly focused and kept my mind off more destructive thoughts. I churned away safe in my own little world, my self-constructed protective bubble, stopping only to make and eat dinner.
Which explains why, when I reached for my laptop after dinner, my wife got pissed off. Passive aggressively, she went for her phone and fired up her music streaming app and looking for some party music to unwind. Sitting in the chair next to me, this was more than a little distracting and resulted in me fobbing the work off on a colleague and slamming my laptop shut.
I put the kids to bed and by the time I came downstairs, she was looking for a fight.
Was I really pissed off with her cause she wanted to play music? Was I going to join her in getting drunk and unwinding? Then it really came out. Tired of pussy-footing around my mental health, she let loose with everything that was pissing her off since I announced I was depressed… much of it my fault or at least within my control. And 99 per cent of it revolving around money.
Decision made. There was one surefire way to make sure she would have no money troubles so I stormed out with jacket and car keys in hand. I drove and drove and drove. Sometimes fast, sometimes at crawling pace as I struggled to see the road ahead for the tears streaming down my face.
I pictured my wife telling the boys that daddy wasn’t coming home and it broke my heart but so too did the vision of them being torn away from their house because I had failed as a breadwinner. As a parent. As a father.
At some point I stopped, killed the engine and sat. I don’t know how long I was there or how many times I exited the car to have a calming cigarette but it was enough time to steel myself, to convince myself that what I was doing was right, would help my family and finally bring an end to the pain and suffering eating me up inside.
Pointing the car back in the direction of that point along the canal bank, I continued in peaceful silence. No conflicting thoughts swimming around my head, no fog – for the first time in a long time I was thinking clearly and this all made perfect sense.
I thought about the insurance pay out that would pay the mortgage on the house and how happy we were when we moved in. We both had good jobs, my wife was pregnant on our first child and we were not long married.
Then the ‘global crisis’ happened and I lost three jobs within two years, leading to my first bout of depression. Thankfully I was able to overcome it simply by talking about it and find myself in a happier place.
Determined not to rely on someone else, I set up my own business as too did my wife. Unfortunately mine was and still is an unmitigated disaster. I will never provide enough income to keep a family of four and it was this realisation that caused bout number two.
The only light I could see was down and a move that brought about my destruction but which allowed my family to live in peace, free from the crippling financial obligations… but I couldn’t do it.
Those pictures and sounds and sights and smells were, I’m guessing, my body’s self-preservation instinct kicking in. It knew it could not bring me back with reason – I’ve overcome my fear of heights many times when all my body wants to do is run in the opposite direction, so it played on my emotions. Instead, it showed me the things I love the most and said ‘do you really want to leave them?’.
I could not imagine a future where I do not get to hold my children, hear their laughter or feel the sheer joy in them as they experience something for the first time. Nor could I not bare not to touch or hold my wife, to hear and feel her breath and see her smile. The fact that the Aerosmith song from Armageddon was playing on the radio certainly didn’t fu*king help either!
I don’t remember starting the drive home but I did and before I knew it, I was pulling back into the driveway. Sitting there in the darkness, I fought to drag my thoughts together, to make sense of what I had come within a couple of feet of doing. And that is how close it was – two foot, twenty four inches.
Since that day on the canal, things have got progressively worse. My wife has been diagnosed with a life-long (though not terminal, thankfully) illness and is unable to work. We find ourselves even closer to the breadline than we were before but still with the same hassles from creditors.
But you know what? I'm still here. Still struggling to makes end meet, to put food on the table and heating oil in the tank but such is life.
I'm certainly not unique in that nor am I unique in coming so close to ending it all but I have learned since then that for every dark day there is a bright one, for every down there is an up, and for every kick in the gut that depression doles out, you get to kick it right back.
Opening up and talking about my struggles was the silver lining to this particular cloud. Because I spoke about it, I have a stronger support structure than before - friends and family who know I occasionally battle with my own personal demons and are there for me.
I have been through worse stuff since then but not once have I considered revisiting that canal bank. I may have been dealt a shitty hand but nobody says you have to play it so I folded that hand, held on to my chips and will continue playing until my luck turns.
Despite what I may have thought, flesh and bone is stronger and more important than bricks and mortar. What my kids need is their dad and my wife needs her husband, not some house we overpaid for."
If you are struggling with mental health issues and need something to talk to, there are a range of confidential and anonymous options available. You can find a full list of available options here.
If you'd like to share your story as part of Her.ie's #TimeToTalk campaign, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.