I remember the day I decided to take my own life, that moment was the first time I’d had clarity of thought for as long as I could remember. There was a huge sense of relief that I had finally realised how I could take back control over what was happening to me. The irony was that things in my life had never been so good. I had just become a father for the first time (my daughter was 6 months old), I had a wonderful supportive and caring wife, a lovely home, and a great group of family and friends around me. However, by this stage anxiety and depression had taken over.
It is difficult to fully articulate exactly how I was feeling during this phase. I had become engulfed by negative thoughts and the hardest to deal with were the negative thoughts regarding things that could go wrong with my new baby daughter. I would let each negative thought take over and take me to the darkest of places. This resulted in living with constant anxiety that was resulting in panic attacks and depression. Not being alive anymore felt like a much better option than continuing to live in this way. I did not sleep very well during this period, and most nights I would lie in bed thinking about going downstairs and ending my life. The thing that stopped me was worrying about how my wife and daughter would cope financially. Not thinking that they would miss me, but that they would miss my monthly wages. It was a perfect trap, engulfed with worry that stopped me wanting to live, but at the same time it was worry that was preventing me from taking the final step.
At this point this issue was my own little secret. I spent the early part of my adult life in the Army and this shaped me to think that having a mental health issue was a weakness. On reflection, I do look back and realise that leaving the bubble of the Army was linked to a deterioration in my mental health that gradually got worse, until I reached my lowest point in 2014 after my daughter was born.
I think my biggest challenges in that period were admitting to myself that there was a problem and believing that I could deal with it alone.
I was worrying about life, worrying about death, and now worrying about what people would think! During this period, I threw myself into work as it helped me to keep the negative thoughts out of my mind. As a result, I was excelling in my work life, gaining promotion and receiving excellent feedback. This dispels the myth that people use mental health to get out of work or an as excuse for failure. To the outside world I was doing well, but inside I was in perpetual turmoil. As soon as I left work I was back in the world of anxiety and panic attacks. I became scared of going home and would stay in work as late as possible.
My life changed by accident, I had taken my daughter to the Doctor’s again — I did this a lot as I began to let the thoughts in my head take over reality and I was always worried that she had a serious illness. During this session I was having another panic attack, my heart was racing as adrenaline rushed through my system and I was clearly acting irrationally. The Doctor picked up on this and turned to me and said, “Mr Francis, your daughter is fine, but it’s you I am worried about”. This sentence saved my life! I came back to see him the next day, and for the first time was open about how I was feeling. I was diagnosed with Depression and General Anxiety Disorder and was sent on a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) followed by one-to-one counselling sessions. Slowly I began to understand what was happening to me and was able to work on techniques to help me manage the situation. I was also starting to be open about my mental health struggles with close family and friends.
I was overwhelmed with the support I received and people's attitude towards me being open. Some people have even used it as the inspiration to open up about their own issues.
This is why I am so determined to keep sharing the message that seeking help or being open about your mental health is nothing to be ashamed about.
I am not out of the woods, and still suffer bouts of anxiety and depression that seem to hit me at any time. One small trigger sets off a chain of thoughts that I can’t control that take me straight back to wanting to end my own life. However, today I am lucky as there are many places where I can get support such as Mental Health Support Groups, Mental Health First Aiders at work, I can speak to my wife or call a family member or friend. I have survived, but I know people that have not been as lucky. In the last two years two men I know took their own lives. One was a close a neighbour who died when his daughter was 9 months old. On reflection I knew he was struggling, but I was too embarrassed to say that I had struggled, I was worried about what he would think about me. I will never know whether it would have helped if I had been open with him, but not a day goes by where I don’t think back to our conversations and wish I had said something.
Because of this I am now passionate about trying to break the stigma attached to mental health issues. Collectively we need to talk more about our mental health, and as individuals we need to be prepared to ask people if they are feeling OK.