Lying face down on my bed, googling pain free ways to kill myself with a whole packet of paramol in my hand ready for digestion was the time that I realised it was my responsibility to pull myself out of the hell hole I had transcended into, no one else’s. It really does not get any lower from a mental perspective.
On the outside I had a lot going for me. A Director level job in an amazing company with a culture many would envy, the confidence to walk into a room of C-Suite Executives and pitch our latest solution on the fly, batting back questions thrown at me like a game of tennis. I had two beautiful boys; Jackson (4) and Carter (18 months), who were and still are as special as it gets. I had the sort of family people wish for, loving parents, kind hearted, warm sisters who would never have a bad word to say to anyone. My family was extremely close, choosing to spend time with each other often over time with respective friends. I lived in a fairly affluent area, wanted for very little and had my whole life ahead of me.
Yet the issue was, I didn’t want my life any more. I was a failure, a fat, lazy, ugly, horrible, selfish human being who did not deserve to be surrounded by people and could not let my young children grow up to ‘find me out’ and resent me for who I was. This was the constant dialogue I had run in my head for nearly a year. 2016. The toughest year of all.
I’m not going to go into the finer detail here because I respect the person I am writing about greatly and some things are better kept to yourself, however, I had split with my wife and it had hit me hard. Having been with her since the age of 16 and 31 at the time, the life I had always known was gone and I was left with this extremely daunting one. Being alone for the first time in my life.
During the break up was when the anxiety started. I remember thinking to myself “Fucking hell. NO ONE would understand what this feels like unless they had it themselves”. It was crippling. I’m talking about anxiety so severe that I would begin shaking in the car on the way to work, and by the time I parked up, I would have to play a certain song to get me moving or I would very likely just drive through the space and go home again. Sometimes I did just that. Sometimes I would be sat at my desk and would see two people head off to the board room for a meeting. Stars would appear and the extreme paranoia that they were meeting to discuss how they could get me out of the company and sack me, because I wasn’t good enough to be doing what I was doing. I wasn’t good enough at anything in my eyes, and this had been with me for a very long time.
It felt like someone had taken away my armour and that even the smallest of things could cut me deep. A look in the wrong direction, an ill word from my ex wife. Things that normally would have fallen away like the proverbial water off a duck’s back, were just too much to take. I was fragile beyond my means and as a result, depended heavily on my amazing mother. Often worrying her with panic after a call or a text message for some support. What she went through must have been so taxing but I was too ill and selfish at the time to care, I needed support and sure enough, her phone would beep.
Intimacy with anyone or anything was a huge challenge. My heart would beat 10 times faster than it needed to the minute anyone got close to me, it was so noticeable that a certain someone would notice it jumping through my skin and comment, which only made it worse. I remember often telling anyone who’d listen that I was ‘broken and beyond repair’ I truly meant it. I was hopelessly lost and careering towards disaster.
The only time I ever felt great was when I drank alcohol, and drink it I did. I’ve learned that this is an extremely common trait amongst those with mental illness but at the time I was entrapped in the most vicious of cycles. I would live for the next time I could drink myself stupid and have an ‘amazing night out’. Of course I was the life and soul of the party, because I was always the instigator. This behaviour stemmed right back to my teens and I’m not stupid enough to think that a separation made me depressed, I had been depressed for a very long time. It just heightened it and tipped me over the edge.
I would get blackouts and forget chunks of the night and in some cases, the entire night itself. I would do things I am just so ashamed of, say the most obnoxious of things and then wake up the next morning feeling like death. For years I had told myself and everyone around me that I always got the worst hangovers, quizzically wondering why friends could just get up and get on with their day while I was unable to move, petrified of what was happening and dreading going to bed. It wasn’t my affliction to alcohol, I was seriously ill and just didn’t understand it. Day two of the hangover always felt worse, day three the anxiety kicked back in and day four the self loathing started. Ready for another weekend of drinking again. It’s funny how those who mask things with drinking never remember the agony they went through following the last session.
The problem with a vicious cycle is that it only ends one way, destruction. And destruction for me came in the form of a small pitch looming at work. For some perspective, I had pitched hundreds of times in some form or another, it was my thing. It was supposed to be my core skill. However this time was different. After an entirely restless night (solid sleeping was non existent in those times) I had convinced myself that the people pitching in my team and the clients we were pitching too were going to ‘find out’ about me. I can’t really explain what this means because I’m not really sure myself but needless to say, I completely broke down. In the carpark at the back of my work.
The dread had got the better of me and something had to be done. The issue was, I had been soldiering on at work filled with dread for so many months, fuelled by the fear that if they found out how I was feeling they would remove me from my position. I felt a huge responsibility to deliver for them and I needed my job more than anything, the financial pressure of splitting up and caring for my two boys had me desperate.
My Mum’s phone beeped and this time her response was very clear. “We’re going to the doctors”. So she called my work on behalf of me, she explained the situation and they reacted in a way that still fills me with a sense of warmth. They truly cared. They handled everything, told her to look after me and to take as much time as I needed. To this day I will never forget those words and I will always ensure that, if given the opportunity, I will use them to help someone else through a tough time.
The Doctors was truly an experience. I don’t want to belittle Doctors, they work extremely hard over a long period to achieve the status and knowledge they have. The issue is, Doctors are simply not equipped to understand mental illness. Mine even admitted so to some extent. Nice as he was, he listened to what I had to say, and advised I take the drug ‘Sertraline’ to help give me the boost I needed to start feeling better. It was so easy. I could have told him anything. I’ve thought a lot about it since, and had I walked in portraying another mental illness he’d have prescribed me with something totally different. There was no process. ‘Here’s your tablets, report back in a couple of weeks’. I had to trust the process, but I did not want to take them.
Take them I did. The first two weeks were fine, I had been signed off work, I was relaxing. Planning small tasks to accomplish each day, trying hard to walk out the house but often failing. I even began to make the gym, to get rid of the disgusting belly I had grown. Then suddenly things changed, and my world dropped beneath me. We’re back to the ‘they would never understand how I feel’ phase but unfortunately that’s where I found myself. I remember the morning like it was yesterday. I had returned to work, I was over the dread of returning to a room of people gossiping about me (they never did) and starting to settle back down. I had woken up and I knew something was hideously wrong, it’s like I had opened my eyes to an extreme version of the bedroom I had once known, it felt like hell. I was shaking, I was anxious out of my skin, my heart beating so fast that I thought I was going to die. I poured a triple vodka and diet coke at 10am in the morning just to try and make it stop, take the edge off.
I walked to the bathroom crying.
I picked up a packet of paramol.
I lay back down on the bed.
I was still crying.
I was always fucking crying.
I wanted to die and was going to do it.
What I did instead was send out a cry for help that ultimately save me. I sent a text message to my Dad simply saying “Dad I’m so sorry, I’ve had enough and I don’t want to be in this world anymore” He was at my house in under 15 minutes, packing my bag and bringing me back to his home. Something within me stopped me. I don’t know whether I bottled it, or whether I thought of my two beautiful boys and my family and realised the effect it would have on them and to be honest, I don’t care. I’m just glad I sent that text message and I’m glad my hero of a Dad got to me to take me home.
The next thing I know, I’m asleep in my Mum’s house for near on 12 hours, probably the deepest sleep I had ever had. I woke to sit at my Mum’s kitchen table and we went through the potential side effects of Sertraline with a highlighter to establish which ones I had. We stopped at 27. Enough was enough and an emergency appointment was called with the doctor. I had been asked to outline how I felt so he could understand and decide on the next steps. I’m reserved to share what I wrote down but I feel it’s necessary to give you an insight into the severity of the situation;
-When I wake up I feel tired and drowsy regardless of how much sleep I’ve had – I can never get to sleep because my mind is racing
– Sometimes I just go to the toilet and cry and I have no idea why. Then I wait for ages because I don’t want people to see my red eyes
– I am surrounded by people who are happy and successful and sometimes that thought is so intense that I am physically sick in my toilet
– I constantly think that people are talking about me and trying to do things that would upset me. Plot to sack me, friends speaking to my ex wife
– I absolutely dread walking into rooms of people because I think they’ve just been talking about me
– I am unable to think about my job. The simplest task requires huge effort and I have outer body experiences and get dizzy
– I subject my people close to me to emotional blackmail one minute and treat them amazing the next. Even though I know I’m doing it sometimes I can’t stop
– my life is uncontrollable. I can’t manage money, I don’t open mail, I don’t eat properly, I depend heavily on my parents and hate it
– the simplest task like cleaning just seems impossible to do so I ignore it
– I regularly think about alcohol and how I never want to go near it
– I feel so much better when I drink, on top of the world. It’s when I feel the most happiest
– I am then petrified of what I’ll feel like the next day so sometimes I just have more drinks
– I drink on my own some nights and take it too far and feel crap the next day
– My hangovers make me suicidal. I do not see a reason for living any more because I just ruin everything I touch
– My hangovers last 4 days minimum
– When I drink I make so many horrific decisions. Things I simply can’t even talk about. I become a different person
– I feel trapped, I need to go on holiday but I can’t ever afford to. I need to work because my bills are so high
– I DETEST how I look, I’m overweight
– I DETEST my lack of discipline and inability to go to the gym
– I tell everyone around me that I will do things and then never follow them through. I’m a failure every time
– Sometimes I can’t talk about my children because it just makes me so sad and I cry all the time about it. They’re so happy and nice and I am such a shit person
– I’ve lied about so much to keep people from hating me
– I have credit card companies chasing me 10 times a day for payments that I can’t pay
- Heart beats fast
- Sore tongue & ulcers
- Chills and tingles down my arms
- Stiff legs and body in the morning
- Feel hungover and drowsy until 10-11am
- Puffy eyes sometimes
- Simple things make me highly anxious
- Paranoid that people are talking about me and trying to mess with me
- Feel completely helpless/Nothing is in control
- Often feel like it would be better off if I’m just not here
- No motivation to go to the gym
- Can’t concentrate on anything
- Failing at everything
The Doctor’s next suggestion? Take more medication. My answer was a simple one. ‘Over my dead body’ Quite literally. I asked for him to refer me to a counsellor and so he did, with the promise I’d have contact from someone within 48 hours and an appointment within the week. I also went cold turkey on the medication. Two things happened next.
- Cold turkey is a bitch, withdrawal is a bitch. I may as well have taken heroin.
- I never got a call, I never heard from anyone.
And so I began chasing the local counselling service I had been referred to, desperate for someone to talk to, a way out. Still very much hiding it from those around me that I was still feeling like I did. I was fighting it and that was something. I’d ring them and they would tell me a call was coming. This went on for three weeks until I got to the end of the road with it. Useless.
And so my amazing parents emerged from the smoke again, and gave me money to go to pay for weekly counselling. At the same time I figured a few things out myself.
- I needed to invest myself in getting better
- I needed to read books
- I needed to watch motivational videos
- I needed to visualise my path out of the situation
- I needed to draw on the amazingness of those close to me
- I needed to do small but good things for other people
- I needed to get fit again
And so I devised a plan and I worked at it. And soon enough, the mental process of removing certain people from my life, surrounding myself with happy, nice people who truly cared for me began to pay off. I began treating the gym like my church, enjoying pushing myself and seeing the progress I was making. I wasn’t competing with anyone but myself, I wasn’t cutting carbs or starving myself. Working alongside Matt and other people in my life, I was systematically putting my life back together again. Am I 100%? Absolutely not. I still have my moments.
But what I have replaced the misery with is this burning feeling you often hear people talk about. I guess they call it ‘burning’ because it feels so hot you have to do something with it quickly!
The National Health Service is fundamentally flawed. Doctors have no funding or support to ultimately sort those who truly need it. The UK has a suicide rate on the increase, with men three times more likely to do it than women. There are thousands of men and women out there with or without mental illness who feel utterly helpless and filled with self loathing. They just want to get fit, look better, be happier, and see a future ahead of them.
Together with Matt my vision is to grow a brand that achieves a few things. Firstly I want to raise awareness to mental illness and let people know that it’s ok to talk about it, secondly I want to show people that fitness is a fantastic catalyst for changing your life if done the right way, thirdly I want to give back. I want to show people that there are people there to help, I want to create initiatives for those feeling desperate, and alone. I was extremely lucky to have some of the world’s nicest humans around me. Others aren’t so fortunate. Finally, I want to build and grow a fitness community of like minded people; people who either need motivation and support or those who have been through something and want to harness that experience to help themselves and others.
If you made it through the essay then I thank you and appreciate your attention. I urge you to become part of our community, benefit from our hard work and replicate it in your own life. Pay it forward, help other people and hopefully, our brand can have a ripple effect big enough to make a small dent in the world.
Peace and love Rich
To find out more about The 10 Percent Project, click here.