I was so sad to hear the news, today, that footballer and Welsh national team manager, Gary Speed, has apparently committed suicide – by hanging - at the age of 42.
Globally, more than a million people take their own lives, each year, and every one of those passings is an excruciating tragedy for those left behind.
I guess it’s even more incomprehensible, and seems an even greater waste, when that person appeared to have so much going for them, in life.
It was a gut-punch to read the almost inevitable troll comments that he was a coward, including from a Brentford footballer who wrote (and then deleted) on Twitter:
It would be easy to blast him - and, sadly, the many others – as disrespectful, grossly insensitive and downright mean-spirited, but that solves nothing except to sate one’s own ego – to give energy to the illusion that, because we care and they don’t, we are in some way better than them.
What we need to do is educate through that sort of bigotry by helping people see that suicide is such a prevalent malfunction in humanity, which touches people of all demographics, and it’s something that could lay its icy fingers on their own shoulders.
The footballer who made that above comment is 20 years old; he’s out on loan from a Championship club that looks on course to return to the English Premier League – arguably the greatest football league on the planet. He’s getting match experience and has dedicated himself to becoming the best he can be, because he wants to shine…
I am touching wood as I write this, because – as I hope regular readers recognise – I have no ill will toward anyone…
But what if, say, next year, this guy was in the middle of a game, made a crucial, but awkward tackle and in the process, twisted down and shattered his leg? Not just a clean break that could see him fight back to fitness within the year, but a multiple-fracture, career-ending injury?
Suddenly, all the hopes and dreams he’s cherished and strived towards since he was a child would be ripped away from him. He is a professional athlete, and you don’t get to reach that level without putting your heart and soul – your blood, sweat and tears - into making your dream become reality.
How would he feel if his dreams were torn out of his hands in that one moment of absurdly bad luck? If all of his plans for the future – of success, excellence, wealth and stardom – were suddenly and irrevocably just dreams again?
He wouldn’t get depressed? He wouldn’t think his life was over?
On his Twitter bio, he says: “Football is my saviour.”
Ten years down this theoretical line, when he’s working in a ‘normal’ job, married to a woman with cellulite, and maybe his team have consolidated themselves back as a regular in the Premiership, wouldn’t it twist him up inside to consider that he could have been in his footballing prime, maybe playing for and a hero of England?
There’s nothing cowardly about suicide, and there’s nothing courageous about it, either.
You only reach that point when you feel that everything is lost.
I received a message, earlier, suggesting that – because of the news – I should take one of my video blogs down from my blog site, as I cheerily suggest in it: “Don’t hang yourself!”
I decided not to, though I was tempted, as I completely understood the reason for the suggestion.
I realise that remark could be seen as flippant or insensitive, if taken out of context… but in context (and I do always try to write in context, even if there’s a meandering in my story before I get to the point), you have to understand that it was the first time I’d returned to the same spot where I’d ventured, a few years earlier, with the sole intent of ending my life.
I know that pressure of mind, to be there at the end of the world, blinded by tears, pulling the noose around my neck, feeling the blood swelling in my head, having abandoned all hope, having lost sight of all the love and care that would be wrapped around me if I’d only called for help.
And how many people out there - friends and family of Gary, and of all people who have taken their own lives – are aching inside, wishing that right now they were hugging them, supporting them after they’d cried out for help, giving their strength to someone who had forgotten their own?
They don’t want… this…
Of all the illnesses, ailments, diseases and disasters that cause death in this world, suicide is one of the most devastating – but also the most preventable, and I really mean 100% of suicides wouldn’t happen if we could just learn to communicate with each other more clearly about the way we’re feeling
I was so lucky. I was there, right on the edge – ready to cut myself away from everything I’d ever known – and all it took to lead me through that awful moment was the sound of a woodpecker echoing in the woods and the warmth of Sunshine on my face.
If I hadn’t heard that bird or felt that glow, I’d be dead. I have no doubt about that. I’d have been found, decomposed and nibbled by Bambi’s friends, and someone from my family would have had to try to identify me. I wasn’t thinking straight. I would never have wanted them to suffer that.
But it shouldn’t take such ‘coincidences’ to lead oneself away from the brink. I shouldn’t have been in those woods. I shouldn’t have walked to the brink in the first place. I should have talked to someone.
And I think that has to be emphasised… it has to be the responsibility of the person who is buckling under that pressure to talk to others, to ask for help.
I saw a tweet from Robbie Savage – a close friend of Gary’s – saying he spoke to him yesterday, and asking: “Why? Why? Why?”
Robbie – along with everyone else close to Gary – is going to be shredding himself, wondering what he could have done to prevent this heart-breaking news; what he feels he should have done to bring his mate back to calmer waters…
But when someone is smiling and laughing with you the day earlier, how could you gauge from that the desperation that must have been grinding him within?
I wonder how long it would have taken for Robbie to reach Gary’s side if Gary had have picked up the phone and said: “I need help. I feel suicidal. I’m serious. Will you help me?” Of course he would have been there for his friend.
We have to call for help when we need help. We can’t sit screaming in our minds and expect others to understand us if we don’t express ourselves and our feelings, especially not when we’ve got a smile on our face and we’re doing our best to project a false veneer that everything is okay.
Tragically, many of us can’t do this. We’re afraid to show our weakness, even to those we love the most. We’re conditioned by society to hide our emotions from the rest of the world – particularly men, and that’s probably the reason why suicide is three or four times more common in men than women.
Society decrees that men are meant to be strong, to not expose their weakness, and that causes a catastrophic internalisation of problems; a looped amplification of negative thought that you can’t find a way of venting. So, it builds up and builds up and builds up until that moment of cataclysm, when you rupture from the pressure…
… but there is such a great strength in admitting weakness and looking for ways to build stronger. I wish everyone – every man, woman and child who ever considers suicide – would see that and know it to be true.
People will help you through your darkest days. That’s what we do. That’s why we love you. All you have to do is let us know, and we’ll be there.
If I had been more eloquent in my video blog from the woods, I would have perhaps said:
“Don’t hang yourself, because look what can happen if you just get through the darkness of that moment? Look how much life I’ve lived since that time; how truly happy I am now? Don’t hang yourself. Don’t hurt yourself. Love yourself. Love your life. Ask for help. Live. Live. Live.”
Here's the blog about my experience on the edge of suicide:
Here's the blog about my experience on the edge of suicide: