This blog was composed with PAPYRUS supporter Alex, who has requested for his identity to remain anonymous. Alex has lived with thoughts of suicide throughout much of his adult life and is sharing his story to help spread hope for others currently struggling.

“A lot of the stories we see about suicide sadly come from families who have lost someone, rather than the individual who has struggled. So, for those of us that have been fortunate to survive, and I’m so glad I did, I want to try and give an insight to my individual psyche at that time and what was going through my head,” says Alex.

A dad of two teenage girls. A husband. A son and sibling. A joker. A man who has climbed his way up the professional ladder and is highly regarded in his field. Alex was all those things. To anyone who knew him, that’s everything that made him who he was. However, Alex was also depressed, lost, and regularly dealing with suicidal thoughts, though this is the side to Alex he didn’t want to share with anyone, not even those closest to him.

In 2022, this silent suffering that spanned decades led Alex to make an attempt on his life.

“I realise that not many people who have attempted to take their life and survive, talk openly about it,” Alex shares.

“After my attempt, work sent me on a week-long residential course for my mental health and I spoke openly about what I had done. People told me, ‘You don’t know how much you telling your story has helped us’. They commented on how I’d gone through so much and come out so much stronger, and I realised talking to people about my experience can help show that things can get better, even if you don’t think that’s possible.”

2022 wasn’t Alex’s first encounter with suicide. In fact, his experience started when he was just 17 years old when a close friend drove home from school one day and unexpectedly took his own life. Following that event, Alex’s experience with suicide followed him into a professional capacity, regularly attending crisis scenes and speaking with both those struggling and affected family members. It became an almost normal element of his role in the Police.

“We don’t know why he took his life. He was the class clown, he made everyone laugh; but in hindsight with everything I know now, they are the people to look out for. People will not necessarily be in a depressive state when they feel that way, it’s the jokers, as I also am.

“That was my first experience, and after that, I tried an attempt a week later. All the struggles of going through A Levels and everything else that is going on during that time, it’s one of the most important phases of your life. People will tell you it’s not, but it’s one of the first experiences young people will get of real life and becoming an adult and if you don’t know how to deal with it, like me you can really struggle.”

Following his first attempt, Alex admits to burying his thoughts in the back of his mind. He threw himself into life following college, and after dropping out of university, found himself travelling down an unanticipated path and joining the police force at 21, before meeting his now wife and beginning his family.

In his career, Alex quickly climbed the ranks from a young age. However, all his success came with its challenges, as Alex’s role saw him attend many suicides, as well as other trauma-related incidents that he would be responsible for daily.

Unknowingly, the experiences Alex was accumulating, both from his daily life at work as well as in his personal life, were heavily impacting his emotions and feelings, but instead of acknowledging this could be a problem, he would normalise them and equate thoughts of suicide with being something that “just happens”.

Over time, one scene after another, more losses and traumas, Alex sought advice from his GP, though this marked a harsh realisation for him.

Alex shares: “I can’t remember how long I’ve had suicidal thoughts, it just seemed the norm. I just thought it was something everyone might have.

“In 2011, I had dealt with a horrible car crash and that tipped me over the edge in terms of having post-traumatic stress, and every day I began having these thoughts. I knew I was never going to act on them, but they were always there.

“Seven years down the line when I witnessed the same type of accident, I realised I wasn’t quite right. I went to the GP and started explaining everything I was feeling. I was quite blasé about all my thoughts until my GP told me they needed to call the crisis team and it was then I realised my normal was very not normal. I was diagnosed with C-PTSD, but I never dealt with it. I carried on with my life, dealing with trauma after trauma after trauma.”

In Alex’s field, he receives a plethora of mental health training. He is regularly advised and instructed on how to deal with situations, whether he is speaking with someone with a mood or personality disorder, to someone generally in crisis. Alex got to a point where he admitted he felt fully equipped to deal with all situations mental health-related, including when his wife was struggling with post-natal depression following the birth of their second daughter.

“That was easy, I could deal with all of that, so I thought I could deal with my own problems myself. I didn’t think I needed any help, I’ve got all the tools, I’m a sergeant, I look after 40 people, I can do this. But then things kept on happening, more traumas at work, lockdown happened, and I didn’t have an outlet to turn to.

“I didn’t want to talk to my wife because I didn’t want to put anything on her after she had dealt with post-natal depression. So, I continued to bottle it up and then unfortunately I found an outlet; I wish it had been alcohol or drugs, but it wasn’t, it was with another person, so that added another element to everything. I began putting all this danger and risk into my life, but I didn’t care. I’d started going to jobs on my own which is a huge risk, but I didn’t care anymore. Then I had two colleagues very close to me pass away due to Covid-19, so once again it was more loss and more trauma.

“At the memorial service I remember one of my PCs said to me ‘Serg, you look after us, but who looks after you?’ and my response was ‘Don’t worry about me, I’m fine. I’m fine’, and that’s always stuck with me.”

Following the loss of his colleagues and the private decline of his personal life, Alex says his once ‘normal thoughts’ turned to suicidal tendencies, and it was then he came up with a plan to end his life.

Alex continues: “I use this phrase; life, or more specifically my mental health, was like a full bath. Take the plug out and you don’t really see any effects immediately, but it’s slowly draining and slowly draining, and at the very end it whizzes down the plug hole. That’s what happened. Everything was going slowly, slowly, slowly and at the very end, everything spiralled out of control.

“My thought process at the time was I don’t want to live, but I don’t want to die. I want to stop the world and get off for a minute, get myself together and jump back on again.”

Waking up after the suicide attempt, Alex says it was a pivotal moment in his life. For Alex, this moment felt like a weight had been lifted and he knew right then he wanted to be alive, and he wanted to continue living, but differently.

Alex explains: “It was like my problems had solutions and I just thought to myself ‘Why didn’t I talk to anyone about it? Why didn’t I just say it because what is the worst that could happen?’. If I’d talked to one person, whether it had been a stranger or a family member, I don’t think I would have done anything.”

When asked what stopped him from reaching out, Alex said it was “fear of the unknown.”

“My fear was if I told my wife or anyone what had been going on, I would lose everything, but it turned out, my wife did find out everything and that didn’t happen. Yes, there was sadness and anger and lots of emotions, but my world didn’t fall apart.

“It seems ludicrous now that I had that fear because if I had just opened up, someone would have listened. No matter what the problem is, your world is not going to fall apart. It might be difficult, yes, it might be a struggle, but, and I know it’s a cliché, time is a massive healer. It may take six months or a year or even longer, but you will come out stronger. I will say you’ve got to be realistic about your timeline which can be hard because we live in a world where we want a quick fix and want things to happen immediately, but it will take time.”

Alex used this newfound hope as an opportunity to rediscover himself, who he was outside of work, what he loved and what brought him genuine happiness, something he had neglected for many years while committing to all the other titles and responsibilities in his life.

He asked himself one question: “What made me happy when I was younger?”.

Alex says: “When I was five, I started playing the violin and by the time I was 13 I was playing in the county youth orchestra, and I was very good – it’s taken me a long time to admit that! When I came out of the hospital I thought ‘Why can’t I go back to doing that and do something that I loved? What is stopping me?’ So I got my violin back out and started playing in concerts.

“When I was in hospital, I missed my eldest in a production of Six the Musical and I was distraught. But this year both my daughters were in Addams Family the musical at their school and this time round, not only did I see them in it, but I also saw them every single night because I was playing in the orchestra.”

Since his attempt in 2022, Alex has found strength in communication and taking time out to observe what is happening around him. He now finds time to do the things he loves rather than performing constantly to what society expects of him, and in cases where he must, he feels confident in setting the boundaries he needs to avoid being overwhelmed or conflicting with his personal needs.

Alex says: “I know it can be hard to open up, especially with stigma and lack of empathy about someone’s reasons, but actually, for the individual suffering and dealing with that trauma, it’s the biggest and most monumental thing in their life. For me, I thought taking my own life was the most selfless thing to do because I wouldn’t be a burden to anyone around me, which for a dad of two teenage kids, to think that’s how my brain was working is really sad.”

Speaking about the importance of opening up about your suicidal thoughts and placing your wellbeing as a priority in your life, Alex emphasises that you never feel you need to commit to this journey alone and that there will always be someone to support you with how you’re feeling and what you’re going through – something he wishes he’d have acknowledged.

“It doesn’t matter how good you think you are at dealing with mental health, there is always someone there that is better positioned to support you with yours.

“If you’re struggling, or even if you’re not, take time for yourself. People will talk about mindfulness and think of it like it’s ‘mumbo jumbo’, but really if you take a walk and look up at what’s around you, that’s being mindful. Stopping to listen to a bird sing or pausing in the street to watch a busker in a city centre, that’s being mindful. It’s about stopping to take time for yourself and slow down the pace of life around you.

“Sharing my emotions is not only good for me; it’s good for everyone around me. I don’t hide my emotions, not even from my daughters. If I want my kids to share their emotions with me and open up to me, I need to give back the same. Even when you don’t know why you’re upset, tell people how you feel. It comes back to the cliché of a problem shared is a problem halved, and it really is.”

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