“And you can see him smile when the day is done
‘Cause the last sunset is the prettiest one”
‘The Last Sunset’ – Tyketto
When my last major anxiety episode happened last year, I received a lot of support from various people, including several that I haven’t met (yet. I’ve not met them yet but I have every intention of doing so). These friends became a major support network to me. I would always get a message or a text off one of them randomly when I was going through something and it would always help. I became very close to one guy in particular. We swapped stories and support with each other and noticed our paths seemed similar. We’ve become stronger friends because of our shared experience. One day we’re going to sit down at the coast over a good cup of coffee and look back at all of this. I’m proud to call him a friend and to have the opportunity to share his story. I give to you the unflinching tale of Mister Monroe…..
Would you like to tell people a little about yourself?
I’m 43 years old and have suffered with depression & anxiety for nearly 30 years but in my opinion have only recently started dealing with it properly.
I have recently moved from a major city in the West Midlands to Cornwall for the peace and tranquillity. I have a 9 year old son who lives with his mum in Midlands. I love music, reading & walking the beaches & cliffs where I live.
Tell us about how your issues with mental health started?
My problems started with a very traumatic incident when I was 16, however recently I have recently started to understand this may have been part of me all along and that incident was the trigger that brought it out.
I had been dating my girlfriend for 3 years and we had plans to get married and spend our whole lives together, I believed then and still do that she was my soulmate.
We were in a band together with our best friends and we did everything together. My girlfriend had a chance to go to a gig with other friends but I couldn’t go, the day of the gig we had an argument, our first ever, and she went to the gig but at that point we hadn’t made up.
On the way home the car she was in was involved in an accident & she was killed. We never did get to make up.
I felt like my life was over & I spent years in a fog of grief & depression which I was too young to handle so just tried to numb the pain with excessive alcohol consumption.
Did you feel like you were able to get support at the time?
I was raised with the old fashioned view that men don’t cry and don’t talk about their emotions so I didn’t feel able to talk to anyone about how I was feeling. My friends knew I was struggling but they were trying to deal with their own grief as well as trying to help me, but their way of helping was to try and keep things as they had been with me going to gigs and pubs, considering the only way I felt I could cope was by getting drunk this wasn’t the best way to help me but they tried.
After my first suicide attempt a group of my friends took it upon themselves to arrange it so that one of them was always with me to try and stop me trying to take my life again. They would even sit outside my workplace and keep an eye on me.
I ended up losing a lot of friends because I was constantly drunk or fighting. The two friends who were in the band with me & my girlfriend also lost their lives within a few years, one to a drug overdose and the other took her own life, she was seriously ill and couldn’t cope with the pain & the fact that she knew she was most likely going to die from the illness soon. The few friends I did keep after this drifted away as work & family life changed for them.
I attempted suicide again after the death of my friends but this time I had no one to turn to for help so I just kept drinking to ease the pain.
About 15 years ago I had decided it was time to commit suicide again. I was driving down to Beachy Head, the famous suicide spot, when something made me pull off the motorway at the next available exit and turn round to head for home. I drove straight to my doctors and insisted on seeing someone straight away. My doctor offered me counselling but I wasn’t comfortable talking about my problems so I was given anti depressants instead. I spent several months on the medication before I felt able to cope without it, up until last year I then had relatively few issues with my depression & the issues I did have were minor so I thought it was all sorted.
Then just before Christmas last year I had an incident which led to the grief being dragged back up & me wanting to commit suicide again. Luckily we didn’t have many painkillers in the house so I couldn’t go through with it. I had however already posted a message on facebook simply saying ‘Goodbye’, when I woke the next day I had a lot of facebook updates and messages asking what was wrong, why was I saying goodbye & was I alright.
The amount of concern, love & support in these messages showed me that I had a lot of friends who cared about me, this made me wake up & finally realise that I needed help.
I spoke to my doctor who gave me contact details for grief counselling & psychotherapists who could help me. As it was just before Christmas I wasn’t able to contact any of the services before the holidays but luckily I had my friends. I had explained briefly to them about what had happened and a few got the full story, they offered me support and help. Being able to finally share my feelings with these friends helped me to come to terms with my grief and allowed me to close that chapter of my life after carrying the grief for more than 25 years. My friends had unknowingly become my counsellors. I no longer broke down whenever I talked about the loss I had endured and I felt like a great weight had been lifted from me.
We both feel very passionate about music. Has this been able to help you work what you’ve been going through? In what ways?
Music was always there for me in good times and bad. As my girlfriend and friends were in the band with me I stopped playing for a while, I later switched instruments and tried again but I just wasn’t able to recapture the passion I had previously. But I would always listen to music, it was my constant companion, therapist & friend.
Although I would always listen to music I lost touch with what was happening in the music world for a long time, this was because I couldn’t afford to buy cd’s and magazines to keep in touch and we didn’t have internet access like we do today.
Then a few years ago I found out one of my favourite artists, Mike Monroe, was releasing a new album which I bought when it came out. His band featured Ginger Wildheart from The Wildhearts, this got me hoked on finding new music and also rediscovering The Wildhearts back catalogue as I had loved them when I was younger. Little did I know this would literally change my life.
I joined a Wildhearts fan group on facebook and started getting to know some of the members of the group. Some of us became involved in a project to help celebrate Ginger’s 50th birthday, we had a private group set up called Operation Chainmail (or OC as we refer to it). The members of OC have become like family to each other & I have formed some very close friendships with several of the members. The friendships that were formed made me realise that I could be me, no more having to be what other people wanted me to be. I was accepted for who I was without having to compromise. This led to me becoming a much happier and more positive person, positivity attracts positivity and good things started to happen for me. I went to more gigs, met more people & my outlook on life improved. It also made me realise that I needed to cut out some negative people from my life which included my girlfriend of 14 years (which complicated things as she is also the mother of my son).
I hated living in the city so with the changes I was making I decided now was the time to look at moving somewhere new. One of my friends lived in Cornwall where I had wanted to live for years but always thought it was an impossible dream, my friend convinced me to look into the possibility of making it happen. Once I started doing this things moved very quickly & I now have a new life in Cornwall with a new job that gives me a lot of personal satisfaction, something I never really had working for a large corporation in the city.
If you don’t mind, I know you’ve had a recent incident. Are you able to tell us what happened?
Shortly after moving to Cornwall I started getting mood swings and my black dog was biting regularly. I would get days where I just stayed in my bedroom crying. I always used to attribute my depression to the grief I had from the loss of my girlfriend but I felt this was no longer the case so it concerned me that it was happening. I put it down to the massive changes in my life but knew I needed help dealing with it so I went to see my doctor. My doctor was great, I felt she listened to me and actually cared. She offered me counselling and medication, she thought it best to combine the two so that is what I did.
Because of work commitments and the appointments available with the counselling service I had to wait a month for an appointment, I was glad to have my medication at that point to help get me through the month, but it turned out to be a nightmare.
I was prescribed 20mg of Fluoxetine, before taking the medication my mood swings went from happy & normal to what I would class as mid-level depression, when I started taking the medication my mood swings went from happy & normal to absolute rock bottom. When having what I call my dark episodes I would try to push my friends away and didn’t want anyone around me. The worst moment came on bank holiday monday, I woke up feeling worse than I can ever remember, I made the decision that I would kill myself by jumping off the cliff near my house that night, I had decided to wait until the night because there would be less people around to see me and try to stop me. During the day I had some messages from various friends, just generally asking how I was doing. My replies got gradually worse until one friend realised I was intending to kill myself and no matter how much he tried he couldn’t get through to the real me to make me see sense. He contacted another of our friends that evening and said they needed to find me. This friend went to my house but I wasn’t there so they went looking for me and eventually found me up on the cliffs. I was watching what I thought was my last sunset before jumping.
My friend slowly approached me & hugged me, crying with relief that I was still there. My first instinct was to stand up and run to the cliff edge but I couldn’t put my friend through the trauma of seeing me jump to my death so I agreed to let her take me home. I have never felt so ashamed as I did that night. My friend stayed with me for a while until she felt sure I was okay to be left alone, she had suggested I stay with her family but I had to be up at 6am for work so I said no.
The next day I felt so numb, nothing seemed to have any meaning to me & I started feeling anger & resentment towards my friends for not letting me die. I decided I would go to the cliffs again that night after work but this time I would make sure I didn’t give any indication of my intentions to my friends.
That night I went up on the cliffs again but when I got to the edge of the cliff ready to jump all I could think about was the way my friend had held me and cried the previous night, I could feel her shaking against me as she cried. I couldn’t go through with it because I couldn’t put my friend through that.
I went home and told my friends what had happened. The next day I opened my curtains and thought ‘wow, what a beautiful day’, the real me was back!
Coming off from that, how are you trying to move on from it? Is there anything in particular you’re doing to help deal with it?
I opened up to my friends & told them what had happened and why I couldn’t go through with it. I had a long talk with the friend who had talked me down off the cliffs & agreed that from then on I would be totally honest with her, if I was having a bad day I would tell them truthfully and not try to hide anything. In turn she told me she wanted me to teach her about my illness so she can better try to understand it and help me more. My friend thought she understood how my illness made me push people away and if I tried again she agreed she would carry on as normal which normally means her making me laugh & help get me back on track.
I also spoke to my doctor about my medication as I felt this was making me worse, she listened but felt that I should carry on with it as new meds can increase mood swings for a few weeks but then settle down.
I managed to stay on top with no dark episodes for over a week, 3 days from the 2 week mark it all went wrong again. I pushed one of my friends past their limit & ended up hurting them. This made me try pushing other friends away to prevent me from hurting them too but they refused to go. I also wanted to feel suicidal because of what I had done to my friend but my darkness was receding by that point and my mind wouldn’t let me go back into the darkness, something inside me was fighting back.
The next day I was back to normal but being back to normal meant a huge amount of regret & shame about hurting one of my best friends. I am slowly rebuilding that relationship but I know it may never be the same again.
Two days after this I had my first counselling session which I felt was really positive and helped me take a step back to see things are pretty good when I’m not in the grip of the dark episodes. But it also helped me realise that each dark episode has given me something extra to use to fight back against my illness. I know there is a long way to go and there is the possibility of other dark episodes but I feel more confident as I can now put things in better perspective of the overall picture. I know my illness will never disappear but if I can handle it that’s all I can ask for and I am confident it will be under control sooner rather than later.
I also went back to see my doctor about my meds and she agreed I can stop taking them and see how I get on. She accepted that I am certain they made me worse and she seems to trust my judgement but also seems to trust that I am intelligent enough to know if I am struggling and will then go back to see her to try something different as different people react differently to each medication.
I am much more relaxed and comfortable knowing I’m not taking them now and I will make sure I keep a record of my moods in a diary to track the effects.
I have also started going running in addition to my regular beach & cliff walks (I go for 3-5 hour walks) I’m hoping the exercise can help proactively stop the darkness before it hits again, or at least slow down its approach so I have time to react before it engulfs me.
Is there anything you think has really helped you with dealing with your issues? Do you have any techniques or coping strategies that help you?
My biggest help has been my friends. They have stood by me in my darkest moments and always assure me they won’t let it take me without a fight. They give me so much support and are always quick to tell me how much they care and how much I help others.
Each dark episode has also taught me something new which I try to use to fight back. In particular one of the biggest lessons is that if I beat myself up over something I’ve done wrong, whether intentionally or not, this opens the door for the darkness to attack me. So I have somehow been able to stop this behaviour & hopefully this has and will prevent further episodes.
I have also learnt to trust my instincts more when it comes to my treatment. No two people are the same so medication can have vastly different effects, in my case I firmly believe the meds caused the severe attacks and nearly cost me my life.
In closing, how are you at the moment? Is there anything you’d like to say?
Right now I feel great and I am more determined than ever to get this under control, for me, for my son and for my wonderful friends, without who I wouldn’t be here now.
I am scared when I think what happened to me with regards my meds because it makes me wonder how many suicides are caused by the very medications that are designed to help prevent them.
If anyone is suffering I have some advice:
TALK TO SOMEONE…it is by talking to friends that I have been able to get through this and will continue to get through it. And if you believe your medication or treatment is wrong then speak up, talk to your doctors and if necessary get a second or third opinion. Your life is too precious to take chances with.
It’s good to know that Mister Monroe is in a better and clearer headspace now. Sometimes people don’t realise how much others care and worry about them. Make sure you let those around you know you care. It might just be the one thing they need to hear.
This volume of the blog takes its name from the title of a song by Johnny Thunders. You can find a YouTube video for it at Johnny Thunders – “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory”
As usual, if you’d like to chat to me you can always drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. I’ve also created a closed support group on Facebook also called The Order Of The Dog. If you want to join, just click on the embedded link. Only other group members can see what’s posted so it’s a good place to talk if you need some support or you just want to find out more about helping others with mental health issues. Finally, please feel free to share this blog with anyone or anywhere where you think it might help.
The Order Of The Dog