When I was 19 I tried to kill myself.
I don’t often speak about this. It’s probably not the kind of topic you talk about at dinner, or on a first date, or when you meet prospective in-laws.
Sometimes, though, it’s a good reminder that even dark turns to light, and the follies of youth can make a huge impact on the paths we take as adults. I know this was the case for me, as it made me face my demons. Maybe it’ll help you too.
That year was a pretty crappy one for me.
The dog that we’d had for thirteen years died. Sam had seen me through all my school years and had been my best friend. Unfortunately, dog cancer doesn’t really care for friendships, as I found out.
My cousin was also killed whilst on a military patrol in Northern Ireland. It was his first active duty as a soldier, and his unit were ambushed while on night patrol. Three men were killed, and my cousin was one. He was just 18 years old.
My first serious girlfriend also left me. We’d been together two years and, like any teenager high on hormones, I thought it was the real thing. I didn’t know Coca-Cola had already trademarked that term, which meant that my real thing was nothing of the sort.
So, um, yeah – a pretty shitty year.
Tipping the Waterfall
I’m not really sure what the snapping point was. I mean, you don’t usually try and kill yourself just because you’re upset – it’s normally a more depression-led act, no? Or maybe it isn’t – I failed, so I’m not the world’s best person to offer a perspective on it.
Whatever it was, it led to me downing a bottle of scotch and a jar of the finest sleeping tablets, and getting ready to see if there was anything on the other side.
Except I didn’t make it to the other side.
My sister found me, dialed an ambulance, and with about thirteen minutes of my life left, my stomach was lying on the floor of one of Scotland’s many hospitals. Unlucky thirteen? Depends how you look at it.
Initially, I felt sorry for myself. I didn’t want to be alive – wasn’t that the whole reason I’d spent a big chunk of my pitiful labourer’s wage on the best scotch? Why was I in a hospital ward when instead I wanted to be on a hospital trolley on the way to the morgue?
My parents were the ones that brought me round and showed me that you don’t need to die to live.
We hadn’t been close up until then. We were the typical nuclear family, except we were also the typical first-generation satellite television family as well, and TV was our dinner conversation.
But after that day in my twentieth year, things changed.
My mother was amazing. She opened up and told me a lot of things about herself that I had no idea about.
How she’d considered taking her own life at around the same age as I was now, when she found out she was pregnant. A teenager, pregnant to a married man, and living with the extremely religious people that were my grandparents.
She needn’t have worried – my grandparents turned out to be amazing and supportive, and my mother had the baby. To this day I still think that’s why I loved my grandparents the way I did – they gave me the chance of life.
My mother helped me overcome my sadness. She helped me remember my cousin and think about the way he lived, and not how he died. She helped me choose just the right dog to honour the memory of Sam, as opposed to forgetting him.
She also helped me understand that first loves are the ones you fondly remember; but very rarely the ones you reminisce with.
And it was because of all this that my mum helped me finish University, and get the degree that would shape my life.
Get Busy Living Or Get Busy Dying
Thanks to my education, I’ve been fortunate to work at some of the most amazing companies around. The business education I got at these companies gave me the skills I needed to start working for myself a few years back.
That decision – and the unflinching support of my wife and friends – saw me hook up with an amazing guy called Troy Claus and start our own marketing agency last year. While there are still hiccups, life is pretty good – I feel very fortunate.
But I also know that it took a lot of hard work and the realization that things don’t always work out the way we want them to – but that’s okay.
Life is often shit, and it kicks us hard in places we don’t want to be kicked (unless that’s your thing, then kick away).
But we can kick it right back.
We have a choice, every single day. We have the ability to live, or to die. Not die in the physical sense – we don’t have a choice there. But every victory we let slip away, we die. Every moment we can grab but let go of, we die.
But that can stop now.
So. Take a pen and a journal, and sit down and begin writing. Uninterrupted. Until you’ve finished what you need to say.
- Make a list of every single thing you’ve let go and cross off the ones you had no choice in.
- Prioritize the remainder and put the ones that are still affecting you now to the top.
- Pick the most prominent entry on the list, and make that your personal nemesis.
- Research what you need to do to beat this enemy. Google is your friend, but your friends are your Google too – ask if any of them have had to overcome a similar challenge. To do this, you’re going to need to leave pride at the door.
- Make a battle plan of small victories. Be realistic, but be rigorous with the timescale you want to afford this nemesis.
- Get the support of friends, and family (and professionals, where needed), and view your nemesis as the single thing that can give you life; but to do so, it has to die.
I won’t lie – it’s not going to be easy. You’ll have to overcome some fears, demons and other personal pride stuff along the way. But nothing great ever comes easy.
Dying is easy – our breathing just stops. Living? That’s hard – because from the moment we’re born, we’re forcing ourselves to take another breath every single second.
Then again, there’s not a lot you can accomplish when you’re dead – and you don’t have to die to prove that.
Ready to start on that list?
This post originally appeared as part of the 28 Days to Get Your Shit Together series from Sarah Robinson. You can read the full series at Escaping Mediocrity.