Suicide, Samaritans & Me – a guest post

Today’s post is a bit of a departure for me as this is the first time I’ve invited a contribution from a friend. Actually I’m probably taking shameless advantage of the fact that my friend hasn’t quite got around to setting up their own blog yet! Anyway, here it is in full, with kind permission …

Suicide, Samaritans & Me.

I think you can say that Samaritans saved my life – in fact I know you can.

Not in the conventional sense though, I wasn’t talked down from a bridge, or off a railway platform or away from an overdose of tablets. I think what saved my life was become a Samaritan.

In 2010, from the outside I had a made a success of my life and career. Happily married, two wonderful sons (one at public school), Director of a Travel Company, four bedroomed house with double garage – all the things one thinks one should aspire to – the trappings of success, all good.

Except I knew it wasn’t.

Following the financial meltdown of 2008/9, the company wasn’t making a profit, redundancies were looming. The huge house came with an equally huge mortgage and if the job went, the house went, the public school went, and everything would crumble to dust. As a husband I would have failed. As a father I would have failed.

And that’s the thing, when you can’t see a way out of the situation the only solution is to take yourself out of it. So, it was on March 15th 2010 (beware the Ides of March) that I was staring at a pile of paracetamol tablets I had acquired over recent weeks thinking, how many is enough…?

Now I had no idea and whatever I may have thought then, I realise now that a paracetamol overdose is not a “nice” way to go. The liver functions shut down slowly and death can be long, slow and painful. Still there I was in the house all alone about to try and end my life.

I’ve no memory of how many I took – all I can recall is going to bed and hoping, naively, that I would slip quietly, blissfully away from life. It didn’t happen though, I woke up later, possibly the following day with stomach pains but very much alive.

Killing yourself is harder than you think – time for Plan B (always good to have a Plan B).

If tablets weren’t going to do it, what about carbon monoxide poisoning? Looks so straightforward in films and on TV – hosepipe from the exhaust, engine running, slowly lose consciousness – that’s what I thought.

So off to Homebase to buy hose, what length? Does it come in exhaust pipe to passenger side window length? No? well 2 metres should be enough, oh and some gaffa tape too, we don’t want the hose slipping off the pipe do we?

Suicide attempt take two. It was a Sunday afternoon, 2nd May 2010 actually, (you never forget the dates you attempt to take your own life) – the house was quiet, I’ll just slip away unnoticed. One of the advantages of suicide attempts by carbon monoxide poisoning in East Kilbride is that the town has a number of light industrial estates that are empty on Sunday afternoons. So that’s where I drove, parked up, connected the hose, turned the engine on and waited to die.  But I didn’t, again – something to do with catalytic converters maybe? After a few hours of not dying I drove home.

And there I fell apart.

For the first time in my life I admitted to my wife that I needed help – I knew I couldn’t go on anymore.

She was wonderful, ringing 999 or 111, I have no idea which, and later that very night I found myself admitted to the psychiatric ward of Hairmyres Hospital in East Kilbride. And there over the next week, I talked, talked like I’d never talked before, to nurses, doctors, counsellors and, on one occasion I recall, the chaplain – talked about me, properly, about how I was feeling, what I was anxious about, my childhood, everything in fact – and you know what, it felt good. At last the mask we present to the world was lifted – I was opening my soul.

I came out on the Friday, not a changed person but at least a person able to talk – and when I saw my GP soon afterwards, he said, keep talking, find a Counsellor and talk to them – so I did.

First weekly, then twice a month, then monthly over a period of almost 3 years. And you know what? – it was good. We talked about everything, family, childhood, relationships, career, sexuality, aspirations, fears, the whole works. I was being stripped back to the factory setting and being rebooted – and it felt good.

I even opened up for the first time about my deepest concern, that there was something not quite right with me… something I’d known, or at least suspected since I was about nine years old. And she said so what, it’s who you are… and I felt like the biggest, heaviest weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

Once you have added suicide to your list of options it never leaves you. In the years that followed occasionally the box would be opened and the idea considered, usually briefly, as life took a bad turn, before the lid was firmly shut.

And Samaritans I hear you cry? It’s in the title yet not mentioned so far….

Well by 2016 I knew who I was and I  knew that if I’d talked about everything over the years leading up to what I was now calling my “episode” I’d never have found myself buying hosepipe from Homebase.

And I got a notion in my head, if talking could have benefitted me, could it yet still benefit others and the idea of becoming volunteer counsellor started forming in my head. I looked about and by chance came across details of an Information Day for Samaritans – what have I got to lose I thought, so along I went.

I had absolutely no idea what to expect, but some part of me thought it was all about talking desperate people out of buying hosepipes or large amounts of paracetamol, and after a brief induction I’d be on the phone, talking and saving lives.

I came away from that Induction Day enlightened as to the aim of Samaritans, the methods and the potential benefits. If its possible to be hooked, I was.

I applied, was interviewed and accepted. I was now on the path to giving something back to people, people who in some cases would be going through some of the issues I was. (There’s one issue I’ve not mentioned yet!)

First day of training, eight other, possibly anxious, souls. And three trainers, who all seemed to be so kind, supportive, generous and non-judgemental people.

Share something about yourself with the Group they said – and so I did for probably only the third time ever, I said out loud, that I was Transgender (that’s the thing I hadn’t mentioned before).

And the reaction?? Total and utter disinterest. If it is no big deal to these people I thought, why am I making so much of it in my head?

It dawned on me on my way home, here was somewhere I could be the real me, for the first time in my life I had found unconditional acceptance. I knew this was where I wanted to be, this was an organisation I wanted to be part of. Because I also knew that I needed to be the real me. All the apparent reasons for my “episode” in 2010 masked one deeper reason – acceptance of who I really was.

That was in September 2016 and from that day I really felt that I could make my Gender Transition work – and Samaritans of Glasgow made that possible.

Since then I’ve talked to hundreds of people on the phone, and I hope in some small way I’ve been able to help them.

I’ve spoken at the Branch Conference on several occasions, run seminars, mentored new Samaritans and led training groups.  Prior to Transition the thought of addressing over one hundred people in a lecture theatre would have left me running for the hills. But now I do it, I enjoy it and I live my life as deep down I always knew it was meant to be lived.

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And that is down to all the wonderful people at Samaritans of Glasgow – you enabled me to take the first steps on the road to being the true me and for that I will always be so so grateful.

Helena R, April 2020.

I first met Helena when she joined the Samaritans back in 2016, and I was one of the “kind, supportive and non-judgemental” trainers (her words, not mine!) who were tasked with leading that group of nine anxious souls through the intensive process of becoming a Samaritan. I well remember that first session. “That’s a new one,” I thought. And it’s not true that we were disinterested, Helena, but, you’re right, it was no big deal to us. As a trainer, the most important thing about the group of people sitting in front of me isn’t their age or wealth or gender. It’s the fact that they want to be Samaritans. It’s the thing that binds us together. I know, I’ve been one for nearly 20 years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Story of a House, part 4

Let’s continue from where we left off…

The MacCulloch sisters lived at 8 Kersland Street until about 1926 or 27 and then we see the arrival of Mr and Mrs Smith, Ivan and Elizabeth, who only stayed for about three or four years. I think there was also a son, Alexander. I’m afraid I know next to nothing about the Smiths – there aren’t census returns available beyond 1911, so, paradoxically, it can be easier to find out about people from the 1800’s than the 20th century. So we’ll just have to go with these bare facts from the electorial register.

I’m pretty sure that neither the MacCullochs nor the Smiths would have owned a car, but if they had, they could have parked it around the corner in the Botanic Gardens Garage in Vinicombe Street (opposite the Salon Cinema). The Garage celebrated its 25th anniversay in 1929.

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When the Botanic Gardens Parking Garage was built in 1912, parking in the streets was not permitted in the UK, and besides, the paintwork of motor cars of the time was highly sensitive to weather and sun and had to be protected. This garage was one of the first such structures to be built in the UK and to this day remains of great architectural interest as well as being a reminder of the exceptional wealth of Glasgow at a time when cars were generally considered an extravagant luxury.

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The architect, David Valentine Wylie, had spent his prolific career building tenements and factories, and was experienced in the design of warehouses and stables. The Garage was his last project and it feels to me as if he poured his heart and soul into his final structure.  It was a new concept, this ‘warehousing’ of cars. Even the word garage, taken from the French garer, to shelter, hadn’t come into use until 1902. Garages have become a mundane feature of our daily lives, but it’s rather nice to look back on a time when everything was fresh and new and an architect could indulge in a flight of fancy and build one in an ornate Beaux Arts style with a glazed cream and soft green faience facade punctuated by large glazed arches.

The Garage highlights the complete revolution in road transportation that had taken place in the 60 or so years since the tenements of Kersland Street first saw the light of day in the early 1870’s.  When Madame Stewart had lived here, horse transport reigned supreme and at the end of the 19th century Glasgow was ringed with a large number of stables to provide horses for literally hundreds of passenger and goods vehicles. Perhaps a rather smellier world than we are used to now…?

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Horse tram no. 324, Kelvinside to Dennistoun, 1890’s.

Between 1898 and 1901, the Macgregors would have seen the electrification of the tramways, with central poles and tramlines being laid all along Great Western Road. The old trams used to run down the middle of the road, which meant that alighting passengers had to run the gauntlet of any traffic running on the inside lane. There are many newspaper reports of the time detailing accidents and near-misses due to this rather hazardous arrangement.

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Phase 1 Standard Tramcar
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Tramlines & poles at Kelvinbridge, 1904

I always imagined Mrs Isabella Millar, our resident during the Great War, as being someone who would have travelled in a hansom cab or a tram to her daughter’s house in Great Western Road. But actually, I’m now thinking that daughter Ada and her husband Fred the writer, living comfortably in their big house, might have been just the sort of people who would have been early adopters of the motor car, and that Isabella could have enjoyed a rather more modern mode of conveyance.

Of course the year that the Botanic Gardens Garage celebrated its 25th anniversary, 1929, was also the year of the Wall Street Crash.

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Hunger marches were held in the UK throughout the 1920’s and 30’s as the economy slumped and more and more men and women were left without the ability to feed their families.

In the latter half of the 19th century, fuelled by the industrial revolution, Glasgow had been a place of exceptional economic buoyancy and urban growth. Indeed we’ve already seen how the well-appointed district of Hillhead itself was a product of this growth. Hillhead was never as exclusive as the adjoining areas of Kelvinside or Dowanhill, though it attracted a sizeable population of middle class professionals such as ministers, academics, merchants and managers. And of course there was also the rather more artistic and bohemian section of the community, no doubt partly due to the presence of Glasgow University in the neighbourhood. 

When the great slump came, Hillhead was less affected than other areas, such as the Gorbals, which started from a lower rung on the ladder anyway and were more dependent on shipbuilding and heavy engineering. But times were hard in the inter-war years and I have no doubt that 8 Kersland Street, being at the more artisan end of Hillhead, saw its share of hardship as the years rolled on and the Smiths were replaced by the Bremners in around 1930. Again, I have only the bare facts from the Electoral Register – Elizabeth and James Bremner, and two daughters, Mary and Mima.

But then we come to 1937. And at last, we can put a face to our new residents, for Mr John Brown and his wife Euphemia come within the living memory of their grandson, Hugh Ritchie, who vaguely recalls visiting his grandmother as a very young child. I came across Hugh on the Ancestry website and he has not only given me permission to use material from his family tree, but has also kindly shared further family memories with me. John and Euphemia’s sojourn in Kersland Street was quite a short one, but thanks to Hugh, we can tell their story.

john brown and euhemia

John Brown and Euphemia Logan were married in January 1908 in Edinburgh, where their first child, Ishbel, was born later that year. John and Euphemia were both teachers, but in those days, women would have been expected to give up their profession on marriage, so no doubt Euphemia turned her energies towards bringing up their fast-growing family. By 1910 the family were living at Windsor Cottage, Shotts, where their son Hugh was born, closely followed by a daughter, Anne, who tragically died in 1914 when she was only 2 years old.

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John taught in Shotts until the First World War saw him signing up, in his late thirties, with the Royal Garrison Artillery, where he served in Mesopotamia, India and elsewhere for about three years. For much of this time he was a quartermaster, probably a quartermaster sergeant or similar. With John away at war, Euphemia and the children went to stay with her brother Donald in the Western Isles. When Donald got married, Euphemia took a cottage in Glen Borrodale, where she taught at the school there for a few years until John came home from the war.

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I imagine that Euphemia must have been quite an intrepid, enterprising type of person to have taken a post in what is a rather isolated little village on the west coast of Scotland. And one notices that the normal rules about married women working don’t seem to apply in times of war! This is the old schoolhouse which was eventually put up for sale after it had fallen out of use as a school.

Family life resumed and two more daughters arrived in quick succession, Helen (known as Lala) in 1920 and Joan in 1921. When John got the headship of Braidwood School, the family moved there in 1920, followed by a move to Airdrie seven years later when he became head of the newly built (and much bigger) Clarkston Primary School. His final appointment, in 1933, was to the headship of Dalziel Public School in Motherwell, a large secondary school. At this time the family still lived in Airdrie and John would commute to Motherwell every day by bus.

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Sadly, the First World War had left John Brown greatly diminished in health and in 1936 he fell ill and was off school for an extended period. To reduce his commuting burden, the family moved to Cambuslang. Unfortunately, after only a few days back at work, John took a stroke and had to retire in October 1937. The Browns had lived in Cambuslang for a year. In view of John’s ill health and the position of their house on a steep hill, the family moved to Glasgow, to a ground floor flat, 8 Kersland Street, where John died at home only a few months later on the 15th of July 1938. He was 61 years old. 

hugh brown, sonEuphemia and her daughters stayed on at Kersland Street, and saw the start of World War Two the following year. Son Hugh seems to have spent some time as an evacuee schoolmaster in Northamptonshire, before joining up like his father before him and serving in Italy, where by 1943 he had reached the rank of Lieutenant.  

Back in Hillhead, Euphemia and the girls would also experience WW2 at first hand. In March 1941, the shipbuilding town of Clydebank, a mere five or six miles up the river, was the target of one the most intense Luftwaffe bombing raids of the war. 1,200 people were killed in the Clydebank blitz and the town itself suffered extensive damage with many buildings destroyed. Joan later recalled how, as the bombers flew overhead,  the family would shelter in the basement of their flat along with other residents from the upstairs flats in the next door close. Hillhead escaped relatively unscathed, but the terrifying threat was there.

The Brown family moved out of 8 Kersland Street in 1943 and lived at Park Road, not too far away. One by one the daughters got married and left. Once they had all departed, Euphemia took to staying with them each in turn until in 1951 she eventually got a place of her own, also in the West End of Glasgow. This is probably where the young Hugh Ritchie remembers visiting her. After her health started deteriorating in around 1957, she once again stayed with her daughters while they looked after her. She died on 31st December 1961, in Newport-on-Tay, Ishbel’s home. Here are the sisters, Ishbel, Lala and Joan. 

John and Euphemia are long gone now, as are their children. But the family story carries on in the shape of Hugh and his brother (Ishbel’s sons), and their cousins (Joan’s two sons). Not to mention their children and their children’s children, the 13 surviving descendants of John Brown and Euphemia Logan.