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.
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.