In 2018, journalist Ryan Ferguson was handed the phone by his Dad. On the other end of the line was a HOPELINEUK adviser. What followed was a conversation that would help to save Ryan’s life. Ryan has offered to share his story for World Suicide Prevention Day in the hope it might help others to reach out for help.
I don’t remember the date, month or even the season. I don’t remember the chronology of events or the definitive trigger. All I remember is hope seeping away, fear clouding the horizon and a dense weight of dark dejection crushing every fibre of my soul.
I remember the inability to think straight, the total absence of logic and the mute surrender to psychological entropy. I remember the silent tears of petrified angst and the fizzing ball of dread lodged in my throat. I remember losing the instruction manual to life and seeing no way out. I remember wanting to run away, and keep running, and maybe cease existing altogether.
I remember slumping on the couch in my living room, paralysed by conflicting, inexorable emotion. I remember talk of medical help and professional guidance, of asylums and being sectioned. I remember my vision becoming distorted and my head throbbing with steamy confusion. I remember the pale pall of worry blanketing every family member accompanying me.
I remember uttering the dreaded s-word for the first time, admitting my state of absolute desperation. I remember my dad ringing HOPELINEUK, the telephone support service operated by PAPYRUS, a charity that works to prevent suicide among young people. I remember the phone call that saved my life.
Sitting upstairs, I spoke to a HOPELINEUK advisor, finally articulating the agonising thoughts, feelings and images that had popped in and out of my head during the darkest phase of a mental breakdown. The inclination to stay in bed for weeks. The idea to get in my car and keep driving for days, weeks, maybe forever. The vignette where I stood in the cold, dark night pondering the sinister river, so choppy and blustery, so capable of ending it all.
The advisor calmed me down, reintroduced logic to my tired mind, and gave me instructions to stay safe for that night. Give the car keys to someone you trust. Put on some pyjamas to lessen the likelihood of going outside. Stay away from water at all costs and listen to your favourite band. Yeah, listen to The Libertines, good and loud. Crank up the volume and let the pain float away.
Stabilise today, recover tomorrow.
From an early age, I suffered with chronic shyness. As a council estate kid with a passion for reading and writing, there was a sense of otherness about my soul that morphed into generalised anxiety disorder. Ruled by process and driven by unceasing ambition, I was subsequently diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, the untreated effects of which contributed to a dark depression.
To many people, ringing a suicide prevention charity is cloaked in stigma. Our society still has a misconception of mental ill health, conflating it with a lack of resilience, motivation or fortitude. Accordingly, my reliance upon HOPELINEUK may have constituted a bottoming-out of my psychological trauma, but it also represented the launching pad of my determined recovery.
In my experience, the first step to recovering from a mental health crisis is to accept your problems, appreciate your own fallibility and acknowledge the context that contributes to your pain. Once you have made peace with that concept, refusing to fight a diagnosis or suppress what you already know to be true, the next step to growth requires a period of structured solitude in which to seriously consider life and your immensely valuable place within it.
After consulting with doctors and therapists to adjust my treatment plan, I analysed every aspect of my life with forensic intent and searing honesty. I kept a journal filled with sinister scribblings but hope also shone through as I found myself. I realised that, for so long, I had lived my life in the context of other people, seeking approval and conforming to social ideals in pursuit of popularity. The loudest voice in the room typically hides the most addled mind, and that was certainty true for me, a prolific wearer of invisible masks.
Amid an individualist awakening, I tried anything and everything to alter the spirit, energy and direction of my life. From Buddhist meditation and lavender-infused yoga to quitting alcohol and changing jobs, I rewired my standard emotional reactions, nullified recurring triggers in the depressive cycle and took back control of my own happiness. I also fell in love with a girl from Tarnow, Poland by the name of Patrycja. Her positive outlook on life and infectious encouragement of the real me drove us forward. I could never have done this without her.
In the past twelve months, my recovery has gone from strength to strength. Sure, there are still days of stress and confusion, setbacks along the road, but the strides we have made together should give anybody hope of turning their life around.
I have moved into a new apartment overlooking the same river that once petrified me. I have published my first book, fulfilling the lifelong dream of an avid writer. I have met some of my idols and interviewed some of my heroes amid a skyrocketing journalism career. I have been true to myself, above all else, living free from external expectation and peer pressure.
And so, on this World Suicide Prevention Day, I would just like to share a message with anybody who may be experiencing mental ill health. Yes, even you, the guy agreeing inwardly but shaking your head outwardly. Even you, the girl publicly reluctant to admit that things are just a bit too much right now. Life is hard, guys. It really is. There is no fool proof solution that guarantees satisfaction, and we’re all trying to figure this out one day at a time. Be kind to one another.
Every single person reading this has a special talent hidden deep within. Every single person. We all have one skill that distinguishes us. We all have one thing we do better than everybody else. It might be painting or playing the guitar or baking cakes. It might be something so obscure as to be overlooked by mainstream society. That doesn’t matter because this is your calling, and the modern world has gifted us incredible resources to turn that calling into something meaningful, hopeful and purposeful, a three-pronged elixir of life.
Find your passion, accept its originality and channel all of your emotional energy into making something great in that space. Make it for you, not for anybody else, and look back with pride at how far you have come twelve months from today. Keep going and never give up. You have too much talent to be supressed.
It’s common to hear the words selfish and unfair connected to suicide. I understand exactly why such analyses arise, and I even agree in the cold light of logic. But when you are in that murky place, pondering the purpose of life, such thoughts do not penetrate the all-encompassing gloom. I have been there. I have felt that. Inside, I was already dead, emotionally and spiritually. Suicide would have been an exercise in merely discarding my body.
Except I chose not to take that step. With help from HOPELINEUK, and with support from my wonderful family and friends, I came all the way back to live a happy, healthy and successful life. You will do that, too, I just know it. Being yourself is the key, and everything else will fall into place.
In closing, I would like to dedicate this article to Maria, who would have been 64 today. Thank you for sending your beautiful daughter into my life. I promise to always look after her. Some people don’t believe in fate, but I certainly do.
Never give up on tomorrow. It might just change everything in the blink of an eye.
Ryan ran the Mersey Tunnel 10 for PAPYRUS in April 2019, raising over £400 – you can find a blog about his efforts here.
You can find out more information about Ryan, his writing and his love of all things Tranmere Rovers-related (including his book Planet Prentonia) here.