23 September 2019

The phone call that changed my life

Nathan Birch wants men to know that things will get better and there is help out there. The alternative is not an answer.
Mental Health | Fundraising | In the Barber Chair

"In 2013, I'd just turned 40, I was the father of 2 girls, a husband, and a Strategy Director at a global consultancy. Despite my outward persona, I was increasingly finding the stress of work, the loneliness of being away from a strong social network and the self-imposed pressure of not succeeding was getting too much.  
I often felt that I was a fraud and a failure – failing at being a husband, a father, a colleague and a friend, failing at life on many levels. 
I would increasingly experience episodes of crushing, dark and overwhelming depression. During these times of reflection, when I tried to develop a strategy to overcome the funk I was in, the conclusion I would often come to was that my family, my friends, my daughters, my colleagues, my wife would all be better off without me around. 

People tell me suicide is selfish. And I can only agree with them to a point. It's hard to articulate it, but when you are of a mindset where the only answer is just not being around anymore - this seems the most straightforward solution for all involved. At that moment in my life, it seemed the selfless answer for all concerned, ironically. My rationale was that my kids, my wife, my family would, of course, be sad, but their lives would go on, and they'll be better off without me in the long run. 

I was on this path until one morning in September when I received a call that changed everything.

“I was on this path until one morning in September when I received a call that changed everything."

I got a call on a Monday morning, from an unknown number. That person turned out to be a close friend's brother-in-law.  He told me that my mate had taken his life. He'd said good-night to his wife and kids the previous evening, and then in the early hours decide to end his own life. He had left his wife and two daughters. 
It was a devastating shock to everyone. Six weeks before, we spent a slightly boozy evening watching the Lions beat Australia at the rugby. He was a loud, gregarious, funny, larger than life Englishman. He was my best friend in Australia. He'd apparently been depressed, worried about the future and feeling that he had not lived up to his own high expectations - a story all too familiar to me. I would have never, ever have guessed it. Nobody would have. I feel guilty that I didn't recognise it and sad that he didn't reach out. 
I've been on a different path since that day. I sought professional help, I've taken medication. I've talked, and I've thought about my own situation. Talking about it openly with my wife, who has been my most unwavering support, has been the biggest benefit. 

My experience has taught me a couple of things; Things will get better. There is help. The alternative is not an answer. 

“My experience has taught me a couple of things; Things will get better. There is help. The alternative is not an answer.”

Talking about it helps. A lot. Talking to anyone helps - a colleague, a friend, a doctor. The self-realisation that it's a problem is the first step.  Medication worked for me. 
This September, I'll once again participate in The Distinguished Gentleman's Ride 2019, a worldwide event for ageing hipsters to jump on their cafe racers, get dressed up in their finest bib-and-tucker and make a general noise nuisance of themselves on a Sunday morning. All to raise money for men's mental health. It's an issue that thankfully is being talked about in a more open environment, and one that I'm more than happy to discuss.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, or needs emotional support we urge you to head to weneedtotalk.movember.com for crisis support options.