Three years ago, writer Kevin Braddock hit rock bottom and tried to kill himself. At the last minute, he found the courage to ask for help and went on to turn his struggle into a way to help others. On 10 October – World Mental Health Day – he tells his story.
The enduring cliche that darkness is deepest just before dawn may be just that: a cliche. Nevertheless, it contains a grain of truth. And I wouldn’t wish to go back to the situation I found myself in just over three years ago – slumped on a Berlin pavement, contemplating ways and means to end my life. I was wracked with shame, and conflicted on the one side by a suffocating despair, and on the other by a permanent current of electric fear. Nor would I wish it on anyone else. But coming through a ‘nervous breakdown’, a burnout, a period of intense suicidal ideation, and what’s technically known as a major depressive episode has shown me that there’s light, meaning and positivity in the world.
I lived in Berlin five years, working there initially as a freelance writer and latterly as editor of an arty fashion magazine. This whirlpool of depression and anxiety (to give these experiences their diagnostic names) slowly and imperceptibly, and in the end very rapidly, dragged me towards the brink of suicide. But I found something else that’s sustained me ever since, and which I’ve been infusing into a project designed to assist others. It was a message from a remote, almost unknown part of my mind, which said, ‘ask for help’.
So, after some time on that Sunday in 2014, I did. I wrote a message on Facebook, and people came for me; friends, and people I never knew were friends. They took me to psychiatric hospital and I began a long, slow recovery process, piecing the parts of my life and psyche back together.
Experiences like this are, sadly, all too common today. Suicide is now the leading single killer of men under the age of 45, mental illness is soaring among the young, and one in four us will experience a mental health issue this year. But, as painful as breakdown, recovery, depression and anxiety can be, they can lead to positive changes. Pain can be transformed into other things: beauty, meaning, energy, and ways to help others.