When Kevin Braddock hit rockbottom, he had every intention of killing himself. He recounts what happened next and reveals why so few men ask for help
It was a Monday when Robin Williams killed himself three years ago Monday 11 August 2014. His death was shocking even if in hindsight it shouldnt have been a surprise that the worlds funniest man might also be the most sorrowful, too a person despairing to the point of ending it all.
Its a date I remember well, because Id spent the previous day trying to do the same thing. I was in the psychiatric ward of the Berlin hospital which Id been manhandled into by friends the day before, and I was waiting to see the doctor whod asked me to promise that I wouldnt kill myself.
In her consultation room Id thought about it for a while; Id already told her all I could about what led me to try to die. Id described the methods looping ceaselessly through my mind as I was slumped on the pavement near Berlins TV Tower: the gun, the noose, the blade, the pills, the bottle. The gun, the noose the mantra that would not stop. Since the only thing to hand was the nearby sptkauf (off-licence), Id resolved to drink my way to unreality.
Id told the doctor my history of depression, anxiety, panic attacks, drink, drugs, meds, love and fear, my crises of faith and existential dread, and all the other things that seem to go with being human in the 21st century. I had few words left in me, but mumbling through endless tears with my hands in my lap, Id mouthed the words to her: I promise.
I hadnt gone through with the act, but God knows Id wanted to wanted to end it all and wanted it all to end. I was outpatiented for a while, and friends and loved ones looked after for me. Three years later, they still do.
How had things got so bad? In 2009, fed up with London, I bought a one-way ticket to Tegel with vague plans to hang out for a couple of months and run the Berlin marathon. Two months turned into six, then a year and eventually half a decade in that beautifully confused city. In the teeth of this current crisis, Id been struggling to hold things and myself together at the magazine where I was working. Id begun, falteringly, to deal with the dependencies that had got a grip on me (Id long been a heavy, problematic drinker, and Berlin is an easy city in which to hedonise, although by the standards of Berghain regulars, I was a total lightweight).
Meanwhile, depression and anxiety, old adversaries which Id suffered incapacitating episodes with at 21 and 30, had begun ranging back on to my neurological horizons. Id also caught glandular fever, fallen in love, and turned 42 which, as readers of Douglas Adams know, is the meaning of life. I was perpetually stressed, exhausted and despairing at work and it didnt take much for the cascade to begin: yet another work problem, a row, some piece of bad news.
Looking back, Im surprised at how fast I unravelled, how the energyless fog of depression condensed into an electric psychosis, how despair became madness. One day, one of my editors had asked if I was all right. I said: No, Im not, and started listing conflicts and confusions. (I was also surprised that she asked: I mean, its generally not the way that bosses look out for their employees.) A few days later I was in hospital.
Madness comes at you fast, to paraphrase the social media clich.
None of this is to equate my life or story with Robin Williamss in any way, apart from to say that I made it through what the doctor wrote down as a schwere (major) depressive episode, whereas Williams didnt, and Im thankful that one of us is around to talk about this stuff. Above all, Im grateful I found the courage to ask for help.
Facebook gets a lot of stick these days, but in one sense it kept me alive, because Facebook was where I asked for help in a status update that Sunday afternoon which read: Im at the bottom now, can a German speaker come to St Hedwigs with me, I need help, along with my phone number.
I dont know how long Id been there, or how many bottles of Augustiner beer to the worse I was. But I do remember an alternative thought forming from the cognitive murk: I could ask for help. Sure, everyone would see what a pitiful, drunken, helpless, tearful state I was the opposite of what Id prefer to project, yet also the truth. But the thought came: theres another way. I couldnt speak, I seemed to have been silenced, but there was my phone I could test the limits of this thing which helps people (and I quote) connect with friends, family and other people you know.