I saw her on the edge. She crossed the safety line like me. I thought she was taking photos of the cliffs as I was.
I realised something was wrong when she was one foot-slip from a fall. She looked in my direction and I waved to her, as if to say, ‘Are you OK?’
She waved back and I doubted if I should approach, but when she moved to an even more precarious position I knew I had to do something.
I walked over, not wanting to startle her. I didn’t know what I’d do when I reached her – I just knew I had to do something.
I asked, ‘Are you OK?’
I could see in her eyes she was terrified. ‘No,’ she said, before admitting she planned to kill herself.
I went down to the edge with her. We were sickeningly high. I was close enough that if she slipped she might reach out and pull me with her, but I wanted her to see her life was valuable enough for me to risk mine.
‘No you don’t, come away from the edge, come on.’ I said this over and over. She said she had to go.
‘I know how it feels,’ I said. She stopped and looked at me then.
Three years before, on the Christmas Eve when a last minute lockdown had just been announced, I experienced an episode of suicidal thoughts.
It was the culmination of a long period of depression and social anxiety. The multiple lockdowns in 2020 were a welcome excuse to hide from the world, but the resulting isolation was the ideal environment to entrench a harmful internal narrative of being worthless and unlovable; a narrative built upon a lack of confidence in the person I was, and instead trying to be someone I thought I should be.
After a year of this, combined with my long-term partner leaving me, having the comfort of returning home for Christmas snatched away by a last-minute lockdown was a breaking point.
Suicidal thoughts are terrifying. For me, it was a loud, commanding internal voice, distinctly not my own. It told me nobody would miss me and I should take my life. It drowned out any rational voice.
It took suicidal thoughts for me to accept I was mentally unwell, despite earlier warning signs only too obvious in hindsight.
A few days later, I talked to my brother. When you are isolated with depressive thoughts, your internal narrative negatively warps your self-perception. Having conversations about my mental health helped me realise I was loved, something I had completely lost sight of.
Then, I talked to a friend who’d been suicidal before. Knowing my friend had experienced the same thoughts made me feel I could share, which is why it’s important for me to speak openly about my episode now.
Speaking to a counsellor later helped me understand the reasons why my self-perception was so negative. I put pressure on myself, which set me up to fail, but it also meant I was making decisions based on who I thought I should be, not who I was.
I still contend with these expectations, but having this awareness helps me stop from sliding into negative thoughts.
Mind were also a part of my healing journey. Their website was a great resource for me to educate myself around mental health and to hear other people’s stories.
Mind helped me remove the shame and stigma that is the biggest barrier to recovery.
I also made changes to my life, prioritising self care and doing things that made me feel like myself. I shifted my efforts into being the creative, outdoorsy person I am.
The more I pursued my love for the outdoors, writing and drawing, the more I had the courage to commit to an old dream that would combine my passions: walking the coast of Great Britain for charity.
The idea stemmed from a ‘that would be cool’ moment when glancing at a map of Britain. I could hike during the day, selling drawings I would do for donations, and write during the evenings.
At over 6000 miles, and a year of walking, it was an exciting and uncomfortable idea; it presented a choice between living the way I intuitively felt was right for me or living the way that felt expected.
I left my job and started on 3 October last year. So far, I have walked over 3,500 miles in one continuous journey, camping all the way. Starting from my home in North Wales, I walked south for the winter, around England and now into Scotland.
I saved money to undertake this challenge, and people I have met on the trail or online can Buy Me a Coffee (a platform for donations) to help me eat well and replace worn out equipment. I felt uncomfortable with the idea of people giving me money rather than the charity, but it’s a virtual way of people supporting my fundraiser, no different to the way people have taken me in and fed me, expecting nothing in return.
The physical and mental resilience I have built since Christmas Eve 2020 has been tested, facing winter storms, freezing temperatures and arduous terrain.
I lost a stone and a half in the first month. My tent fell apart and collapsed in the storms on the west coast. I’ve often been soaked during the day, only to put my wet clothes back on in the morning.
I can be stoic and humorous about it, but other times I want to panic or cry. It can be lonely, too.
I think if I wasn’t doing it for a cause I believe in, I would’ve quit a long time ago. But at the start of this walk I said to myself, ‘You don’t have to walk the coast, you just have to walk today, step by step’. In those difficult moments, I just focus on the next step.
Despite this, walking the coast was the best decision I could have made for myself. The hard moments elevate the good moments into pure wonder and happiness. Every day I think it can’t get any better – and every day, I am proven wrong.
The kindness and generosity of people has been transformative and overwhelming. Among the many acts of kindness, a man I met in a Cornish pub replaced my disintegrating tent!
I couldn’t have come this far without people like that, or raised over £13,000 for Mind.
I’m also thankful I was in a position to help someone before it was too late.
When I told the woman on the edge I had been suicidal myself, I hoped for a moment she didn’t feel alone. I hoped she would see that it can get better.
Slowly, she came away from the edge.
For emotional support you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email [email protected], visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website.
If you’re a young person, or concerned about a young person, you can also contact PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide UK. Their HOPELINK digital support platform is open 24/7, or you can call 0800 068 4141, text 07860039967 or email: [email protected] between the hours of 9am and midnight.
I didn’t know what to do next. Fortunately, we were seen by a local crisis unit who were patrolling and with us in minutes. They told me later our body language made it clear there was something wrong.
The crisis unit were excellent and took over, but I didn’t want her to feel alone surrounded by people in uniforms. I stayed with her for an hour until she was taken away by emergency services.
We didn’t get to talk much, but she told me she liked my hat, that I was a nice man. She was really kind.
I cried afterwards. I felt like I’d been holding my breath. It’s hard to see someone in crisis, then to leave them. I wanted to help more but couldn’t.
I don’t know how she is doing now – but at least I know I did everything I could.
The day after my episode that Christmas Eve I was so grateful to be alive. I hope she was too.
You can donate to James’s charity fund here and you can follow his journey on Instagram here
To chat about mental health in an open, non-judgmental space, join our Mentally Yours Facebook group.
Follow us on Twitter at @MentallyYrs.
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