Suicide in the public eye – Gary Speed
This blog is long over due. It’s taken so long to get around to it, so apologies for that. I probably wouldn’t have written anything were it not for Gary Speed dying. I will blog next week about running and insignificant things like that.
This blog is written, unfortunately, on the day that the Wales football manager Gary Speed has apparently taken his own life. I don’t know what to say about it, as I didn’t know the man at all and have no insight into what might have driven him to decide to kill himself. What I do know, is his legend, and what he has done for the game of football.
From all of the interviews I have read/watched/heard today, I have taken two bits of information on board the most. The first is that he was a hero at each of the clubs he played for. To see television pictures of the gates at all of his clubs decorated in shirts, scarves and flowers is a perfect reminder of this. A consummate professional, he was at the top of his game for a long time. He was always the fittest player on the team, always putting in extra work, and always a huge help to the players around him. Men who played with him, or played in his team, say he was a huge influence and someone who earned the respect of the people around him by working hard.
The second thing is that everything appeared normal in his life, and that he was as happy as ever. It’s been said numerous times that in the past few hours that there were no indications whatsoever that his frame of mind had changed. He was on Football Focus yesterday, talked of the future and seemed very at ease. This is not according to me, but to the people he worked with and perhaps more importantly, the people who know him best – his friends. He had also never been reported to have suffered with any mental health issues such as depression. When recording FF, he apparently talked about how he had just joined Twitter, and that his appearance was already creating more followers. As a result, he said he would have to tweet more ‘in the coming days’. It doesn’t sound like someone who was contemplating ending their lives. It scares me that someone might be able to act so normally if they have a world of turmoil going on in their head.
I’m not a professional in the mental health industry and would never try to suggest that I know the human psyche better than anyone else. What I can do, though, is talk from experience. I have witnessed suicide, I have seen the people if affects, as I am one of those people myself. I saw what my dad was like in the days, weeks, months and years in the run up to his death. The simple answer is that he was the exact opposite to Gary Speed, or at least what he appeared to be in the media. This is not me saying that there is more than meets the eye with the death of Gary Speed. Far from it; what I’m actually trying to say is that suicide isn’t simply the result of depression. Nor is it simple enough to say it is the result of one catastrophic event. There are only two things that every suicide has in common: the end result, and the fact that the person did not know about, or chose not to seek, the help that could have prevented it.
My dad functioned intermittently during the run up to his death. He was the archetypal sufferer of depression. Sometimes, he was completely rational and worked hard at battling his demons. At other times, the slightest of setbacks resulted in him locking himself in his bedroom, drinking himself into a stupor, or disappearing for days on end. We all knew that one day, dad would die of his own means. We had spent a few years preparing ourselves for the inevitable phone call that it was over.
Gary Speed had what my dad didn’t have – financial stability, power, an influential job and all the toppings. Those were the things that my dad thought would ‘make him better’. Those were the things which we thought that if dad had them, he wouldn’t want to kill himself. Gary Speed, it appears, decided to die despite having all of those things. It shows me that never has the saying ‘money doesn’t buy happiness’ been more true. I don’t begrudge Gary Speed for having all of those things and still choosing to die. I don’t think he’s selfish because he chose to die despite having access to great wealth and power. On the contrary; my heart goes out to him. Because despite having all those things, he seems to have still been affected by something – something was missing, or disappeared. And it made him kill himself.
I have always said, and still maintain that making the decision to end your own life is the bravest thing you can possibly do, in many ways. Whether you are of sound mind or not, thinking that you no longer want to be in this world is huge. I also think it is the stupidest thing you can possibly do, but that is by the by. The fact is that the people who do it end up dying and leaving behind people who really, really want them to be there.
The media will continue to speculate what happened to Gary Speed, and will dig in closets for any number of rumours and skeletons about why he chose to do what he did. This is pointless. Whilst it might be in the interest of his loved ones to find out why he died, it is no business of ours, unless he or his family, wanted us to know. What I hope happens is that those close to him are left alone, and people do not try to profit on this ‘story’. The story is that he has tragically died. The story is not why he died.
I have the greatest amount of empathy possible for his loved ones. No one knows what they are going through right now. To sit on a sofa in a house where he used to be will not ease the pain. Nor will crying, screaming, starving yourself or being told to eat something. But no doubt it’ll all happen. What will ease the pain is time, where proper care can be given, and where they can be given the space to learn to live with one less person around. I hope they take inspiration from a man who was loved by an entire nation, who shaped some incredible young players and who was as successful as any other man would dream to be. He’ll no doubt continue to inspire people in years to come. It’ll certainly help me to put things into perspective when I’m moaning about something totally inane.
I read earlier that the last recorded number of suicides in a year was 5,706. If we held a minute’s silence for each of those people, we would remain silent for a shade under four straight days! That is way too many deaths. Each one is the result of a unique life experience (or set of them), and potentially, I believe each of those people could have been helped. I’m not saying we can prevent every suicide in the country. But what I do believe is that there are so many people out there who kill themselves not knowing how they might be helped, and how there are people out there who love them, who are willing to support them and who WANT to take up some of the slack that is weighing them down. I would take on a world of my dad’s pain if it meant he wouldn’t die. I would sacrifice so much to still have him here, and have him know that I love him so dearly that even now, over 8 years after his death, I still look into space each night and mouth ‘I love you, dad’.
Unfortunately, I can do none of the above. Because it is too late for him. Whilst I’ve come to terms with him not being around any more, it doesn’t stop the dreams I have that mean I sometimes wake up and for a split second think he’s still around and just a phone call away. What I can do, though, is to encourage people to challenge themselves to talk about any issues they have. To show people that there are ways and means of getting help. I will continue to slog myself physically and mentally to get the word out there, and I will use my own experiences, no matter how much it hurts to talk about them, to get people talking what’s on their minds.
Rest in peace, Gary Speed. You’re a fucking hero.
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