'I was ready to end it all' - Sheffield train guard speaks out about mental health battle in bid to encourage other men to talk
Getting married and moving house are two of the most exciting things we can do in our lives.
But they can also be incredibly stressful.
And for Chris Gunns it was these two events, as well as the struggle of trying for a child, that were the triggers of what has become a long battle with mental health issues.
At his lowest, Chris, aged 38, even came close to ending his life – something he has only ever admitted to a very small handful of people.
“My absolute rock bottom, which I very rarely talk about because it makes me so uncomfortable, is when I remember standing in our kitchen watching my wife and eldest child playing in the garden, and having a handful of painkillers ready to end it all," he said.
“To this day I don’t know what stopped me, I don’t know what clicked in my head but thankfully it did. I just put the things back in the cupboard.
“That's something I’ve got to live with for the rest of my life.”
Chris’ fight with mental health issues began at the end of 2006.
“Things weren’t right in my head,” he explained. “I was getting irritable really quickly and was stressed out. It was my wife who said ‘you need to see a doctor because you’re not right’.”
After having tests, Chris was diagnosed as being clinically depressed.
“Your whole world falls apart when someone says that,” he said.
Chris, who works for train company Trans Pennine Express in Sheffield, suffered severe relapses in 2009, 2012 and 2016, and has since been diagnosed as having borderline personality disorder.
And it is often down to other people to help make sure he gets the support he needs when he is struggling, so it is important that people know what to look out for.
"Even if you do see it coming you go ‘no, I’m not going down that road again’ and you keep pushing on and it just gets worse and worse,” Chris explained.
Common misconceptions of what to look out for also don’t help.
“I’ve been on mental health workshops with my employer before when they’ve said x, y or z is a symptom of it. They say you should watch out for someone who is quiet or withdrawn but I was never like that, I would put on a show. That’s what can make it so difficult to identify when someone is struggling.”
Family, friends, and even strangers on social media have offered Chris support, as well as his colleagues.
“Working on the railway it’s a very macho job, macho industry and if you show any weakness when you start people mock you and it was a case of ‘well I’ve now got a serious weakness,” he said. “But I brought it gradually into the conversation. I was very aware of the persona of Yorkshiremen being tough and after I was off in 2016 I started my blog and did an interview with my employers’ magazine and the reception I got after that was amazing.”
Asked what advice Chris would give to someone who is struggling but hasn’t yet sought help, Chris said: “I get that you're scared but a doctor will always be there for you and it’s important to take that first step and talk to people.
“If you've come out of the doctors, and they've said to you that you've got depression or whatever is and you don't know what to do with that information, talk to somebody because you can feel so alone with that.
“It is a lot for you to deal with. It’s a lot to think I don’t want to admit I’ve got a problem but once you’ve taken that first step you'll just feel a whole weight off your shoulders.”
Having a mental health issue doesn’t have to mean you can’t enjoy your life however, as Chris explained: “I never thought I would have a normal life and I do. I’ve got three fantastic children who make me laugh every day, a great job, and through everything, I’ve been studying for a degree in psychology and counselling so I can use my experiences to help people in the future.
“I want people to see this and think he’s done it and he’s come back.
“I don’t know what it’s like to wake up feeling normal. This is my life now. There’s always a black cloud, not over me all the time but it’s always in the background and it’s a really weird feeling. But despite everything my brain is trying to do to me I am still here and I’m fighting back and if I’m helping people at the same time then all the better.”