Turning off the ignition, I put my head on the steering wheel and began crying.
I was at the lowest point in my life, everything had got to be too much and I wanted to end it all.
Suddenly, someone knocked on the window. Randomly, it was an old school friend who I hadn’t seen in years – he stopped me in my tracks.
It’s safe to say that, back then, about 18 months ago, I had a breakdown. My lovely mum who had dementia had suffered a fall and became much more dependent on me, right at the time that I secured a new sales job.
Simply, the pressure became too much. Rather than talk and open up, I buried my head in the sand. Wishing for it to go away, keeping myself silent. It was the worst thing I could’ve done.
Even if I did want to talk, I felt like there was no one there to help me or turn to – even though my partner of 12 years, Annette, 56, is the most loving person I know.
It felt like a weakness to explain my issues, so I planned to end my life. I knew exactly how and where I was going to do it.
Looking back, I can’t believe what I was considering.
I was saved by an old school friend who knocked on my window. ‘What’s going on here, Mark?’ he said softly. I couldn’t keep it hidden for any longer; I told him of the pressure of my new job, and how hard it’d been with my mum.
‘Why don’t you head on home now, Mark,’ he replied. And I did. Something in me just clicked. I didn’t tell him I was going to kill myself until four months later, but I think he must’ve known. My friend’s reaction when I told him was silence, then: ‘I’m just grateful I was there for you mate when I was.’
When I got home, I broke down, Annette was amazing and of course listened to everything I had to say. We both cried together a lot. I quit my job, and then took a trip to the GP who offered me help, and unsurprisingly diagnosed me with high blood pressure. I should have gone so much sooner.
‘Why don’t we get a puppy?’ Annette suggested a month later. ‘To take your mind off things.’ She’d found a Bearded Collie breeder in West Sussex, and before I knew it, we picked up Howard. My lifesaver.
We’d owned two Bearded Collies before, but Howard was different somehow. He was a true character and became my best friend while my mental health recovered.
Howard was a total cure. He’s a big, furry, lump of love. He made me laugh whenever he yawned as he made a whistling sound, and whenever he walked past me I couldn’t help but watch his big bum swaying.
I started writing snippets about Howard’s personality on scraps of paper – Annette found them and told me I had to write a book. ‘It might help you recover,’ she said. And she was right.
In an hour I wrote my first book for three to seven-year-olds, ‘Howard of Pawsland on his magical journey to Whistledown’, on the Notes app on my phone.
Writing helped me refocus again, helped me spend time on myself, my needs, and helped me in looking after my mental wellbeing.
I wanted my book’s themes to be love, kindness and sustainability – to help children ask questions about the world, and experience the joys of humanity.
Howard goes on sustainability-themed quests in the mythical world of Pawsland, spreading love along the way aboard The Pawsland Express. When a friend asked if there was going to be a villain in the book I said no. ‘There’s enough evil in the world,’ I replied
Now, I’ve since signed a six-book deal with Middleton Press and visit schools nationwide to teach them about the themes of the book – with Howard in tow, of course. Except I have to carry him if the school doesn’t have carpets… he hates laminate flooring for some reason!
I couldn’t be happier. I’m not saying I’m perfect, but from where I once was, I’m so much better. I’m not the same person as I was before.
My message is talk, don’t bottle it up – pick up the phone to call a friend, or 111; speak to Calm or Mind. Don’t suffer in silence because there is a way out.
My way out started with talking, and it led me to Howard, which changed my life forever. If I’m ever having a bad time I just need to give him a cuddle and the worries disappear.
Howard, and writing about him, helped heal me and he makes me smile every single day. He just needs to look at me to make me feel happy. He’s my saviour and I’ll forever be in his debt.
Howard of Pawsland books are available to buy online at Amazon UK, Middleton Press, Waterstones and WHSmiths
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