From darkness to light: Nathan's journey back from the edge
31 Aug 2021
In 2004, I tried to take my own life.
Thankfully my attempt was thwarted when I was rescued by my stepfather. But had I succeeded it would have been an unhappy punctuation mark to a sentence that was a long time in the making – even if I didn’t realise it at the time.
My suicide attempt didn’t happen in a vacuum – there was a grey rainbow of experiences and emotions that had been building up within me since my childhood. What I lacked was the skills to deal with them properly.
For me, it started as a child. My mother had me when she was young – too young. She was just a teenager. I know she always loved me, but she didn’t have the mental or emotional tools to raise me, so I was mostly raised by my grandparents, who were great, loving people.
But even with their love and support, it never stopped the feeling of rejection that underpinned my childhood. It hurt. A lot. I felt unwanted.
I carried those feelings into my adult life. I never felt good enough – not for anyone. I wanted that to be different for my own kids when I had them. I wanted to give my kids a traditional family environment that I wish I’d always experienced.
As a result, I rushed into marriage when I was too young. It was a disaster. She cheated on me. She went behind my back with friends. I know because I caught them.
I thought it was my fault. I blamed myself. I had no self-esteem. No self-worth. No self-value.
These were the feelings that allowed thoughts of suicide to fester and grow – kindling for a fire that only leaves destruction and unanswered questions when it burns out.
Looking back now, what sticks out to me about this time is how life just went on as normal in the days after I was rescued by my stepfather. The suicide attempt happened on a Saturday night. By Monday, I was going to work as if nothing had happened. I buried it all. Everyone who knew about it did the same.
I guess that’s what gives my story a sense of universality. My experiences are unique to me but the themes that underpin it – especially in terms of mismanaged mental health – they’re relatable to a lot of people.
I never had the emotional tools to manage my own mental health properly when I was younger. In fact, it wasn’t until years after my own suicide attempt that I started re-evaluating my own self-worth.
It took a lot of work. I had to tear down old belief structures that had ingrained themselves in the very fabric of my being since childhood. That was hard. But building them back up was harder. Not just telling myself that I was good enough – believing it.
A lot has changed for me now. I’m happily married with three wonderful children. Life is amazing. I still have bad days but the difference is that I have the emotional tools and support systems in place to handle them properly.
For me, part of that comes down to having a purpose. I’m meant to be here – I know that. I truly believe that I was kept on this earth to make a difference when it comes to suicide prevention.
In 2018, I started a Facebook page to keep the memory alive of a young family member who had taken his own life. He was just 12-years-old.
The page – called Zak’s Comunite’z – quickly grew in popularity, allowing me to share my own story with others, giving hope to anyone who has struggled or is struggling. Life does get better.
In 2019, we turned Zak’s page into a charity: Comunite’z “Unite for Life” – a variation on the French way to spell Community, combined with the word unite, with a Z on the end for Zak.
Part of my work with Comunite’z led me to approach the Alliance for Suicide Prevention – an initiative of USC’s Thompson Institute.
The Alliance is made up of organisations that actively work and contribute to suicide prevention – through research, training and support. I would have never had the courage to reach out to the Alliance had I not rebuilt those belief structures that had weighed me down for too many years.
From my work with these organisations I can sense a change of attitude happening when it comes to dealing with our mental health. But it’s happening slowly. We’re nowhere near where we need to be – especially men, who still account for four out of every five suicide deaths.
To change it properly, to make a real difference, we need to change the culture. We need to demonstrate that there’s strength in vulnerability. That doesn’t mean sitting around holding hands and singing kumbaya. But it does mean speaking honestly. It means speaking up when you’re not feeling emotionally well.
Don’t expect that to happen quickly. It takes practice to open up. Start slowly. But I urge anyone who finds it difficult to share vulnerably to keep practising, keep working at it – your mates are depending on it.
Nathan Taylor works with the Alliance for Suicide Prevention – an initiative of USC’s Thompson Institute – through his youth-focused organisation Comunite’z.
If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide, help is available at Lifeline: 13 11 14