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Liam’s Story: Fly As Magic Swan

This story has a trigger warning

Trigger warning: references to suicide

These days, I rarely think about suicide but for a large part of my life so-called 'suicidal ideation' was a consistent presence for me. I frequently felt suicidal between the ages of 18 and 35, and made several attempts to take my own life. On at least one of these occasions it was only chance that I survived.

Liam’s Story: Fly As Magic Swan

Now, as I edge towards the age of retirement, I reflect that there were some things which kept me alive. One which stands out was a postcard.

I’ve lived with ‘severe mental illness’ since I was a teenager. Today I’m in my 60s and mental health remains challenging every day. While things are often difficult, these days I’m a bit better at managing life.

I had several periods in mental hospitals when I was younger. And it was during one of these that the postcard arrived. I was a patient on a locked ward to which I’d been admitted after only just surviving a suicide attempt.

The card was from Giuseppe, an Italian school teacher I’d met a couple of years earlier while hitchhiking around Europe. He and his partner, Luca, let me stay with them and I felt cared for and accepted by them both.

Giuseppe often sent postcards, but this one was special. It was a painting of white swans flying across water, and on the back he’d written: ‘You will fly as magic swan.’ I was dosed up on antipsychotics and the treatment at the hospital was awful, but those words broke through in a way that nothing else had. The sentiment in the words and the image connected with me because I knew it was sincere and motivated by love. Because of the slightly incorrect grammar I imagined I could hear Giuseppe’s voice reaching out to me in that grim place.

In the end, following brutal treatment from staff on the ward, I managed to escape from the hospital. I spent that night on the floor of a friend’s caravan. As I tried to sleep, everything was strange and frightening. I didn’t have any antipsychotic drugs with me and my mind was doing all sorts of weird things. The next day, I took the ferry to Ostend and lived on the continent for some time. Friends in Belgium took me in without question, and then I hitchhiked to Italy and once again stayed with Giuseppe and Luca, who welcomed me.

There have been many kind and accepting people in my life; I think opening up a little helped me to make connections which I realise now probably saved my life.

It’s surprising how you can connect with people you wouldn’t expect to have anything in common with. I bonded with Kevin, the head of a gang of skinheads, who seemed terrifying but was a very kind person. An older man, Thomas, who had very serious alcohol problems, looked after me on the ward after my suicide attempt. Then there was an actor, a gentle, kind soul, I met when I was sleeping in Hyde Park. He’d buy me meals and even take me to see shows.

Friendships like these have helped to keep me alive. I am extremely grateful for the love and care of others offered to me without any expectation or demand. I really hope that I’ve been able to offer something similar back to some of the many folk I’ve known who, like me all those years ago, needed to believe in the possibility that they might one day surface from the dark waters of suffering, and ‘fly as magic swan’.

This moving story by Liam is part of Suicide Prevention project funded by Sheffield City Council and run by Sheffield Flourish. Through one-to-one conversations short personal stories have been created, aiming to spread awareness around suicide, and break down stigma. 

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