Traditionally, pub owners are seen filling the role of amateur psychiatrists on a day-to-day basis, and Paul Little, co-owner of The Shamrock – Irish Pub & Eatery in Murrieta, is no different.
For much of the past eight years, the English transplant could be found at his pub with his partner, Graham Judge, interacting with guests and offering advice and perspective on myriad issues.
But two years ago in September, Little, a Manchester City Football Club supporter, unbeknownst to many that knew him, felt he had run out of options and plotted to end his life.
“The 15th of September, 2018, is now a very significant date in my life, and two years ago to this day was the point where I had made the decision to end my life,” Little said in a Facebook post. “I know just reading that how awful it will sound to some of you, and yet some of you will understand.”
Little acknowledged his family’s history of depression and suicide. His own mother, who he said never recovered from the early death of her husband, took her own life some years after his death.
And though he grieved the sudden loss of both his parents, he said he didn’t feel the onset of depression.
“It never affected me,” he said of his mother’s death in a phone interview. “I became sort of the patriarch of the family. I led from the front.
“But, I got married,” Little said.
At first, he said, when that happened, he felt that everything in his life was coming together. He started a career; he was ready to settle down, and he had children.
“They were my life,” he said.
Eventually, the family moved to America.
Slowly but surely, he said, the marriage began to fall apart. Couples therapy sessions, he said, revealed personality disorders in his partner that he believed couldn’t be overcome.
When he made the decision to leave the marriage, he said things turned nasty and caused a rift in the family.
Those were the beginnings of the dark days, Little said.
“You can have friends and you can have family, and you can still get in a situation like I was,” he said. “I was kicking around a big house on my own. I’ve lost 25 pounds in weight. I can remember going to work at the time, but I was a shell.
“You get into a state of mind where life becomes an existence, when you’re just existing,” Little said. “That’s what I want people to understand, that being in that situation, there is a way out.”
But at the time, mere months after his decision to leave the marriage, Little said he saw no way out.
In his Facebook post, he said that at moments, he felt as though he was in total isolation, and he would go days without meaningful sleep.
“It was at this time I went to the doctors,” he said in his Facebook post. “First of all, I was prescribed Ambien (zolpidem) which had no effect. I was taking a strong dose and still not sleeping, so I went back to the doctors and he prescribed temazepam. I was taking 30 (milliliters), the strongest dose possible for over two weeks and (was) still not sleeping well. Combined with depression, anxiety and isolation, a side effect of temazepam is suicidal thoughts so it was the perfect combination.
“If the chemicals in your brain are imbalanced, believe me (suicide) isn’t a hard decision to make. In fact, it is quite easy and can give your body and brain some respite from the constant dread and isolation you feel,” Little said.
He said his counselor had always tried to reassure him that he would never do what his mother did and take his own life.
“And I am going, ‘No, no, no,’” Little said. “But, in my head I would be saying, ‘Yeah, I could do that.’ But I couldn’t say that to her.”
Little said the point of no return came when, after a night of not sleeping, he watched the Manchester City FC easily win a match.
“As I was watching the game, I was thinking to myself, ‘This is the last time I am going to see them win,’” he said in the Facebook post. “Totally calm, I pondered over the fact I was never going to see them win the Champions League. After the game ended, I started to write a suicide note on my laptop. It had always hurt me that my mother never said goodbye in a note or gave any explanation. In my mind, this was different as I was at peace with my decision.”
But he remembered a piece of his advice the counselor gave him: If he ever felt like he had hit rock bottom, he should go to the hospital.
“That piece of advice is really what saved me,” Little said.
When Judge called him that day and asked if he was all right, Little said he was honest with his friend for the first time.
“I just told him, ‘No, I’m not. I need to go to the hospital,’” Little said. “I think I would have driven myself to the hospital, because after I wrote the note I was thinking to myself, ‘What the (expletive) are you doing?’”
A childhood friend from England flew straight out to be with him, even though he’d never been to the states. When he had to leave, his sister flew out from Melbourne, Australia, to stay with him and help complete the sale of his house.
Finally, his cousin, Mark Little, came out and took him back to England.
Little said he stayed with his cousin and his family for five months.
“My hometown family and friends rallied around me, and it was during that time I got physically fit again,” Little said in his post. “I ate and slept well, plus I really got to bond with my special needs niece, Rebecca, who loves me unconditionally. She has no idea the joy she brought to my life at that time.
“It took a lot to turn it around,” he said in a phone call. “But I did it. You look back on it now, and it’s crazy. There’s nothing else that can hurt me now.”
He said he wrote the Facebook post and agreed to talk with Valley News to serve as an inspiration to anyone suffering from similar symptoms or mental health issues. The post, as of press time, received more than 700 comments as well as several private messages, Little said.
“(It is a) huge problem, and so many people are frightened to open up about it,” he said. “Due to what happened to my Mum, I had a close-up of clinical depression and had seen firsthand what it could do. I couldn’t save my Mum, but I do know that no matter what you can come back from the depths of despair and turn your life around.
“If I can help anyone that is anxious, depressed, feels isolated or controlled, then I am always here to help any time of the day or night. Talking with people who have been through the experience really helps as you can relate. Personally, I have helped a few people through troubled times, and that is far more rewarding than you can ever imagine,” Little said.
He offered some key advice for those struggling right now. He said start somewhere, and opening up to someone should be first. Next, take it one step at a time.
“When you’re in that place, speaking to people is one way to help,” Little said. “When you’re in that hole, you can’t imagine getting out. But I am a big proponent of one step in front of the other. Complete one task and then complete another and keep building.
“So, if you do hit rock bottom, then know I have been there, warts and all, but there is a process you can take and get back to being the real you,” he said.
Little said he knows recovery is a process and he knows it will be a constant battle, but he’s well on his way.
The note that he wrote to his daughters, the one that was supposed to explain how much he loved them and why he was going to do what he’d planned, still sits on his laptop unedited to remind him of how quickly things can turn.
“Every now and again I open it up and take a read to have a reality check on what the mind and brain can do to you,” he said.
Editor’s note: If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, Riverside County provides services that can help. Call the CARES line at 800-706-7500 or visit http://up2riverside.org for more information.
Jeff Pack can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.