Post-Christmas 2011, amongst friends watching the darts at my flat, things seemed to have evened out. He was relaxed, laughing with us all and trying to divert the conversation back to cricket. I imagine other people have moments like that where, for perhaps just a moment, everything seems to click.
Just under a year later, Alex had died. His death was by suicide.
The day I found out is recorded vividly in my memory. Replayed in the hope something changes. From the phone call, the instinctive rush to be with others to understand it. Ending up numbed by beer and the happy stories told through smiles, strained by the effort of not being the one to cry. Then, not being able to sleep, gravitating to our cricket club in the pitch dark. Just to sit there as it was all too much to take in.
I was aware of the illness that affected him. Or I thought I was. I think having seen him get better led to some complacency. I remember thinking the worst was behind him, drawing inaccurate parallels with my own experience years before. That did not mean I stopped listening or caring but I may not have given him the explicit permission to talk as much as I could have. Some of the indications of his health declining again, some of the warning signs of suicidal behaviour I probably failed to pick up on. When I did see things as potentially problematic, I didn’t have the knowledge of where or who could help him.
Now, in 2020, I know those basics better. There is no time machine though. No way to go back and change things. Alex’s situation was far more than just my interaction with him. Although it is natural to reflect on what I could have done rather than the world in general. I recall that we messaged each other every day but then still fret that I should have been more worried that he hadn’t replied in the days before I found out he had passed. Clearly this would not have made a difference but is instructive of how I’ve let myself think about it.
To an extent the years that followed I have been motivated by guilt. That I could have done my part as a friend better. I think that will always be there. The feeling that is always more powerful is sadness. For those left behind, puzzled by what happened but mainly at how a funny, generous, and charming young man felt he could not carry on living.
Guilt and sadness only go so far though. Trying to get people to think about mental health, in cricket and life, has felt like a positive response and one that I think Alex would have loved to be involved with.
Eight years have gone by now and it is hard to tell what has changed. There is certainly much more spoken about mental health. Awareness is as high as it has ever been. How far this transfers into the lives of people is unclear to me. The need to encourage conversation, not just social media shares, is as crucial as ever. Please don’t wait for the worst before letting someone know you are there.