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Senior civil servant Marc Little has taken the brave decision to go public on his mental health battle by publishing a book of poems he wrote at his lowest ebb

Marc was plunged into a deep depression and left feeling suicidal when his first marriage ended, now he has remarried and found happiness again... and wants to offer help to others   

By Laurence White

When Northern Ireland man Marc Little realised his marriage was in trouble he plunged into depression. Unable to articulate his feelings openly to even his closest family or friends, he found an unusual form of self-help therapy - poetry.

He committed his darkest thoughts to verse, poems which form the first part of a book he is due to publish later this month.

Called Out Of Darkness, it carries the strapline: 'Trying to make sense of life through poetry'.

As the book's title suggests, his writing, along with professional help, enabled him to find the light at the end of the tunnel and reach "a place where I am extremely happy now".

Marc (45), who lives on the north coast - he declines to be more specific - says the impending breakdown of his marriage in 2009 was the trigger that sparked off his depression.

He adds: "It was not a dramatic break-up but rather a case of us growing apart. I must stress that I am not criticising my former wife. I am fond of the outdoors and loved to go camping and diving and I had some wonderful experiences but I had no one to share them with as she was not interested in the same things as me.

"I wondered if I was always going to be on my own and that pushed me towards realising that that was not the place where I wanted to be. You only get one chance in life and sometimes you have to take certain steps."

He accepts that it was a very difficult time for him, his wife of 10 years and the couple's young daughter. "In the run-up to the break-up you wonder that if you make certain decisions, particularly since a child is involved, what the implications for each person in the relationship will be. Will you be seen as a bad person and what will be the impact on other people in the immediate aftermath."

The Ballymena-born civil servant - he is head of the appeals service in Northern Ireland - admits that he bottled up his feelings at this traumatic time.

"I didn't - and to a degree still don't - talk about how I feel emotionally. There are deep sensitive parts of yourself that you don't want to expose and, for me, the only way to get it out was through writing."

Throughout his education at Dunclug Primary School, Cambridge House Grammar School and the University of Ulster his only previous experience of writing was composing silly limericks.

He says: "Many people think of writing a book at some stage of their lives but never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be publishing a book of my own poetry. It all stemmed from writing down where I was in those dark days."

When depression struck he initially did not ask for help. "I tried to deal with it myself and I put my feelings down on paper and tried to figure out where I was and I found it a great help," he says.

"I was very low. There certainly were suicidal thoughts, although I never acted on them. They were there but I got them out on to the page. I never shared my poems with anyone; they were like a personal diary."

While 2009 was a low time in his life it was also a year when he met Susanne, the woman who became his second wife and mother of their two children, a boy of six and a girl of five. His first child is now aged 16, but he wishes to keep the children's names out of the public domain.

Marc says he now tends to steer away from reflecting on his past life. "I spent a lot of time moving on from it and most of my energy is spent on my second wife," he says.

"In spite of what happened it was not difficult to start another relationship because of the person Susanne is. She has a lot of the interests that I have and that was part of the steps of lifting me out of where I was - she was the light at the end of the tunnel."

Another way of coping with his depression was throwing himself into his work. "That was where I could be happiest. I didn't do lots of overtime or anything like that, but when I was at work I didn't have to think about my personal life," he explains.

In acknowledgements in his book he mentions a number of colleagues "who just by being there and allowing me to do certain things helped me without really knowing it. It was a positive environment for me at a difficult time".

Did Susanne know what he was going through? "I think she had an idea of how low I was without me actually saying it. In any case, she was incredibly supportive," he replies.

Marc eventually decided to go for counselling and also consulted his GP.

"I realise I needed to be upfront with Susanne about where I was. However, I didn't show her my writing at that stage but by the time I came to put the book together - it has over 60 poems - she would have seen most of them at one stage or another," he says.

He also thanks his family, including his parents, for their support. Again, they were unaware of just how deep his depression was but were always there for him.

Statutory services dealing with aspects of mental health are often criticised for not responding sufficiently to clients' needs, but he has only praise for those he encountered.

"I found them all very good. Through my job in the Civil Service I was able to avail of a counselling service and my GP was also very supportive and understanding," he adds.

"Then there are the unsung heroes in Lifeline who are at the end of a telephone line 24 hours a day. Sometime I just felt I needed to have a chat with someone. I found it very reassuring to have these services there."

Marc says there remains a stigma to mental health problems which prevents some people from opening up about their condition.

"They don't want to tell you how dark their thoughts are. They are concerned that others will rush to judgment and perhaps think that the person will harm themselves," he says.

"They don't realise that there are different layers to depression and that different levels of help are required."

One of the poems will resonate particularly with anyone who has battled against depression or any other illness and who have to cope with well-wishers enquiring about how they are:

Let you in

I'm fine as long as you don't ask.

Fine as long as you say nothing.

Don't question when I talk and when I stay silent,

and leave me in my own thoughts.

It's a difficult place for me to visit, my head.

Even more difficult to take you there.

So I'm fine as long as you don't ask,

and I'll let you visit, when I can.

He admits that he is a little scared about publishing his book. "I know there are lots of friends and family members who will read it but who never had an inkling of what I was going through when I wrote those poems. But I want to share my story and let other people see there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. I didn't believe my counsellor when they said that but it is true," he adds.

He has broken his book down into six chapters with only the first one concentrating on his darkest moments.

This is followed by his thoughts on meeting Susanne, but also a chapter called Guard, which warns that although one can move on from the worst of times and learn how to cope, one must always remember what depression can do.

Although another chapter deals with his reflections on people he has lost - including a grandmother and a work colleague who he learned most about after his death - Marc also injects some humour in the final chapter which includes poems about life in general and incidents such as being stuck on a train and in a lift.

He also writes about being an extra in a number of television productions - his contract prevents him from naming them - although he admits he is just a fleeting background presence in them.

So what are his hopes for the book: "If people can get one phrase or even a word out of the book that they can hold onto, then I will be very encouraged."

Out Of Darkness by Marc Little, published by Little Publishing Co, price £7.99, is available on Amazon now

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