Teenager saved from suicide in Tenerife by mysterious phone call

A dad has for the first time recalled his mental health battle which caused him to almost end his own life on holiday when he was just 18.

James Wheeler was just seconds from suicide at the coast in Tenerife.

During a holiday, his battle with social anxiety became so fierce he walked out to sea and considered "the easiest way out" was to drown.

But his phone rang, and jolted him.

He told Essex Live he "pulled it out, saw the glow, and it fizzled and died in my hands" so he quickly turned back to shore.

James never found out who called him but it saved his life.

Now, 14 years on, he has spoken of the moment in an emotional interview.

Speaking from his home in Basildon, Essex, the 32-year-old said: "I'm in Tenerife, it's the middle of the night, pitch black, and my phone's ringing.

"All I wanted to do was rush back to shore to keep my phone dry.

"I thought it's going to get wet, of all the things to think about. I pulled it out, saw the glow, and it fizzled and died in my hands.

"I tried to salvage it but I couldn't, the salt water had got too far into it.

"I've never been able to recover it so I still don't know, to this day, who called me."

James has suffered with social anxiety for most of his life, but as a child he was completely unaware.

"It was an unknown," he explained. "I wasn't a massively sociable kid, I played a lot of computer games and found real enjoyment and escape in those.

"I didn't enjoy social interaction unless it was with really close friends. But I just thought that was the norm.

"I always had computer games at my disposal but it did get a bit out of hand. I relied on it so much that I woke up in the middle of the night without anyone knowing to play and escape.

"I was self-medicating without knowing."

James' parents divorced when he was very young, but when his step dad came in he maintained a strong support network, something he believes may actually have contributed to his anxiety.

"You could even say that was an issue," James said. "I had so much support that when it wasn't there I didn't know what to do.

"I pulled myself out of college, went to sixth form but didn't apply myself, but then I was accepted into the navy as an aircraft engineer, something I wanted to do as a kid.

"Then something triggered, what I now know was my anxieties, so I pulled myself out even though they offered me a promotion and money to stay.

"I had the top grades in my squadron, but they didn't tell me that at the time."

James soon secured himself a job as a lifeguard in Basildon. He was paid for two months' work and decided to go on the fateful holiday with friends to Tenerife.

But what was meant to be an enjoyable getaway left him just inches from taking his own life.

"This holiday didn't really go well," he explained. "Thinking back now it was all to do with me but I was projecting it on others. I felt isolated and didn't feel included.

"I had a big falling out one night with a friend, smashed up the hotel room. This was towards the end of the holiday.

"I decided to go for a walk to cool off but I couldn't, I was a little bit drunk as well which didn't help. That was when I decided the easiest way was to not be here anymore."

All alone in pitch black, James walked out into the sea. After a week of feeling isolated and without his usual escape, he felt it was the easiest way out.

"There was no thought in my head, I didn't care about anyone else," he said.

"I kept walking. It was like telling yourself you're tired and you're going to bed. I was just walking knowing it was all going to stop.

"With social anxiety you over-think things, but this time it was far from that, there was very little thought process.

"Before I knew it, the water was up to my neck."

But the mystery phone call stopped him.

James' anxiety has never gone away, but his acceptance of his disorder has allowed him to control his feelings.

"There's a negative attachment with anxiety so I struggle to go back to that time," James explained. "That's why I never told any of my family.

"I feel them everyday, but I don't battle with them anymore, they're just a part of me.

"It can be just as bad now but I have more control.

"I handle it through education, I don't take medication or have therapy. It was only four years ago when I discovered I had anxiety.

"I was working with mental health and my business partner said I might have social anxiety, but I was extremely resistant to accept it. I didn't think I had anything wrong, I was just miserable."

But when he started living by new rules, his life quickly improved. He accepted his anxiety and learnt how to deal with it.

James is now happily married to his wife, Rachel, and the couple have been together for 12 years.

Be part of the 'Speak Up for Essex Boys' campaign, all of whom will be telling their stories to raise awareness about speaking out.

Rachel recently gave birth to their first child, Finlay, and their relationship has given James the support he needed to tackle his mental health.

"She'd want to do something and then at the last minute my anxieties would flair up and I'd make any excuse not to do anything," he said.

"But she'd assume I just didn't want to do anything with her, and it killed me.

"It took me ten years to be able to surprise her, buying flowers, booking a restaurant. It had a big impact on my life but we now incorporate it into everything.

"Our wedding day was the best day we've had. There were no anxieties there, we planned it so meticulously and we didn't care what anyone thought, it was our day."

James is now the director of two companies, Fitness In Mind and Serene Fitness.

Through both, he and his business partners aim to improve people's mental health through physical activity.

"Everything I do now is focused on improving quality of life," he explained. "I get such a kick out of it.

"Our online training for Serene Fitness that launches in April will have a mental wellbeing section, and we're looking at opening a gym at the end of the year that helps with physical rehabilitation as well as mainstream gym programmes.

"The 12-week training programmes for Fitness In Mind showed us that you have to improve someone's mental health before you can improve their physical wellbeing.

"We'd socialise before and after the sessions, and gradually the social aspect improved their mental heath and then they were able to enjoy taking part in the activities."

According to James, the work Fitness In Mind did saved the NHS £3 million in social care every two years.

He has now created a  Go Fund Me page  to raise money for Fitness In Mind, the work for which he hasn't received a single penny in the five years it's been operating.

Mental health is far from straightforward, and it affects every sufferer differently.

But there is a wide range of support out there, people who can help you through even the toughest times. Sometimes a chat can be all it takes.

"It's easy for me to tell people to speak up now," James explained. "But so many people don't understand what they're going through.

"There are free resources out there, it's so hard but to fight through and talk to someone is going to be so worth it.

"And it's so important for the people listening. They need to be genuine with you and if they're not then you don't need that sort of person in your life.

"People have got to understand that it's real, but if you do notice a slight change in someone, try not to palm it off.

"Compassion and empathy is key. The more honest you are with someone the safer they feel."

If you need to speak to someone, Samaritans are available 24/7 by calling 116 123 or by emailing   [email protected]

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