*** This post may be triggering for some readers. Please take care of yourselves. ***
September is drawing to a close and with it, Suicide Prevention Month. Talking about suicide is probably the most difficult conversation about mental health to be had. It’s also the most important. Frank discussions free from judgement and fear save lives – and not just in made-for-TV dramatic moments. Sometimes such a conversation can start an irreversible process of love and wonder. Not bad for just a few words.
To varying degrees, I’ve wanted to take my own life for over three years. I go through times where it’s just a thought – an idea that brings me comfort when life gets too hard – and these are interspersed with long and short periods where I’m more actively planning my demise. I’ve never really owned up to how close I’ve come to anyone, but this year’s had three very close calls already.
There are many ill-informed people among us who believe suicide to be a selfish act. It isn’t – at least not from the perspective of the person planning to take their own life. You genuinely believe that those you love and for some strange reason love you back will be better off without you. It feels like the greatest kindness you can offer them. I’m still here simply because there’s always been an almost imperceptible voice telling me that there might just be another way. I have hated that voice for three years. I resent it and have wanted rid of it on many occasions. But it would never go away.
Last week I met a wonderful woman. She’s warm, kind and humorous, insightful and incredibly intelligent. She also lost her son to his mental health issues. She told the group I was part of exactly how many days she had so far lived without him. I heard the pain in her voice and saw the tears in her eyes – and as I did, something changed inside of me, I believe irrevocably. I saw my own mother in her place. I saw my lovely dad trying to understand why his daughter was no longer with him. I heard my sister trying to explain to my niece where I’d gone. We’re hardly the perfect family (wouldn’t that be dull) but I knew from that moment, the one option I’d fallen back on so many times – the safety net that I felt kept me from the worst of life’s cruelties – had been pulled from my grasp. That moment was profound and the feeling has stayed with me for the seven days since it happened.
Given time to process such a life-changing event has made me realise that suicide was my safety blanket. It gave me an opt out clause when I didn’t feel able to deal with the crap life’s been throwing at me. It also meant that I didn’t have to face the shame I feel for being me. I tell myself the most horrible things all the time but have only just started tuning into them – before they were simply familiar background noise. If somebody else was whispering the same things in my ear I couldn’t stand a minute of it, but for some reason I tolerate bullying myself for every waking minute of every single day. According to my brain I’m fat (we’re talking massive), vile, deformed, evil, broken, pointless, an embarrassment…you get the picture. It constantly plays on a loop in my head and means that when people are nice to me I can’t stand it – it’s too jarring against the image I have of myself. Wheel out Mr Nasty and I’m back in my comfort zone. And that’s it (don’t you just love a massive realisation whilst typing?) – suicidal thoughts and my horrendously negative self-image have kept me in my comfort zone, an area so small that it would fit on a postage stamp. It’s why I struggle to leave the house and why socialising is beyond me. Who’d want to be seen with me?
Well, no more. Enough is enough. My life has become a grey, joyless existence and I’m sick of it. I know that there are no quick solutions to this, I’ve thought this way for far too long and because of that it’s familiar and comforting in it’s own right. Just as when a child is weaned off their blankie it will be hard – a small step of progress followed by long periods of inertia or retreat. But I will do it. I can do it. I’ve lost my own grown-up (and slightly f*@?ed up) safety blanket and that’s fine – I need to learn to live without it.
On reflection, it’s probably more accurate to simply say that I need to learn to live.