This post originally appeared on Medium. I’m cross-posting here in the interests of updating this, my personal blog, to where I am in my life now.
The following article talks about topics of self-harm and suicide that readers may find distressing. Please look after yourselves. Talk about this with those closest to you, check in on each other, and if you find yourself suffering with similarly dark thoughts, please reach out for professional help.
In the UK you can call The Samaritans on 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also ask your GP for an emergency appointment or call 111 out of hours. If you are in mortal danger, please call 999 for the emergency services.
For more information see https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/suicide/
We need to talk about it
As a society we are more aware than ever of the importance of good mental health. Whereas it used to be the case that people exhibiting signs of mental illness were shuttered away from the rest of the world and subjected to extreme forms of electroconvulsive therapy, treatments such as talking therapy, CBT and mindfulness practices are much more commonplace, and social media platforms can sometimes be healthy arenas to share our individual struggles collectively.
That said, there still remains a lot of stigma around the symptoms of mental illness, and particularly around self-harm and suicide. A lot of the focus in our media is around the ‘selfishness’ of suicide and the trigger that caused someone to attempt to end their own life. The same press that talks about the tragedy of the people lost to suicide also ridicules anyone who talks too openly about their experience. There is a vulnerability and ugliness associated with mental illness. We’re made to feel it’s too uncomfortable to talk about and yet still expected to simply ask for help.
I’ve had a crisis of my own recently and I want to talk openly about it. I want other people to know my experience so that perhaps they will feel they can talk about these issues. I will be talking about self-harm and suicide, therefore I would strongly encourage anyone who reads the following to talk this through with those close to you. I am already getting the support I need, but first and foremost please look after yourselves.
Suicide isn’t always ‘a cry for help’
On the 25th July 2019 I attempted to end my own life. I took myself to a remote location, cut my arm several times and waited to die. While I am comfortable talking about it, I won’t go into further detail about the specifics since I recognise I have a duty of care (see the Samaritans guidelines for reporting suicide)
I need to unpack the reasons behind it but it’s not as straightforward or as easily packaged as having a single trigger. Human beings are complicated. For all intents and purposes I am happy with my life: I have a loving wife, I now have a fantastic career and i’ve made some close friends during my studies. I do recognise that I have faced a lot of traumatic events over the last few years and I have been suffering with low self-esteem for months now. I also experience relationships strongly and find myself wishing that some of them were deeper than they are. While I don’t always feel it on the surface, I know I have emotional baggage to work through.
Mental illness is prevalent in my family, however i’ve never had a diagnosis myself. I am the ‘strong’, ‘dependable’ one: again, consider how loaded those terms are, as if mental illness is a sign of weakness (it’s really not). Undiagnosed or not, mental illness and its associated disorders including mood disorders (clinical depression, bipolar disorder etc) can affect anyone. Depression is not ‘feeling a bit sad’ and mental illness is not something you can simply be cured of. It’s a lifelong, often hidden, struggle that requires continuous care and management of its symptoms.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about Robin Williams, one of my childhood heroes, and the discussion around the circumstances of his death. I’ve always believed suicide isn’t a selfish act. I know there are people who believe otherwise however I find that both incredibly naive and dangerous. For all the outpouring of love over such a tragic loss, there were still toxic articles that criticised Robin Williams for ‘choosing’ to take his own life, as if depression could be so rational.
By its very nature, the mindset of someone having suicidal thoughts is warped and otherwise rational thoughts are difficult to grasp. To find yourself in that state is to be in a lot of pain. (For all the joy he brought into this world, Robin Williams suffered depression, anxiety and paranoia as a result of Diffuse Lewy Body Disease)
As for myself, at the time it felt selfless. I knew i’d made some difference in the world and I felt that that was enough. I honestly felt that I could only go downhill from here and that the world would truly be better off without me in it, without those around me seeing me fail. I thought that by taking matters into my own hands I was being kind to those around me and that I could just disappear quietly.
Suicide is not an ‘easy way out’
Its actually an awfully painful experience. It’s an assault on a body that doesn’t know how to die. Every cell in your body knows only how to live and fights for every inch. I can still vividly recall the process of attempting to end my life and it’s not something I ever want to experience again. I feel physically repulsed by the memory now.
It’s also not something you just walk away from. If you follow me on Twitter or have had a conversation with me this week, this article will likely come as a complete shock: i’m still functioning and responding to others just as I normally would. However, I think that’s my mind’s way of compartmentalising, of protecting itself. I have no illusions that as much as I am ‘okay’, i’m obviously not and I need professional help. I’m making the most of this grace period to reach out to the relevant services and put those structures in place as I wait for the other shoe to drop.
Surviving suicide means living in a body that carries that mark, both physically and psychologically. I have been incredibly fortunate that I didn’t do any lasting damage to myself and that, given time, my body will heal. I hurt in other places though — shoulder, chest, thighs — as my body compensates for my new, unnatural posture.
I’m acutely aware of time. The number of days I never thought i’d see. The hours lying awake at night, unable to sleep, waiting until it’s an appropriate time to get up. The painfully slow process of medical recovery, hospital appointments and referrals.
I’ve also lost some trust in myself. What has gone so wrong that I couldn’t see any other alternative but the path I took? I’ve suffered from suicidal ideation in the past but always pushed through and never acted on my thoughts. Now I find myself asking why this time was different.
I’ve survived and i’m glad to still be here, but I won’t be the same. I can’t be. There will be physical scars but the real scars will be with me for the rest of my life and won’t just be borne by me.
Suicide doesn’t just happen to one person
Therein lies the rub: it’s difficult to appreciate at the time but everyone of us has made an impact on the people around us and will continue to do so long after we’re gone. Taking your own life is not without consequences for everyone who knows you. I’m painfully aware now just how much hurt this whole episode has caused and how much more it could have caused, were I no longer here. Even still being here, will people now be constantly worried about me? Will the trauma of this week’s events resurface every time i’m running late or they don’t know where I am?
I feel an enormous weight of responsibility now to the people around me. I am not ashamed of what I did: I want to own it, to understand it, to express it, and to use this experience to help others talk about it. But I am also mindful of how traumatising this is for those around me. Some people will be angry with me or afraid for me, while others will see this as a failing on their part. The truth is no-one could have seen this coming. This isn’t a reflection on the close relationships i’ve developed and my priority now is to protect everyone from further pain.
I’ve been trying to talk openly about it while very deliberately making sure no-one is alone when I talk to them and that they know they can talk to each other about this. We all need a support network and I know from past experience how easily it is to let yourself be consumed by giving so much of yourself to other people at the expense of your own health.
Despite my desire for transparency, I still find myself having to hide it. If I don’t know you and you ask what happened, I can only divert your attention with a joke. No-one wants to hear that I tried to take my own life, especially without being prepared for it. I am comfortable walking around with my bandages showing, but not when i’m at work. I have been able to speak openly about it with my employer — and they have been amazing — but I don’t want to put this weight on the wider team. Later still, when I have scars, I can see myself having to cover them up when children are around. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to bring that conversation into their world that young.
I’m hiding it from friends and my own family too. There’s never a good time to break this news to anyone but they have stresses of their own at the moment and, with the mental health struggles in my own family, I know that it would be irresponsible to drop this on them right now. I would therefore ask anyone who knows me personally to avoid sharing this where they will see it, at least for now. I’m getting the help I need from my wife, my in-laws and professional counselling services in the meantime.
If there’s a takeaway from all of this it’s one of gratitude. I’m grateful that i’m still here and that I have a second chance at life. I’m also grateful to those who are supporting me for their patience and understanding. No-one is walking on egg shells around me (yet) and I don’t want them to feel they have to. I want them to be themselves around me — ask the difficult questions if they need to — but make themselves a priority too.
I’m also grateful to our wonderful NHS. While i’m experiencing some of the bureaucracy of the referral process, I can’t fault the front line staff. Their professionalism and care has been outstanding in the face of such a difficult situation.
If this article has helped you, take the lessons here and pass them on. It’s never wrong to talk about your mental health. Check in on your loved ones and ring up that friend you’ve been meaning to contact for ages. It will very likely make all the difference and can only lead to more positive outcomes for everyone.
Above all else, be kind to each other.