Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, but not many people know that. Partly because it isn’t really considered a suitable topic for casual conversation, as opposed to say a broken arm, and partly because a lot of people operate under the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ way of thinking. It’s a taboo subject, it’s a hard subject to listen too but it’s screaming out to be heard. People are still under the illusion that simply because its symptoms are often invisible, then it’s not a real illness. That because they can’t touch it, or put a plaster on it, that it isn’t there.
Here’s some sobering facts: Suicide claims more lives than murder, war and natural disasters combined. In the UK and the United States, it’s the fourth leading cause of death between the ages of 15-64. Every day in America there are around 117 people that take their own life. A day lasts 144o minutes, so that’s one every 12.3 minutes. And the majority of those deaths have a direct correlation to depression. Tell me again it’s not real, that it’s all in someone’s head?
A few years ago I lost someone really dear to me through suicide, that person was my cousin Jamie. The kicker is that I never even knew she was struggling. I just woke up one day to a phone call from my aunt with the harrowing news. I remember just sitting there as she told me; it felt surreal, fake. My immediate emotional response was denial, followed by guilt, then followed by feelings of jealousy and then burning anger; and I’ll explain why I felt like that:
Those who know me know I struggle with depression and anxiety. I’m never not honest about it, but I quite often don’t speak up about it. Prior to the loss of my cousin I had a tried to take my own life. I’d woken up one morning during a very dark period of my life, got dressed for work and as I left my house found a box of my medication in my pocket. I remember how low I felt. I’d recently had my heart broken, my life and plans had derailed and I was constantly laced with this feeling of terror. That morning, as I headed to bus station after saying goodbye to my dad, I decided I had had enough. I took one of the tablets. Then two, three, four…I kept walking for over a mile, every few steps swallowing another pill. Eventually I reached a bench and composed my goodbyes to send via text. The police found me, I don’t remember much more other than waking up in hospital before having a violent seizure which nearly killed me.
I won’t get into much more detail, but the end result was obviously I didn’t succeed in my attempt. During the following months my cousin Jamie and her sister were an incredible support to me. They weren’t over bearing, but they were there whenever I needed them – even if it was just to watch movies or go over to their house for a while. So when I found Jamie had taken her life a small part of me blamed myself. Why wasn’t I there for her like she was there for me? We hadn’t spoken in months, life got in the way, but I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I could have maybe helped. After the guilt I felt jealous. I was still wrestling with my demons at the time, fighting those thoughts, self-harming as well. How did she manage to get out and I couldn’t?
Misery isn’t a competitive sport, but when my cousin took her own life the feeling of jealousy was immediate. Of course I was sad, heartbroken. I felt for my family so deeply, but underneath all that I was jealous. I was jealous and angry. I was jealous I was still here and angry because she was not. In Kate Bush’s classic Running Up That Hill there’s a lyric ‘If I only could make a deal with God, I’d get him to change our places’ and every time I hear that line I can’t help but feel that I would trade places with her. She was golden; she was beautiful and caring and funny. A mother, daughter and sister. Intelligent, loyal, unique. She offered more to this world than I ever could. So how was it fair I had been saved but I couldn’t save her?
I know it was so messed up to feel like that. To feel jealous that someone died and I didn’t, but that is testament and proof of how many poisonous thoughts depression seeps into your head. Every time I go back home I try and make time to visit her grave. I don’t always bring flowers, but I do always sit and talk. I’m not overtly religious, I don’t know if she can hear me, but I always ask her for forgiveness for not being there for her and for feeling how I felt when it happened.
The anger still lingers to this day. It’s not anger at her, but anger at myself, at the world; anger at the situation that put my cousin in that dark place – the same one she had helped me get out of. Anger that the world still rolls its eyes at people who feel ‘like that.’ Anger that people with thin skin, people like me, are considered little more than overly sensitive, weak, cowardly … Anger that I may have beat it that day, but still can’t overcome it even now.
I have bad periods still; I have blips and off days. Nights when I drink too much and stay up till four or five in the morning. Nights when I sleep with people not out of the urge for sex, but rather the need for solace. I battle suicidal thoughts at least once a week. That’s how it has always been. No matter what medication I get put on, it still appears, but I combat it now with writing and exercise. But once a week, that’s how often the thought creeps into my head. But through years of practice and training I manage to stop myself ever going there again.
Sometimes I think back to the broken bones I’ve had or the bloody noses and the black eyes and pray that I could swap this internal, unseen pain, for an external psychical one. Because the mind is infinite; it is eternal. It doesn’t heal and medication only solves around 40% of the problem. The other 60% is up to the person. Depression makes you feel alone, so when you feel down you don’t feel like you can go to anyone – try solving 60% of the problem when you feel like that.
I’ll break it down for you: Imagine breaking your leg in the middle of the forest and there is a wild animal after you, an animal that wants nothing more than to devour you whole. That’s what fighting depression feels like. You’re alone. You’re unable to move. You’re being hunted and consumed by something you cannot outrun and mostly cannot fight. Depression is sharp, it’s hungry, it’s consuming. I know not everyone will read this, that it won’t alter their mindset in regards to depression, it may even provoke a few ‘what an attention seeker’ remarks. But it’s those remarks that cause lives to be lost.
You don’t have to be a doctor or a nurse or a superhero to save someone’s life if they are depressed and potentially suicidal, all you need to do is listen. All you need to do is be a decent human.