Unless you’ve been there you can’t know the absolute horror, the bleakness of feeling so hopeless that you chose to try and end your life. It doesn’t even present itself as a choice; it’s like treading water in a flooding corridor and the only door with a fanlight, that you just might be able to break through, happens to have a little plaque that reads “Death”. It’s ironically like a survival instinct. If it leads you to air you imagine it might be like an embrace.
I know there are many who won’t understand this, I can’t honestly say I could if I hadn’t been through it but still I have never thought of people who die by suicide or survive attempted suicide as cowards. I know the strength of emotional pain and how it can suffocate hope. It angers me that people shame sufferers of this kind with labels such as weak or selfish. The bravest, strongest, most resiliant people I’ve met have been fellow patients in St Patrick’s Mental Health Hospital. They have also been some of the kindest and most compassionate people I had the good fortune to share time with. I suspect it is because they understand what it means to suffer, to battle relentlessly with depression while enduring panic attacks, psychosis for some, while sleep deprived, sometimes for months on end, while stigmatised, not just by strangers or mere acquaintances but by loved ones, and worst of all, self-stigmatised – feeling like a burden, a failure, worthless, pathetic and unlovable.
In the past I did believe no matter how low I sank I would choose life for the sake of my loved ones, I felt a comfort in that, I felt brave.
Then the time came when I felt I’d exhausted every avenue seeking help (G.P.s, mental health charities, counselling, exercise, supplements, medication, psychiatrists, hospital) to no avail. I’d lost the people I feared I would if I didn’t “hold it together” and I found myself in the loneliest place imaginable, that flooding corridor, and I tried to smash that fanlight and escape.
Now I know a little more of bravery, I know getting up again after that and grappling for hope was bravery, I know continuing on everyday through the hell of depression is bravery, especially now I’ve been in that flooding corridor time upon time and know I may well be again, messy and humiliated in a way very few understand. I’ll need to shout and shout for help, from under water. I’ll need to have the presence of mind to find and tell someone if I can’t surface for myself, not just any someone but a someone who can be compassionate and validating in a world of stigma and misunderstanding. Afterwards I’ll need to pick myself and the pieces back up and start again, live with the consequences to my career and relationships and continue on.
Don’t you dare call me a coward.