Let’s Talk About Suicide

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.

Bit O’ Background

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you” – Mary Angelou

I was always a bit on the anxious side as a child. My first memory of feeling very depressed was at age 11. When I was about 17 I got my first panic attack – I had no idea what it was or why I felt like I couldn’t breathe, I knew I just needed to escape, to run, to squirm away from what felt like hands around my throat. For a long time I was so embarrassed and ashamed of the panic attacks, I felt weak and pathetic, dramatic and ridiculous. I feared what people thought of me, I wondered why I wasn’t strong and together like I believed everyone else was. I’m still learning to try and let the frustration at myself go after an episode of panic, to leave it behind and move on.
A few times in my life I have suffered from periods of overwhelming depression, including a spell in a mental health hospital. Depression for me is like being transported to a whole other universe; it looks a lot like this one but it’s cold and oppressive and no one really wants me around. I feel like I’m a burden on everyone. I feel like a parasite and the only solution I can see is one that involves removing myself from the equation. I overwhelmingly feel a sense of loss and grief, for what, I’m not quite sure.
It is important for people experiencing mental anguish to know it’s a human condition, anybody can suffer from mental health issues and some of the most admirable people who have walked and are currently walking this earth have suffered or are battling with mental health issues. We have just as much right as anyone else to seek help and to want to be happy.
The first psychiatrist I ever attended wasn’t the right practitioner for me, which can be frustrating and scary. I attended quite a few doctors and therapists who I couldn’t relate to so the jouney thus far has had many ups, downs, set-backs and topsy-turvey loops. Recovery isn’t always linear, in my experience it’s more like playing snakes and ladders which is why it’s so crucial to have support, a friend who understands and will listen, even if it’s just the number to the Samaritans saved in your phone. Samaritans’ 24 hour Helpline Ireland: 116 123
Getting the right kind of help is not always easy but things are improving in the area of mental health, don’t give up, there are good therapists and services out there. If you don’t feel you are being listened to or treated with respect find someone else, trust your gut on this, don’t doubt yourself, you’ll know if something is working for you or not. If you have a close friend or family member who can come with you to visit the GP or a therapist don’t feel you can’t accept their help, or don’t feel you can’t ask for it. The voice telling you not to put people out with your “silly little problem” is not reason, it’s the depression talking, everyone needs support from time to time. Being assertive is so difficult when you are down, your energy is missing, your body is flooded with stress hormones and your self esteem is at an all time low. This is the very reason there is not a drop of shame in asking someone you trust to support you and even advocate for you when you need it.

Eventually a clinical psychologist introduced me to Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT), this really helped me and my particular difficulties and I’m moving forward.