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.

STIGy-wigMA

We all live in our own worlds, if someone says the world is a scary place, their world is. You might be thinking “what are they on about, why can’t they smell the flowers?” They probably can but who stops to smell the flowers when you’re being chased by a pack of wolves? It’s all context and everyone’s is different. Our genetics, our emotional learning, what parts of the brain were activated or not activated enough throughout our lives (especially in our youth) all create the world we experience.

For those of you who think mental health difficulties are a sign of personal failure please consider my wolf pack analogy; It’s a big ask to expect someone to behave like they are not under threat when their brain is sending them signals that they indeed are, their world isn’t safe, they are unprotected. How would you fare in a similar situation? Would you “pull it together”? Yet, that is what we mental health sufferers have to learn to do, that is what we have to wade through to recover and currently most of us are doing it in the isolated arena of stigma.

There is a supposition out there that people with mental health difficulties are irrational, unreasonable. We can be at times, just like anyone else, we can also be very cool-headed and logical. Trying to shrug off emotional distress as just hysterics, being over-dramatic or over-sensitive is just shaming people. Plus watch out for karma because your brain functions essentially the same way as our brain does, throw a knob of trauma into your circumstances or a pinch of loss, a dollop of being undermined or unsupported, boil off a coping mechanism or whatever is enabling you to keep feelings and fears buried (maybe you run out of distractions or can’t access them) and viola! your kitchen is on fire.

Joseph Conrad’s quote from Heart of Darkness comes to me sometimes when I feel really lonely, “We live as we dream – alone . . “. Are we all really shut off from each other, dreaming of a connection and intimacy that in reality can only ever be fleeting? An absence we must constantly live with because our taunting minds can dream? Or can we love and care for each other, understand each other, help each other?

We do have the capacity for compassion and empathy, we are able to relate to other people’s emotional burdens, we can try anyway. Sure why not give it a bash, all any of us really have for sure is an undetermined amount of time, let’s spend it together.

Bit O’ Background

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

My name is Aisling and these are my mind memoirs.

I was always a bit on the anxious side, even as a child. 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 the 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 so important for people experiencing this to know they are cared about, wanted, important, worthy. Depression is not a weakness inherent to you alone, it is a human condition and can happen to anybody (some of the most admirable people who have walked and are currently walking this earth have suffered with mental health issues). You have just as much right as anyone else suffering 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, but it was the start of a journey towards recovery. 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. Medication was tried and it didn’t work but for some people it works wonders. 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 understood 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 family member or friend 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 – “Can you come with me to the doctor/therapist? I am so scared”.

I have now found a clinical psychologist who fits me and my particular difficulties and I’m moving forward.