I am what Instagram and online articles like to refer to as the “toxic” friend. I’m sure you’ve seen this on the cover of Cosmo before, “How to eliminate toxic people from your life!”. There are few headlines that chill me to the bone and ignite my fear of abandonment more that this. I am terrified that if any of my limited group of friends were to scroll through that click bait that they would instantly realise that they indeed have that person in their life, and whaddyaknow?, it is yours truly! What isn’t given in those articles is the other point of view and in the light of so many high profile suicides of late, I would like to offer just that. I understand that suicide is an incredibly vulnerable subject and an exceptionally individual experience. So, keep in mind that this is solely my recount of living with long-term suicidal ideation and how this has impacted the way I view suicide as a form of death.
I know that my suicidality annoys people. There, there, it’s okay, I’m aware. It’s not that people are inherently unkind or selfish, but generally speaking, humans are fixers. We see an issue, we want to fix it and move on. Done and dusted! So when confronted with a “problem” that seemingly has no quick fix or cure, it makes us increasingly uncomfortable and frustrated. As sufferers of suicidal ideation we already feel as though we are a burden on those around us, and being that we are largely quite sensitive individuals we can sense this frustration and blame ourselves. We in turn want to “fix” what is causing your frustration, but knowing (or simply assuming) that we are the cause, can mean that we hide away and isolate ourselves more as to not upset you. Sadly, this response furthers our loneliness and discontent, and pushes away what ultimately is the only remedy; love and a sense of belonging.
Fostering an accepting community is key for a sense of wellbeing. Without it we are like the lost lamb of the herd; alone, disoriented and vulnerable to threat. This forces us to tap into our survival instincts, and being that humans are pack animals, this places a huge strain on one little lamby’s (or persons’) shoulders. In N.A. (narcotics anon.) the importance of community is held at the highest regard. The statement “let us love you back to health,”, is heard time and again. A simple, but powerful statement (if a tad culty). At the same token, what walked most of us into that room was the crushing loneliness and sense of complete and utter overwhelm, that drove us to our addictions in the first place. I have said it before and I truly believe that loneliness and isolation is a killer. So, what the funk do we do? We can stay in bed, hidden under the blankets and surrounded by crumbs of old food and an empty bottle of vodka. Not a terrible option when you feel like nothing matters. Or… we can do our darndest to pull up our mouldy socks and slap on a fake-ass smile, in the hopes that maybe spending time with us isn’t completely unbearable and we will feel less painfully alone. However, this is exhausting. Just as it is for you to spend time with us when we feel like shite. I get it, it is intimidating to be around the angry, volatile gal. It’s boring and draining to hang out with the sad, mopey boy. And it is uncomfortable and at times even awkward or embarrassing, to be around the emotionally unstable cray bish (it’s cool, I can say that coz I’m 70% cray). It’s not ideal and we may not even be able to show our gratitude, but trust me, your friendship is appreciated.
All death is difficult, but for some reason there is an added heaviness in our hearts when we hear about someone taking their own life. I am in two minds about this. I feel incredible sadness for the intensely agonising place someone must be in, in order to go against every single animal instinct that their body, mind and spirit has evolved to protect them from. But I, maybe unusually, feel immense joy for their current freedom. Let’s think on that for a moment. Literally since we were tiny little, single-celled amoeba bobbing about this mortal coil, we have been biologically programmed to survive and reproduce. Survive and reproduce. That’s our only job. So in order for a person to have the “desire” to take their own life and then follow through with that action, they must be in such an extreme state of distress, for a long enough period of time, to override their own chemical make up. That is not a small feat. The stages involved in musing about, planning, and then finally acting on a suicide attempt, are many and complex. There is the agonising about every layer of leaving loved ones, comparing the pain of staying with the freedom of nothingness, the fear of what actually going through with it might feel like or look like to those who find you, how people might perceive you and call you a coward who took the “easy way out” (seriously, don’t even get me started! It boils my blood when I hear that.), the list is endless. This is important to consider because it shows us that not only are we overriding our own animal instinct, but we must somehow override the voices of the external world and our own logical mind, not once, but at each and every stage, many times over, before any action would ever take place. This is a person in desperation.
In my experience (and I’m sure many professionals will disagree), prior to finding the correct treatment, depression is a progressive disease. I found myself advancing to a new stage in my mind each time a major depressive spell, which lead into suicidal thinking, occurred. When I first started having suicidal thoughts as a teenager, I wouldn’t necessarily want to die, I just wished I didn’t exist anymore. I’d fantasize about getting hit by a truck and boom! Lights out! That sounded easy to me. Over time and over many years and extensive traumas, these thoughts evolved. As my internal pain became deeper and more incessant, my thoughts of suicide became more detailed and held more conviction. Right up until 18-months ago, when I was checked into a facility and asked point blank, how I would do “it” by the on-call physician. I looked at him with tired, sunken eyes and without a moments hesitation told him my game plan. I had been over it in my head a million times by this point and the only thing preventing me from acting it out was the last tiny glimmer of internal strength I had left. I had no fear of death or dying, and this still rings true today. In fact, I was looking forward to it. I think that’s when you know you’ve checked out. Of course, the bastard then went on to debunk my “genius” plan of self destruction and described to me in intimate detail how it both, wouldn’t work and would in fact make my, and my families’ lives much worse. Ughhhhhh, fine I won’t kill myself! Farrrrrrrck! So, in hindsight…cheers dude, you saved my life. Even if I did spend the next hour abusing you for ripping away what, at the time, seemed like my last hope for relief. Saaaarry!
Even though I am no longer actively suicidal, I have noticed that spending so long in that place has fucked with my neural pathways a bit. I am very quick to jump to suicide as a “solution” to a comparatively minor problem. “Oh nooooiii I lost my slipper! I wish I was dead!”. Okay that may be a slight exaggeration, but the point is, it’s disproportionate. Thankfully, these spells only last a few days or weeks now, which may sound a lot, but compared to TWO BLOODY, MOTHER FEKKING YEARS (hem hem…excuse me, still working though some shtuff…), it’s doable. The other thing that has warped in me wee brain hole is that I find the idea of bringing a child into the world a really horrific concept, and not just because I hear you are meant to poop it out of your delicate lady pocket (that’s science bitches)! No, I’ve never really wanted kids, but that was more from a desire to be a 90’s-Ally McBeal-inspired, career gal. Now it is much more driven by the bone-chilling fear that any child born with my DNA is not only susceptible to cancer and chronic illness, but also holds the potential of developing several debilitating mental illnesses and being raised on a view that the world is a giant cesspool of darkness and suffering! Also Trump is president. So like… I dunno if it’s for moi. Additionally, I have the genuine concern that if I was to have a child, I cannot guarantee that I could survive if I fell into another long-term suicidal episode. It sounds ridiculous I’m sure. “How could you not stick around for your baby?”, “Just think of their smile and all your problems drift into oblivion!” blah blah, motherhood is a gift, blah blah. But being suicidal is not just a deep sadness. It is an all-consuming rotting of your heart and ripping of your soul. It is the sense that you will never ever feel anything but despair, darkness and loneliness for the rest of your life. It is heavy and gnawing and you can feel it physically in the twisting of your gut, the aching of your heart and the heavy, dragging of your limbs. It is desperately trying to stay alive when every second your entire being is begging you to be put out of its misery. It is being on your death bed, without a plug to pull. No release is coming for you. Pure and simple, it is hell on earth. I survived it once. I made it. But, I can not and will not promise a tiny human that I could do that again.
I cannot imagine the hell my mother went through as we sat on my bed together and I wept uncontrollably and desperately begged her to let me die. Begged! I just wanted the permission to let go. Of course she was never going to say “sure kiddo!” and send me on my way. I don’t believe what lead me to this place is necessarily important, but essentially it was a combination of several mental health issues, chronic physical illness and a series of significant deaths and losses that occurred in a very short period of time. Basically, my brain imploded in on itself. I have this theory that a certain amount of trauma strengthens us, but that there is a tipping point at which it becomes too much and we start to buckle under the pressure. From that place, in my experience, it’s hard to rebuild from the rubble. Not impossible, but certainly much more difficult, and that’s where I live now. In a kind of limbo.
I have always said, I am an acquired taste. To quote Ramona Singer, who clearly needs no introduction (but just for the record is an O.G. from The Real Housewives of New York), “I’m an acquired taste. If you don’t like me, acquire some taste!” Okay, she’s brash and entirely unlikeable, but she’s got a point. I acknowledge I am a difficult person to get close to, and some may argue, even more difficult to be close to. I don’t have a large group of friends, but the people that have chosen me and accepted me have proven to love me through seriously fucking ugly times. When in a deep depression, people inevitably fall away, and it will hurt like a mother fuck! People you thought would be there through thick and thin will disappear and never come back (I know. Fuck, it’s a real gut punch!). What I have learned is that some (many) people just can’t handle watching someone else suffer, and even more can’t stand the feeling of helplessness that comes with that. It fucking sucks major monkey balls! It really does. But hear this, it is not about you being a burden or a giant pain in the arse. It’s their own baggage burdening them. It’s horrible, especially when you are going through a period of suicidal feelings because you already feel completely alone. I feel you! But if you can, look out for the people who are still on your team through those times. I have constantly been surprised by the people who have come out of the wood works to offer support, friendship, a drink of wine, or an ear to whine at, and from those have come some extremely significant friendships.
Honestly (and unfortunately), this is a hindsight thing. In my experience it is practically impossible to see who is there for you while you are in the midst of it all, and that makes it really tough. It must be tough on the friends that are there too, because I’m sure they feel like they are doing as much as they can, but it’s just not penetrating. Soz y’all! My advice to loved ones would be to become really overt with your affections. Don’t send wishy washy texts like “let me know if you need me/anything.”, this is not helpful. We need so much we don’t even know what we need! Something more like, “OMG you showered today! I’m so proud of you!”, or “I’m picking you up in 10, you need an airing out.”. Don’t organise long outings, they are exhausting; coffee breaks and little walks are plenty. Bring some food like you would if someone was sick, coz um…they are! It’s so easy to forget that. Man, if I received the amount of casseroles I got when I had cancer, while I was terminal with depression, well hot damn!, I would’ve been so full of stewed meats I’d forget what ever made me blue in the first place! Alternatively, if you are too busy or someone who struggles to physically engage in difficult situations, take a page one of my beautiful friends’ book and send a box of personalised goodies. A couple of my girlies got together and created a kind of gift box full of simple stuff like chocolates, coloured pencils, a colouring book, some letters of support and calming tea. It made me realise that I was important enough to somebody to have spent time thinking about. I remember feeling like, “oh my god, I exist!”. Which was bizarre, after feeling like I was less of a person and more of an empty, expansive void for the longest time.
I know I’ve been a bit playful with such a serious topic; I dunno, tears of a clown or some shit. But the issue of having an invisible illness has never been more clear to me than when I was suicidal. I previously used the world “terminal” and I chose that word purposefully, because I have first hand experience that suicide is not a choice. I could seriously rant about this, but I think it is really one of those things that if you haven’t experienced suicidal ideation, it is quite difficult to make sense of. Alternatively, if you have, you will unequivocally know that given the “choice” to feel any differently, of course you would. As previously mentioned, it is not in our genetic make-up to want to die. That indicates something is seriously wrong. In fact, the strength it takes to not commit suicide is actually ludicrous. Lu-da-cris! I have never pulled so much strength from such piddly little reserves in all my life. There is no doubt, I was dying. It was slow, and excruciating, and all I wanted was for it to be over. Today I work extremely hard on maintaining my mental health and building my resilience to, well…existence essentially. But for the most part my brain is still like a bowl of mashed potatoes, trying to be squashed back into its jacket and pretending to fit in. I am forever changed; I predominantly view the world with a thin film of shit smeared over the lens, and I live in a perpetual state of existential crisis, but the fact that I am no longer actively suicidal provides insurmountable relief. Zomg I am so fun! Yikes…
Fuck, who knew I had so much to say! Just a couple more things. You are doing so well!
The reason I wanted to explore how much long-term depression, ruminating thoughts and overriding our survival instincts comes into being actively suicidal, is because of the push-back against important programs like 13 Reasons Why, which explores mental illness and suicidal subject matter. The comment that these programs might be glorifying suicide is honestly laughable to me. Anyone who is contemplating suicide does not watch a program and think, “Ya know what, I didn’t think of that! Great idea!”. No, they have most likely been obsessing about it for years before any planning or attempt ever takes place. The most it could do is plant a seed for the ‘how’ of it all, but at the end of the day, someone who doesn’t want to die will be as inspired to commit suicide by a television program, as someone who does will be swayed not to, by watching I dunno…something fun, Full House.? Yes. Great modern example… It’s just not going to have an influence. As much as it may seem like it at the time, suicide is not something that just happens on a whim.
My final comment is on the remarks that have come out about the high profile suicides recently. I have read a lot of statements about how Robin Williams was such a fun, generous man, Kate Spade was such a bright and talented woman, and Anthony Bourdain was successful and inspiring. All of these comments may be true but it doesn’t mean they didn’t suffer from depression or mental illness. I think there is a misconception that if you have depression, that you are always sad. Just walking around, dragging your feet and moping constantly. It’s not true. You go through periods of depression that may or may not have triggers and sometimes you can cope with them, and other times you can’t. Personally, I am a pretty pessimistic person (if you hadn’t yet figured that out), but I am still fun, funny, interesting, totes adorbs, stunningly good looking (am I getting derailed? Soz), and can experience love and joy, just like anybody else. It may be harder and I certainly need medication and a team of doctors to keep my mash potato brains in place, but it is not that suicide comes out of no where and nobody saw it coming. It is that for whatever reason, on that particular day of their life, it got too hard to fight. It is not a choice, it is not a weakness, or a giving up. It is a death. And personally it is a death I choose to celebrate, because here is somebody who was suffering a great deal, who has finally got the peace and freedom they couldn’t find in this limited physical realm.
People who are suicidal need your love now. While they are at the most unlovable, ugly, irritating versions of themselves. Once they are gone, we can and should celebrate these incredibly individual, sensitive and empathetic people, because they are finally, after a life of struggle, at peace. And I know I am a weirdo, but to me, that is a beautiful thing.
Suicide helpline Australia: https://www.lifeline.org.au/ or call 131114
CATT: I have personally used and can endorse the Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team. They were fabulous when I needed them the most. Call: 1300 721 927