Mental Health is a funny thing. It is, in many ways, our very essence, whether it is good or bad, it’s who we are at that moment in time. Our mental state is very personal, it’s the only one we will ever experience. I’ve no idea what it’s like to be in your head and you’ve no idea what it’s like to be in mine. Sure, we can talk about it, try our best to put it into words, but we can’t ever feel it, live it, be subsumed by it, like we are with our own.
The fact you only ever have that one viewpoint is odd. Things that seem normal to you are abnormal to someone else. Things are deeply ingrained in your psyche, things that you’ve never spoken about, but have just naturally assumed are “normal”, because it’s been a part of you for as long as you can remember. Then someone looks inside and says “hang on a minute, that’s not normal”.
So that brings me on to suicidal thoughts. I have a “relationship” with suicidal thoughts. I’ve had them on a regular basis for as long as I can remember, back to my early teens. It’s a state of mind I’m used to, that I know very well, that’s familiar and comfortable, and it’s only recently that I’ve recognised that this isn’t normal. Sure, I’ve always know it’s not something to talk about for fear of being labelled “crazy” and carted off to some institution in a straightjacket… but we all think about it at some point… right?
It’s hard to talk about because you know it can produce a strong emotional reaction in people, and yet to me it’s almost mundane.
“Yeah I regularly have thoughts about killing myself. Doesn’t everyone? Oh”.
“No, I’m not about to go and kill myself. I just think everything would be better if I didn’t exist.”
(honestly I think this explains it better than I ever could)
It’s hard to talk about something that to you feels so mundane but that also causes such a big reaction in people. I don’t want to upset people. I don’t want to make a massive deal out of something that is, to me, just a part of life. I’ll just keep it to myself. I’ve got a handle on it, I’m in control, it’s fine. If I mention it everyone is going to make a fuss, and I’ll have to go to see Doctors and they won’t think it’s a big deal, and it will just have been a load of fuss about nothing.
I think the first time I mentioned it to anyone was to my girlfriend at the time about 3 years ago (I think). She worked for a company that sell various assessments to psychologists and the like. She was learning one of the new tests and was going through it, using me as a test subject so she could see how it all worked. So in amongst a load of questions she asks something along the line of “Do you have suicidal thoughts?” and I remember I flash of terror. I’m no good at lying, if someone asks me a direct question I can’t bring myself to lie. I certainly can’t lie to my, at the time, long term girlfriend. “Shit. I’ve already taken too long thinking about this. I can see it in her eyes. This was supposed to be one I quickly said no to like the ones about have you ever had a stroke or whatever it was. Bollocks.” “um… Yes”. Then it happens, you can see their expression change. You can see you’ve upset them. A wave of unimaginable sadness crashes over them. They look like you’ve just told them a particularly tragic story about a particularly adorable puppy, I mean, a really, adorable puppy. “Are you alright?” you ask. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you”. You end up consoling them, assuring them it’s alright. In this particular instance we had a chat and she convinced me to talk to my doctor about it. I agree, mostly to put her mind at ease. That’s how conversations with friends and family go when you mention suicidal thoughts.
So I go to see my GP, crippled with anxiety. Knowing I have to talk about it, in my mind one of two things is going to happen. I’ll be dismissed with it being “nothing”, or even worse I’ll be carted off by the people in white coats. In my mind there is no middle ground. I’m finally called in, I think I start with “I’m feeling down” or something suitable vague, but I need to ease myself in. I can’t just stroll in and go “Doc, I regularly think about killing myself! What would you prescribe?”. It’s nearly impossible to get the words out of my mouth, my voice is quiet and weak, shaking with fear, tears are building behind my eyes “sometimes the thought of… suicide… sort of… crosses my mind” and then I do everything I can to play it down “it’s fine, it doesn’t happen often. Just thought I should mention it.”. Again a similar thing happens to the person you’re talking to, except this time it’s not a flood of emotion you see on the person opposite, but seriousness. “Okay we can give you some medication if you would be willing to? Some people don’t like the thought of antidepressants but we do find they do some good. There might be some other services we can refer you too?” “No just the pills will be fine. It’s nothing really. I don’t want to cause a fuss”. I don’t think I need anything more, I’d just be denying those services from someone who really needs them. Then after that I’d play it down at every opportunity, if anyone asked I’d say I was feeling better.
The trouble is even now it’s hard to explain just how mundane those thoughts can feel. They aren’t mundane, I appreciate that now, but it’s a gradient for me. At one end is fleeting moments when it briefly enters your head as an “option”. Where it can leave as quickly as it came. Then sometimes it is an all encompassing emotion. You can’t get it to leave your brain even for a moment. It’s no longer an option, it’s the only option. There is no other way out. Most of the time I know deep down I could never go through with it, to quote Rust Cohle in True Detective “I lack the constitution for suicide” but that just drags you deeper “you can’t even manage that. You’re weak” and the spiral continues. Never underestimate depression’s ability to see the worst in every situation, to see the worst in yourself at every opportunity.
Finally I make it to my point. At the moment I think about suicide at least once a day. On a good day it’s the fleeting thoughts a couple of times a day, in the moments my brain in unoccupied, drawn to it like moths to a flame. Like my brain can’t bare the thought of not thinking anything for a moment and suicide is its go to “thing”. Sometimes it’s worse than that, a lot worse, and when that happens I need to get better at admitting that to people and getting help. Thinking back now I genuinely can’t think I’ve gone more than a few days without thinking about suicide in some form for probably about 15 years, except for a brief 4 month interlude when I did some travelling, which is shocking when I think about it. This is another reason why it’s hard to talk about, because for me thinking about suicide doesn’t necessarily even mean I feel depressed, or sad, or whatever you want to call it. That period covers some great times, and great experiences, and yeah, some shitty ones too, but that’s life isn’t it? But that’s how strong a hold depression can have over you. It seeps into the gaps of your psyche, any little doubts, any little niggles, it gets in there and exploits it. It makes you think you aren’t worth saving, that by telling people about it you’ll be a burden.
Even now writing this I’m not sure if I can summon up the courage to press “publish”. My brain is whirring “people are going to read this and worry”, “people are going to judge you”, “people are going to make a fuss”. I worry that people won’t understand and will suddenly start treating me differently. I know I couldn’t talk about any of this out loud. The thought of me posting this and then facing someone I know and having to talk about it face to face is the scariest thought in the world at this moment in time. I just want to let you have a peek at my brain for a moment so perhaps you’ll understand a bit better, but I never want to talk about it. Does that sound odd? I don’t know. I guess I’m opening up myself and showing my vulnerabilities to the world and in that sense it’s not unusual to be scared. Deep down I know it can only help if I feel less like I’m hiding things. I know if I do post it I’m going to want to literally hide, and will instantly regret sharing it with people I know and have to fight the urge to immediately delete it. So I guess if you’re reading this then I found the courage to post this and I’ve not deleted it yet (yay!)!. I hope it hasn’t been upsetting. I hope the next time I see you you won’t have that look of sadness in your eyes, and we can just pretend this hasn’t happened? Maybe one day I’ll be able to talk about it.
This has ended up a bit rambly and waffly and for that I apologise. I don’t know if I’ll write anything like this again. I’ll see how it goes. Here’s a picture of some puppies in case you are feeling bad (and nothing tragic is going to happen to them).