Recently, I watched a great series by the ABC called “You Can’t Ask That”, that poses difficult questions about relatively taboo subjects we might feel uncomfortable speaking about in a public forum. In the latest series, one episode that really touched me on a personal level was about suicide. The individuals they gathered to answer these questions all showed an incredible amount of bravery by being so candid with their responses and it inspired me to consider some of the questions myself. I generally avoid thinking or speaking about the night I tried to take my own life, because it’s always made me feel ashamed and embarrassed. But watching the show made me realize it really shouldn’t be a shameful experience to speak about my mental health and the attempt I made to end my life. Perhaps, if we all became more open about our experiences, it might remove some of the social stigma associated with topic of suicide and contribute to an open dialogue about an issue that claims the lives of 8 Australians a day.
These are the questions that were asked of other survivors of suicide, and my honest answers in response.
Why did you try to kill yourself?
I desperately wanted to escape the overwhelming sadness and sense of guilt I felt about being a burden to my family and friends. I’d been sick for years with poor mental health and I sensed all I did was constantly disappoint the people who cared for me. I believed the general consensus was that their lives would be better off without me. I thought I was doing them a favour by removing myself from the equation. I had an argument that afternoon with a guy I’d been dating for a few years and something he said just hit a raw nerve. Something along the lines of “My life is better without you in it” and I just felt it summed up how everyone was feeling about me. I believed everyone probably felt that way and just didn’t have the cojones to say it. I was also really exhausted by living with a brain that never shuts up. If I wasn’t stuck in a loop of rumination, I was bombarded with intrusive thoughts. It was a terrifying feeling, as though I was losing control of the faculties I had remaining. I felt like I was losing my mind. I didn’t want to live like that. I just wanted desperately to be at peace. I needed to feel nothing, to think nothing. I thought death would bring that peace.
Did you leave a note?
Yeah, I did. It wasn’t well thought out or planned. It was some hasty scribbling that apologised for my actions and some logistical stuff, like the passwords to my email and online banking details so my cat could be taken care of financially. To be honest, it was really embarrassing afterward because the Paramedics took the notebook I’d written it on along with them to the Hospital. All the nurses read it. I was just mortified. I have that book still, but haven’t been able to bring myself to look at what the note actually says. It’s just too confronting to go back to that night and remember.
Did the thought of death scare you?
To be honest, it really didn’t. In that moment, it felt like nothing could be worse than living, and so the thought of death was comforting. Death held the lure of nothingness, like stepping into a peaceful dark void where I wouldn’t feel anything anymore. That was all I wanted, and I felt like death would extinguish all my pain and fear.
How come you’re still alive?
I called my mum to tell her I was sorry and that I loved her before I passed out. She called my Dad who in turn gave me CPR and called the ambulance.
Did you do any damage to yourself?
My liver function wasn’t great for a while afterwards, but mostly it was just embarrassment and shame.
Do people treat you like you’re emotionally delicate all the time?
For a while afterwards, people treated me with kid gloves. They were cautious not to overburden me, or leave me alone for too long. People would ask me “So, how are you doing?” with that lilt in their voice that let me know they were referring to my attempt without actually saying it. It was nice that people cared, but it didn’t stop me from feeling stupid or awkward when it came up.
Don’t you think you’re selfish and cowardly?
I actually thought I was saving people from the burden of having me in their life. I felt like I was doing everyone around me a favour. I honestly believed that while they’d be saddened, they’d feel a huge sense of relief knowing they don’t have to worry about me anymore. I’d convinced myself I was giving the people around me a free pass to get on with their lives without feeling any guilt for walking away from me. So, at the time it certainly didn’t feel selfish. Whether it was cowardly, I guess that’s not for me to say. I’ve never felt it was a cowardly act when it came to other people taking their lives. It’s just not a thought that enters my mind. I’ve never felt anything but empathy when someone dies by their own hand, but that’s probably because I can relate to that feeling of despair. Someone who’s never been that low might see it differently.
Are suicidal people crazy?
I don’t think so. ‘Crazy’ is such an odd concept to me. I’ve met a lot of people dealing with suicidal ideation during my stays in the Psychiatric Hospital, and I can’t think of a single one I’d consider ‘crazy’. For the most part, they seemed entirely normal. I think we do ourselves a disservice by believing the only people that kill themselves are crazy. It’s not unusual in the wake of a suicide that people say “We didn’t see any signs” because the individual that took their own life seemed just like you or I. (Though I’m probably not a good example in this case!) It happens to every day normal folks who you’d never consider calling ‘crazy’. It’s your kind, funny Uncle who golfs on Saturday and listens to REM in the car. It’s your favourite singer who owns a mansion and a bank account you could never dream of. It’s your friend from TAFE class who wears a flower in her hair and is always first to raise their hand with the correct answer. It’s your mates well adjusted kid brother who is infinitely polite and saving money to take a Gap Year in the UK. It doesn’t discriminate based on socio economic status, age, profession or DSM V diagnosis.
Were there signs you were going to kill yourself? Did you tell anyone?
I’d been deeply depressed for a long time beforehand, and it was just my default state of being, so I don’t really know if anyone saw it coming. I did however send a tweet that afternoon that I was tired of being a burden to those around me, which was kind of out of character. It was enough to tip off a friend who called me to see if I was okay, but by that point, I wasn’t answering the phone.
What do you wish you had known before you attempted suicide?
I wish I’d known that Psychiatric Hospitals are there for times like that and I didn’t need to struggle on my own. That I could have told a friend, or called Lifeline, or my doctor, or called the CAT team or presented at my nearest Emergency Department and got some help.
Do you ever regret not dying?
Honestly, yes there are times I’ve regretted not dying. Mostly, when life is hard and I feel overwhelmed by feelings of sadness, despair or guilt. When I feel myself start to circle the drain nowadays, I organise an appointment with my Psychiatrist and arrange to go into Hospital so I’m somewhere safe where I won’t hurt myself.
What’s the best thing about living?
I’m still working that out, but in the meantime there’s the little things like cuddles with kitties, feeling the warmth of the sun on my face, the excitement of meeting someone new, friends you don’t need to explain yourself to and a cup of tea at the end of the day. Sometimes it’s the smallest things that keep you going.
If you’re having thoughts of taking your own life, please talk to someone whether it’s your partner, parent, friend, doctor or call Lifeline on 13 11 14 within Australia. You don’t have to deal with this alone.