Trigger warning: Suicide and suicidal ideation
So the title is a bit of a giveaway, but this blog post is the whole reason that I wanted to be open about my illness. In the hope that I can use my experience to share some of the most important things, I have learnt along the way. I knew this would be tough to write about, but thankfully I am now in the right place to do so.
In January of this year, I set a date to end my own life. Of course, I didn’t act out the plans, but that is mainly due to the interventions made by other people.
The only way that I can describe how I was feeling at that time is that my body and mind felt like they were on fire. I knew that when I described how I was feeling to others, it made no sense, but to me, it was the only thing that made sense. Nothing else felt real. I felt like I wasn’t in my own body and that I was tarnishing the people around me. As if everything that I was touching was turning to black. I felt like an alien. I could barely speak and I was so fearful that I struggled to even wee (I know that is pretty graphic but I just wanted to explain exactly how it affected me).
I had been working in Mental Health for the past three years, experienced a Depressive episode at the age of 26 and recovered. Despite this, I still thought that the only way out would be to take my own life. This is the nature of the illness. However, at the time, I didn’t think I had an illness I thought that I had become another person. I looked at pictures of myself from before then and I believed that wasn’t who I was. I remembered her and I remembered how many people loved her, but I didn’t think that anyone could love this new version of me, no matter how much they told me otherwise.
This may be uncomfortable to read, but this is the stark reality of what Depression does to someone. It is dark, it is uncomfortable but it is real. I have heard many false things said about Depression and Suicide, which I would like to unpack a little, before moving on to some more practical steps.
No. 1- Depression is a choice, you can choose not to have Depression
Oh. My. Gosh. I wish that I could have chosen to not have depression when I was at my most ill. People who know me, I hope, would not describe me as a negative person; I love life and when I am well, I love experiencing new things, I love the connections that I have with people, I love nature, I love having fun, I can't get enough of it. Depression robs you of all that, it is not a personality trait, it is an illness. I can appreciate why people who haven’t experienced it may struggle to understand it, but if someone tells you that they are depressed, try to be compassionate and let them tell you how it feels. Only then will you gain knowledge and understanding, which will not only help them but will make you a more well-rounded individual as a result. Win-win!
No. 2- People who commit suicide are selfish
Firstly, ‘commit suicide’ is no longer politically correct since the Suicide Act was put into place in 1961, it is no longer a ‘crime’. I know that the term ‘commit suicide’ is so often used in the media and so it can roll off the tongue, but it is wrong and we have had a whole sixty years to change this. It is hurtful to the family and friends bereaved by this awful tragedy, but also disrespectful to the person whose life has been taken by the desperate nature of this illness. Secondly, it is not a selfish act. It may seem that way to outsiders, and I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult it is for loved ones to process, but when I was making those plans, it was because I thought that the world and the people in it would be so much better without me. I thought that I was the problem in everyone’s life, that without me they would be problem-free. I thought that it might hurt them initially, but that they would all get over it in no time and have a much better life as a result. No part of that thinking was me being selfish.
No. 3- Depression only happens to weak people
I am not weak and as a result of my Depression, I am actually stronger. I am sensitive by nature but I am definitely not weak. Sensitivity is not a weakness, in some ways it is a superpower. It enables you to be more reflective and empathetic with others, meaning that you create stronger connections. Life itself can become quite magical with a bit of sensitivity and vulnerability. However, weakness… what even is that? I know no weak people, everyone that I know has endured some difficulty. Living with a Mental Health condition every day for however long is not something that means that you are weak, it means that you are strong enough to cope and endure pain for a period of time, what part of that is weak? So for anyone who is reading this and feels weak, try to remember that is your illness talking- not reality. If you know somebody going through difficulty, remind them of the strength they show making it through each day. The more you repeat this, the more that they will believe.
No. 4- Medication doesn’t work, there is no proof that it does and I know this because I read a book/watched a documentary/ heard a podcast which said so
This is a bugbear of mine, it can be easy to believe the things that we read, but this is such a dangerous thing to believe; so dangerous that it may prevent you from asking for help when you need it the most. This is what happened to me. A number of months before starting to experience the onset of depression, I read a book called ‘The Lost Connections’ By Johann Hari. In the book, he states, that there is no factual evidence to suggest that medication works, that in fact, it is a placebo. I wish I could sound a Horn like the ones from the quiz shows to show these statements are wrong. Anyway, I have some idea of how the chemicals in the brain are affected by antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication, but I am not a scientist; what I do know is that they saved my life, and not due to a placebo effect. I know this because it took 3 or 4 attempts to get the medication right. In the end, I saw a Psychiatrist who prescribed me a magical mixture of potions that enabled me to sleep and eat, whilst easing the symptoms of depression so that I could start functioning in my daily activities. It was not medication and medication only; Johann Hari makes a lot of great points about other factors that can aid recovery. Some people can make a full recovery without medication but some people, like me, need it and if it makes things easier along the way, then why bloody not. As my Doctor told me, ‘The brain is a part of the body like any other part if you had a kidney infection, would you feel ashamed about that?’. To think that the brain is the only part of the body that is capable of thinking its way out of a serious illness is actually pretty bizarre! All I can say is that I was so grateful when I started to sleep through, rather than restlessly sleeping until 4 am and then dragging myself onto the sofa to watch some kind of TV that may or may not distract me, while I waited for the rest of the scary world that I was experiencing to wake up. Give me medication over that life any day!
I could actually go on forever with this, but I am going to stop there as I wanted to share with you some of the practical ways you can get help.
- If you are the person that is experiencing suicidal thoughts, please tell someone. That is half the battle, once someone knows and they can help you, it gets that much easier afterwards. If you tell someone that you trust and they respond non-compassionately, that is down to their lack of understanding, so dismiss what they have said and find someone who does understand. Even if you have to tell a few people before you get what you need, whether that be from a GP, friend or family member. I have experience of this and I know now, that this is not a reflection on me, but a reflection on them.
- Your GP is your first medical point of call if you are experiencing low mood or suicidal thoughts which you aren't planning to act on. I had to see two GPs this time before I found one that I was comfortable talking to and I will be forever grateful that I found her because as soon as I did, she relieved some of that weight I had been carrying. If you aren’t getting what you need from your GP, you are well within your rights to ask for another one, you can’t always connect with the first person that you see.
- If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts that are relentless, particularly distressing and you feel at risk to yourself or others or you are supporting someone who is suffering in this way, you can walk into A and E and speak to the triage nurse. Tell them that you or the person with you is feeling unsafe and a risk to themselves and you may be seen by a mental health professional who is on duty. I had to do this and saw a lovely Nurse, Nirander, in the Psychiatric Liaison Team. She listened to me and reassured me that I would get better and what the next steps would be. If you need to be admitted then they may make that choice, but don’t let that be a reason to put you off getting help. I know that Psychiatric units are seen as scary places and although I have no experience of them as an inpatient, I did attend the Acute Day Treatment Unit in Hertfordshire to support patients. It wasn’t the ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest’ ward that I had imagined, but an inclusive, non- judgemental environment that enabled people to recover with the support of caring, compassionate staff. I have since listened to Podcasts with people who have been hospitalised and they have sung the praises of the NHS.
- In my experience, the NHS have been extremely fast-moving when you are at risk. I attended the GP surgery on 6th January 2019 and informed them that I had made plans to take my own life, so I was deemed high risk. The GP referred me to the Psychiatric Team who contacted me that afternoon and made an appointment with a Psychiatrist the very next morning. Prior to me attending the GP appointment, I had decided that I had taken medication, tried all the things that had worked previously and nothing had worked so there was no point in going on as I would never get better. In my head, I was a hopeless case. My Depression told me this. I remember the date I had planned to take my life coming by and I actually had an OK day. I walked in the park with James and Mervin (my Dog), the sun was out and I had moments of appreciation. Since then, whenever I experience happiness or laughter, I think, imagine if I had acted on those thoughts and didn’t experience this. It would be an absolute tragedy. My partner said to me at the time, ‘it’s a long term solution to a temporary problem’. He now says that that doesn’t actually make sense but it really helped me.
- If you are unsure of what to do and feel paralysed by indecision, a common symptom of depression or anxiety- call 111. They can advise you on what to do. It was 111 who told me to go to A and E when I became ill. They are not just there for physical illness.
- If you feel extremely distressed and feel as if you may act on your thoughts or are at risk of harm to yourself or others, call 999. There is nothing more serious than a risk to life. Get the help you need. I am hoping that it will not come to that point for you but I know how difficult it can be in the moment to remember the advice from others.
The most important thing is to be clear about how you feel, try and put the shame aside for a minute and talk about yourself as if you were talking about another person. I know its really, really hard but you can do it and it will help. If you feel unsafe, tell a medical professional that you feel unsafe, they will ask the questions that they need to, in order to get you the right help.
I know that this is pretty long-winded but I wanted to pack it with helpful information, which I hope that I have.
If you are experiencing any distress please remember- YOU are important, You matter, People Love and Care for YOU and there are days beyond these where you will be taken back by the beauty that life can bring. Keep going and get help when you need it. You won’t regret it.