Everytime someone in the public eye passes tragically from suicide. It starts to become the hot topic on social media and in the press for a few weeks. Everyone starts to talk more about how we need to try harder to reduce the stigma around mental health issues and suicide, and then as quickly as conversation comes, it goes away again. The important question is, does the temporary heightened awareness and outpouring of grief that we share with strangers on social media, about people we have more than likely never met make us feel more comfortable talking about suicide and mental health issues in the longer term amongst our family and friends?. Does it help to significantly reduce the stigma surrounding suicide?, In my opinion and more importantly, my experience. No it does not.
Being ill is not a crime… but it was ..
I was having a conversation about this with my mum when I decided to write this blog, I was saying to her how unfortunate it is that people still use the phrase ‘committed suicide’, when it is not a crime and couldn’t be further from a criminal act. It was then she brought my attention to the fact that it was not that long ago suicide was treated as a crime in England. It was one of those moments where I felt quite shocked that I seemingly did not know this, you know when you think, how have I got through life not knowing this? , or is it something I did know but have just never had to think about and therefore just forgotten it?!. Nevertheless , it led me to do a little research on the subject and some of the cases I found with regards to people being prosecuted for this are quite astounding.
You don’t have to look far to find examples of people who were sent to prison for attempting and failing to take their own life. It was classed as ‘self murder’ a ‘crime against oneself’. Sounds pretty archaic doesn’t it? , but you may be surprised to know that as recently as 50 years ago suicide was a crime in England and Wales, and what is more shocking is that we were one of the last European Countries to decriminalise it, this could explain why it is not uncommon to still hear the phrase ‘committed suicide’.
‘A YouGov survey commissioned by the Samaritans shows a third of 1066 people polled would not talk to someone if they felt suicidal’. BBC News.
Just pick up the phone.
There are many common things that people say when someone they know takes their own life. Here are a few.
‘Why didn’t he/she just pick up the phone?’
‘I only saw them yesterday and they seemed ok’.
‘If only they had said something’
‘If only they had stopped by’
The common theme is the onus more often that not gets placed on the person who has passed, the person who was in trouble, they were expected to be the ones to reach out and make the first move in communicating. Now, I am not saying that these are not legitimate questions to ask, of course you would expect a friend or relative to come to you if they were in trouble and it’s dreadfully upsetting when they don’t, but when you are suffering with a mental illness, you dont want to be a burden, you dont want to bring others down, and especially when you are contemplating taking your own life, you dont want to scare people, risk loosing their respect or be seen as attention seeking, and as much as it may be on the tip of your tongue to want to blurt it out to someone , it just feels impossible to cross that line into having that conversation and saying those words.
Believe me , I am quite an open person and there is no subject that I will shy away in having a discussion about and it was extremely hard for me, the times I spent looking people in the eyes when it was on the tip of my tongue but I couldn’t get the words out. I was hoping they would read between the lines, I was wanting someone just to say something like, ‘You are not thinking about killing yourself are you Lyndsey?’ …just so I could say ‘Yes!.. Yes I am and its scaring the shit out of me, please will you help me before I do, because I actually don’t want to die, I just want the pain to stop and up to now that’s the only solution I have come up with ….you got any other ideas?’.
What you need to be mindful of is that when someone is suffering with depression or one of the many other forms of mental illness, the default emotion and feeling is that something is going to go badly, whatever happens, it’s going to end bad, so we are not thinking that something positive is going to come out of having a discussion with someone about the way we are feeling. We are thinking the worst, but we also may be just waiting for a nudge, the right question at the right time.
You say it , no you say it.
I have an example of this , based on my own person experience from last year.
When I hit rock bottom last year and had the wake up call I needed to lead me to seek professional help I wrote a blog called ‘Its time to talk’. It was about me finally admitting to myself and everyone that I had depression and I couldn’t manage any longer alone.
I had written about the thoughts I had been having every day about taking my own life. Up until this point I had not really had any conversation with anyone about what my thoughts had been. I think when I had my breakdown at work I may have intimated something to my manager and team leader , but I hadn’t actually come out and said that I had been seriously thinking about ending my own life.
Anyway my point is , after writing this blog and posting it , putting it out there for everyone one to see, do you know how many people directly asked me about the ‘wanting to end my life bit?’.
Not one person….. Scary isn’t it?.
I did receive messages, wonderful messages of support and I know I am loved dearly by all of my friends old and new, South, North and across the pond, and I have a family who love me and care deeply about me, I am super lucky as everyone supports me in their own little way and I want to stress that this is not a declaration of disappointment or a slight on anyone because I have THE BEST people in my life. BUT it illustrates the point I am trying to make perfectly and that is as a society we still have a huge problem in communicating openly about suicide.
My darkest hour before the happiest of days.
Last year I came perilously close on two occasions to taking my own life and I want to share one experience with you that I have not spoken about with anyone yet. I wasn’t 100% sure if I ever would share it with anyone to be honest with you, but I have thought long and hard about it and I feel in my heart that it is the right thing to do. As I have said all along when I first started this blog, if I am going to do this, I will not do it in half measures, everything you read in my blog is real, unglamorous, unedited and sometimes upsetting.
It was the eve before my brothers wedding. Yes that’s right. The evening before my little baby brother was due to get married, and I say that because there is 12 years between us, he is the baby of the family and when we were younger I was extremely protective over him, so it makes the timing of all of this even more surreal , poignant , whatever word you want to use.
All of my family had already made their way to the venue earlier in the day, but I was at work and was unable to go. It had been a weird day, I just felt weird, not really present. I got in the car and started to drive home, I felt like I was in an almost trance like state, then all of a sudden I became engulfed with what I can only describe as a feeling of utter grief , it of course wasn’t grief because I wasn’t grieving , but tears started to stream down my face and I started to cry , you know the stomach wrenching cry that you get with grief. It was crippling.
How I made the short drive home, is beyond me I can’t really remember it. A friend of mine text me just to check in , but I ignored it. I burst into the house ran upstairs and fell to the floor of my bedroom. I can just remember through my tears saying to myself ‘I cant do this , I cant do this anymore I just cant’ .. over and over.
I was crying so hard I started to feel a little bit dizzy, I started sweating , I hadn’t taken my coat off , I couldn’t get my breath. Before I knew it I was searching in my drawers, make up bag looking for painkillers, only I wasn’t looking for them to get rid of my headache, I had decided to take my own life.
Frantically searching my drawers to little avail I ventured downstairs, on retrieving the medicine box from the kitchen cupboard, I decided to see what I could get from that, still crying , but it was now at a slower pace, less hectic and in a less breathless way than it had been, upset was slowly starting to turn to anger and frustration that it was looking like I wasnt going to be able to find what I needed.
This was quite the opposite to how I had envisaged it in the weeks gone by when I had been methodically planning everything, what I would put in letters to family, how I wanted to spring clean my belongings and what is it they say, ‘leave all of my affairs in order’. If I was going to do it I was going to do it right. Now, all of that had gone out of the window. I wasnt thinking about the consequences for anyone else in that moment, it was like no one else existed apart from me, and I just wanted to put a stop to this never-ending cycle of pain and misery.
In a strange way as I was focusing on gathering up the pills I started to calm down. I now just had that funny gasping for breath thing that is half way between a breath and a hiccup, that weird thing you get when you have been uncontrollably upset.
I was now in the kitchen and I noticed that there was about half a glass of red wine left over from earlier in the week so a poured that into a glass. I sat down and necked the wine like you would a whisky and I just sat staring around the room almost like I was taking it all in for the last time. I had managed to pull together a measly collection of tablets and started to feel irritated that I probably didn’t have enough to do the job and I felt tired, I felt exhausted and I just had an overwhelming desire to go to sleep. I had exhausted myself so much in the last 45 minutes, I just wanted to close my eyes for five minutes, just five minutes and then I will take this lot of tablets.. go to the shop get some more, take them, go to bed and it will all be over, at last it will all be over.
The urgency and frantic nature of the situation had tailed off now, I lay my head on my arms and closed my eyes and then ‘PING’ my phone went. ‘Oh F@ck off’, I thought, but curiosity got the better of me I lifted my head up off my arms and looked at my phone.
It was a text from my brother.
‘7:45pm but just whenever you get here people are eating later so don’t worry if you can’t make it xx’
My heart sank, I felt like I was going to throw up, I had forgotten I had text him just as I was leaving work to ask him what time the evening meal had been booked for and this was him just responding. I started crying hard again and looking at the phone saying out loud “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry , I’m sorry” over and over.
Then all of a sudden , I said, again out loud, “Lyndsey what the hell are you doing?”. All of a sudden, it was like I had snapped back into the real world, I was back in the room. I was a sister, I was a daughter, I was a granddaughter, I was an auntie, I was a freind. I was so many things to so many people , and it was my little brothers wedding. My mum, my dad, how can I do this to them? I will ruin their life for the REST of their life, I will ruin everyone’s life forever, and I started to feel a sense of reponsibility to everyone that was stronger than my own desperation to make my pain go away. Now I was crying, but I wasnt crying for me, I was crying for them , I was crying because of what I almost did to them.
I put the tablets away, packed my bag, put some make up on and got in the car to drive to the wedding venue and I celebrated with everyone as if that last hour had never happened.
This was I think roughly two weeks before I finally broke down and that is when I started to seek professional help.
Just talk and Just ask
I hope that this helps some people to understand suicide more and also may help someone to reach out to someone they feel might need some help. Remember , it is no one’s fault, but nor is it going to go away by not talking about it. I also hope that by sharing my experience, it illustrates that anyone can go to that dark place, at any time, it could be the person that you least expect, you cannot assume that only a certain type of person will or wont be affected, and that the timing of these feelings can be explained, they can’t.
And please all know, I am ok , this isnt me reaching out , this isnt me on the verge of something. I am feeling in a much better place and it feels good for me to be able to now feel strong enough to talk and try and help others with this issue. So don’t worry about me.
If anyone is reading this and feeling lost and desperate. Please, please talk to someone. It is the hardest thing in the world , but it will feel like the world has been lifted off your shoulders when you do, and if you think a freind or relative may be going through something, ask them, talking to them and asking the question is not going to hurt them, as much as you may be waiting for them to say, they might be wanting you to ask.
People dont die of suicide , they die as a result of taking their own life which is brought on by a mental health problem, which is an illness.
They die from an illness.
Thanks for reading
With love as always,