Last week there was a death amongst the blogging community; a suicide. Anita Mac of Travel Destination Bucket List took her own life and even people that didn’t consider her to be a close friend struggled to come to terms with her death. Jeannie of NomadicChick and Bret of Green Global Travel both expressed their disbelief at losing someone that had been a part of their personal journeys. I can understand the shock. We live our lives with blinkers on that impair our vision. We are a world that struggles with daily compassion. And yet we seem genuinely surprised when people take their own lives. We look at people in war and say ‘I can understand why some are killing themselves because I couldn’t cope with that’ and yet, if we looked at our neighbour, colleague, family member who was struggling with daily life we would simply say ‘toughen up’. It doesn’t work like that.
I sit here awaiting the ‘journey of a lifetime’ in four weeks to begin a life of possible indefinite travel beginning in Australia and yet I have so many anxieties that in the dark of night, when I can’t stop thinking, I want to end my life (I have zero intention of acting on this – my words will become clearer throughout the post). I have so many anxieties about what lies ahead that I’m struggling to eat and when medication doesn’t stop my thoughts from wandering, I feel that the only way I will experience peace is to cut short my time on this planet. For me, every single day when night falls is a struggle right now. Travel is the perfect remedy if you need to run away from a job that ruined you, a broken relationship you’re reminded of or a town full of painful memories but you cannot run away from yourself and that is where the problem lies for so many people.
Let me tell you why suicide is almost always a shock…
No one wants to hear it
Let’s be honest. If we sat down for a catch up and you asked me how I was, how would you feel if I answered you honestly and told you that I spend my nights worried I’m going to reach for all the medication I have in my drawers and take them all at once? How would you feel if I told you that searching for a job or apartment online in Sydney overwhelms me so much it reduces me to tears? Or that I have so many regrets in life that I can’t let go of, I wonder if I’m going to be in this much pain until the day I die, naturally or otherwise? You wouldn’t want to hear it because you’d have no idea how to respond. Are you supposed to say ‘I’m so sorry, I had no idea; let it out of your system and I’ll listen’? Or how about ‘another glass of wine’? These days ‘how are you’ has become a greeting instead of a question to be answered honestly because, to quote A Few Good Men, you can’t handle the truth.
We all have our own problems in life. We’re worried about money. We’ve got to get the kids to school on time. We’re concerned about the ‘global economic crisis’. Quite simply we’re too busy to care. ‘We’ve all got our own problems so why are you any different’? Quite simply because I am chemically imbalanced. It is NOT my fault that I am suicidal when it’s sunny, that I can’t see the positive side of life, that I feel like taking my own life instead of getting on a plane to Australia. So whilst your problems are a lot to deal with and you’re stressed, you will never come close to the despair you feel when you’re suicidal. Even if things go right for you in life, nothing FEELS like it is. That is the difference. Think of a suicidal person as an anorexic (for want of a better analogy); when anorexics look in the mirror they don’t see a gorgeous body, they see something hideous. Likewise, if I look at life and I should see sun and rainbows, I will invariably see rain and storm clouds.
I have spent the better half of the afternoon talking to my best friend about how full of anxieties I am and the fact that not being able to ‘turn off’ my thoughts is making me suicidal. She was sympathetic, wished she could reassure me and wanted nothing more than to take the pain away but at the end of the day she is unable to help and we both knew it which makes the conversation almost redundant aside from making her uncomfortable and me feel guilty that I brought the conversation down to such a depressing level. But at least she listened. How many of us in this day and age make other people a priority?
How many of us, when knowing someone is struggling will extend a helping hand beyond their reach? It is easier to tell ourselves that we’re ‘just too busy’ and that ‘everyone has problems’ which, in some circumstances is true but I wonder if you asked yourself if you really are busy you wouldn’t be and that your problems are bigger than others when really all peoples problems are relative to their own lives and feelings.
The problem with being friends with someone who is depressed is that not only do you not want to really know but you don’t want to be around someone so depressed either which I can understand, truly. We’ve all got a friend or had a friend that zapped us of energy when we were around them for too long; I get it. I can even understand how depression breaks up relationships and tears families apart but, and this may sound blunt, as difficult as it is for you to be around; at least you can leave. We can’t run away from our minds and who we are so as difficult as it is to witness, it is almost unbearable to go through on a daily basis. Granted, some people don’t help themselves i.e. they don’t go to the doctor or attempt to get any help and in those circumstances, I do condone needing to leave. I’ve just walked out of my alcoholic, homeless father’s life because after years and more chances than I want to admit giving him, he didn’t even attempt to help himself.
We don’t want you to know
Bloggers commented that no one really knew of the pain that Anita was in and that they feel guilty for not talking to her more, wondering if they could have helped. In all honesty, most of us don’t want you to know for all of the reasons I’ve just mentioned above. There is such a stigma regarding mental health. We’re all ‘crazy’ people or just ‘too sensitive’; I could go on forever and so, for many of us, we learn, unbelievably, to hide it. I’m sure you’ve heard the quote that ‘some of the happiest people are often the saddest’ and I couldn’t agree more. I once walked into a therapy session for the first time with a huge smile on my face despite ticking the ‘you have plans to end your life’ box on the introduction form; the therapist was stunned. There is a reason I attempt to be the funniest and loudest person in groups because I fear that the moment I stop talking, people will see the real me and not know what to do or say.
In March of this year I attended a travel conference in Brighton and yet, all I could think about on the journey was taking my own life. I fully intended to get to London and see how I felt about jumping in front of a train, which to type it out sounds ridiculous but as I’ve said, there is nothing logical about my thought process when I’m so depressed.
Ironically once I arrived in London, most trains were delayed because someone had done exactly that; thrown themselves in front of a train. I felt like the Universe was trying to tell me it wasn’t my time and so I got on my train and went to Brighton. I went to the conference and I socialised when appropriate but when it came to the evening events, I made an appearance for a couple of hours, faked a migraine and went ‘home’ to the flat a few of us were renting together and I cried until I passed out. Honestly, how am I supposed to tell a friend I felt like that?
How are you even supposed to start a conversation like that anyway? Sit down with a friend on the couch with a cup of coffee and blurt out that you want to end your life? And what would you want them to say in return because nothing will truly make you feel better? And so, you keep quiet because being depressed by yourself is easier and nicer than making another person depressed just by telling them ‘your secret’.
What tends to happen is that people with all good intentions attempt to put logic to your thoughts and that is the first and biggest mistake anyone can make because people with depressed minds can’t think logically. My mum spends most of each evening lately attempting to reassure me that everything will be okay in Australia and that I need to ‘think positively’ which becomes increasingly frustrating for the pair of us; for mum because she thinks that feeling this anxious is a choice and it’s simply ‘mind over matter’ and me because mum thinks that feeling this anxious is a choice and it’s simply ‘mind over matter’; the never-ending cycle. And so, in many situations, it’s easier to just keep quiet.
Having spent your life listening to people tell you that your depressed thoughts are your own fault and you should just be able to ‘get over them’, sometimes you end up believing what people say and you start to feel embarrassed that you’re so ‘weak’. I am 27 years old and I am embarrassed that something like a trip to Australia, to have a life that so many others could only dream of, would make me suicidal. I am embarrassed that whilst millions of people die around the world on a daily basis, I, in my comfortable Western society, still want to end my life.
And whilst I can be enveloped in utter despair, if I told you how I felt you would unlikely sympathise but instead tell me that ‘other people have far bigger problems’. And that is one of the many reasons we don’t tell you. We know logically that there are people struggling in ways we could never comprehend but we can’t feel it. If anything, knowing that we ‘have no reason to be depressed’ only serves to make us feel incredibly selfish and therefore more depressed. Am I proud of having those thoughts? Of course not. But that doesn’t mean I can change them easily, if at all. If I had control over my thoughts, I wouldn’t be in this position in the first place.
How am I supposed to say, when people ask me if I’m excited for Australia, that I am in fact, dreading it and I can’t stop worrying about it? People will confuse my anxieties for ungratefulness when nothing could be further from the truth. I am incredibly grateful that I have a chance to go out and explore the world but my feelings are something entirely different from reality. I have worked hard to save money and chase my dream so I know how much others can be jealous of that, I understand it but that doesn’t meant I can’t go through my own personal journey of emotion before I go. No matter how much you try and tell people that your thoughts do not make you ungrateful, many don’t want to hear it. They believe that ‘your life is better than theirs’ because you have the chance to leave an ordinary life and make an extraordinary one for yourself. And believe me, I understand the jealousy. I have spent 2 years watching friends on Facebook go off into the world and wishing it was me but please don’t think that for one second I wouldn’t swap your ordinary life for my extraordinary one if it meant I could be mentally well.
It’s not something that can be explained
Despair is not something that can put into words be they spoken or written. When you feel suicidal, truly suicidal, your body become enveloped in grief. Your body aches with sadness and yet you feel empty. You are numb and yet in so much pain. And strangely, you can sometimes become too exhausted to kill yourself. There’s a reason why there is a spike in suicides in the first few weeks of taking anti-depressants; they give you energy. Last year, in the grip of my breakdown, when I lay in bed staring at a TV and unable to move, I wanted nothing more than to end my life. I planned it out in my head, I wrote notes in my mind and looked forward to my day of peace but I simply had so little energy I could barely get to the toilet in time, never mind focus enough to take my own life.
People will ask ‘but what about your family and your mum’ like I’m not aware of the pain I would cause. The issue is, when you’re that low, no matter how much you know they would hurt, you are already in excruciating pain and you genuinely believe that they’ll be better off without you. They will no longer have to ‘put up with you’. You don’t feel you deserve to be loved. You feel ugly inside and out and no words or medication on the planet can take that pain away from you in that moment. In the past I have felt so depressed it has taken my breathe away. When you’re really depressed, every night you go to bed hoping it will be your last and when your eyes open to the morning light, you are disappointed that you have to spend yet another day smiling to the world when you’re crying inside.
Suicide is rarely about wanting to die but more about not having the energy to continue your existence since you are too ill to have a ‘life’. I don’t know Anita’s circumstances but I do recognise that whatever her problems, they likely, in the darkness of night, felt insurmountable. Her problems, like mine, may seem small or non-existent to others; that they’re not even problems to begin with but let me assure you, whether you agree with our problems or not, they break us from the inside out. It hurts me when people say that your problems are ‘not the end of the world’ because when you’re depressed, they FEEL like the end of YOUR world. We can’t see things logically; our minds won’t let us.
Sometimes you can be severely depressed for no apparent reason making the struggle to have your illness accepted by others an even greater challenge. If we are depressed after the death of a family member, it is accepted but if we ‘grieve for too long’ we are seen as abnormal but when it comes to mental illness there are no rules. I can have a fantastic day with a friend and still want to cry myself to sleep. I might be fine in the morning but by the afternoon I feel hopeless. Even if everything is going my way in life I can still struggle. I don’t want to be like this, truly I don’t. I would like nothing more than to have the ‘normal’ struggles and worries of others instead of feeling so dark, so often. When people ask ‘what’s wrong’, how are you supposed to respond with ‘nothing but I still feel awful’?
Feelings are easy to hide online
I’ve talked above about the lengths we can go to to hide our feelings (willingly or unwillingly) around other people when we see them but in this digital age it is so much easier to hide your feelings online whether you’re writing an email to a friend or sending a tweet, that it makes it almost impossible to ‘read between the lines’ and see the signs which is no doubt why so many people were shocked by Anita’s departure. I have written some of my most positive status updates when I have felt the lowest because nobody wants to read a depressing Facebook status right? That would make you an ‘attention seeker’.
And let’s face it, even an average tweet or email can sound all the better for adding a smiley face at the end of it and suddenly you’ve tricked people into believing that you’re fine and happy. I write many deeply personal posts here and I am painfully honest and yet, you still don’t know how dark my thoughts can get because it’s not an easy subject to write about and it’s certainly not easy to read. Since I began writing my blog, over the years I have become more and more honest which has been pleasantly received by you (which I’m still very thankful for) but if I told you how low I felt every time I felt it, you would quickly get sick of it because being around someone like me when we’re really depressed is, as I said above, exhausting. And so I’ve learnt to only speak out occasionally because I appreciate that people don’t want to hear it all the time.
I ask the occasional personal question on my Facebook page such as ‘what do you do when you feel overwhelmed in life’ and I get a lot of responses but if I were to post statuses like that all day, every day, people would stop liking my page. It’s a sad fact but it’s true and one that I unfortunately understand because at the end of the day, we ALL do have our own problems and listening to someone else’s can often be too much for us to hear.
And yet, I write about painful subjects for the exact reason that everyone was shocked by Anita’s passing because NOBODY TALKS ABOUT IT. Silence is one of the biggest killers when it comes to people with mental illness. It’s the total lack of understanding. The attempt to put logic to illogical thoughts or situations. The arrogance that ‘everyone has problems’ not accepting that sometimes people struggle more with them than others. I accept that writing about difficult subjects needs a fine balance between explaining an upsetting situation and sounding like ‘woe is me’ but there IS a balance that can be found if you try hard enough; a balance which I aim for every time I write something personal.
I have lived with suicidal thoughts in my life, on and off, for the last 14 years; almost half my life and yet, when those dark thoughts enter my mind, they still scare me and if they scare me, they are sure as hell going to scare you. I have no intention on acting on my thoughts because I know that they will pass as they have done many, many times before. Yes, I have attempted to take my own life several times but if age and experience has taught me anything is that, however long it takes me, I can continue to put one foot in front of another knowing that my thoughts will eventually pass. However, not everyone (including myself at times) can see an end to their despair or believe that they can stabilise a little more and have more energy. I know that once I go to Australia, I won’t be happy but it will likely make me HAPPIER than I am right now and I’m okay with that because I understand my illness. Yes, the sun will improve my mood (as it does with everyone…I am still human after all), I will swim with turtles which will make me burst with happiness and I will make a new life for myself BUT my mind will still travel with me and that will be a challenge in itself.
I don’t know Anita’s struggles specifically but I understand her darkness and her decision to end her life because whilst there is a lot of help out there in the world these days; you don’t believe any of it will ultimately help YOU. Some may argue that suicide is a ‘permanent solution to a temporary problem’ but let me tell you, after 14 years living with the darkness, nothing about my illness feels temporary.
Sometimes you can continue the fight and sometimes you can’t. It’s as simple and yet as complicated as that.