Monday, 23 March 2015

You Might As Well Live

This is a post about feeling suicidal. There are a few things I need to make clear before you read it. The first is that I wrote it well over a month ago. I wasn't, at the point it was written, feeling at my most chipper. However, time has moved on and I am actually rather happy with life at the moment. The passage of time, prescription drugs and the support of lovely people will help with that. I have been dealing with depression-based stuff for the last twenty-five years. However, writing it all down did rather help at the time so I figured I might as well share it with you. 

This isn't in any way a cry for help. I'm doing OK.

Although I suspect my real reason for publishing it is along the lines of "Well I've written it now. I might as well", I am justifying publishing it by telling myself it might help other people who are currently experiencing depression or suicidal thoughts.

If this is you, first of all please remember, you are not alone. No matter how lonely you might feel right now, there are people who give a shit about you. Phone them. Text them. Phone the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 if you're in the UK or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 in the USA. Or google 'suicidal' if you live anywhere else. There are people out there for you, I promise. 

I feel ridiculous trying to counsel anyone - even hypothetical blog readers. I am barely able to manage my own shit. But, hey, (as a certain High School Musical once said) we're all in this together. If I can ever help in any way, let me know.

Suicide’s a funny thing. Not hilariously funny, obviously but even these days when it’s kind of OK to admit that you have clinical depression, or have self-harmed or that you regularly employ the services of a therapist to help you sort your brain out, it’s hard to admit to suicidal thoughts.

It’s the one thing I have repeatedly lied to doctors about. When you go to see a doctor about depression, I think they are Hippocratically bound to ask you if you have considered killing yourself. My usual policy is to tell the entire truth to doctors. They can’t morally judge you or force you to do things you don’t want to or inform the police about your recreational marijuana use.  I told my GP about all the illegal drugs I took in my first month of pregnancy (I didn’t know I was pregnant when I took them, obviously) even though it meant that information was on the folder that I carried around with me to appointments for the next nine months. (Actually it was probably less than nine months. I probably didn’t turn up at my GP’s the moment I accidentally conceived.) The importance of them knowing about it outweighed the embarrassment.

But when a doctor asks me if I have had suicidal thoughts, I always say “no”. I imagine they have a big red button under their desk which they will immediately activate if someone admits to being a suicide risk. I don’t even know what the worst thing is that would happen if they did activate the big red “SUICIDE” button. It’s not like I expect men in white coats to come charging in and drag me off straitjacketed to a mental institution. The National Health Service doesn’t have the money for that. It’s hard enough to get counselling on the NHS. Even people who desperately want and need residential psychiatric care struggle to get it. You’ve got to work hard to be sectioned. The Health Service isn’t going to give a bunch of hugely expensive in-patient psychiatric treatments to every depressive who’s feeling a bit morbid.

I think for a long time, the worry was that Social Services would become involved. It was one of the things, when my daughter was little, that made it hard to reach out for help. Especially when I was self-harming. The horrible, horrible thought that some social worker might think that the fact I was cutting my arms up might mean I would ever do anything to harm my child. Although it is obvious to me that I never would, it’s possible this might be a thing, I don’t know. There’s Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy. There might be some kind of self-harming by proxy thing that some mothers do. I can’t bring myself to google it. Right now, I don’t want to know.

But my daughter is an adult now. It wouldn’t matter anymore if I were labelled as an ‘Unfit Mother’.  I can be as ‘unfit’ as I like these days. Nobody’s going to swoop in and put my kid into care.

My problem now is that the question “Have you been having suicidal thoughts?” is a little, well vague.

Everyone has suicidal thoughts sometimes, surely? You know when someone says “Shoot me now” and aims a gun made out of their fingers at their temples, that’s kind of a suicidal thought, isn’t it? Sure they’re only saying it because they’re stuck talking to some guy at the pub who refuses take Global Warming seriously, but it shows that even at a jokey, superficial level, we all acknowledge there’s a point where we think: “This is too much bother. I’m quitting.”

I remember reading something about suicide once which explained that suicidal thoughts happen at the point where one’s ability to cope is outweighed by the things one has to cope with. It’s probably self-evident, but it resonated deeply with me. Someone might have an otherwise perfectly normal ability to cope but have such terrible, awful, abusive, insurmountable things to deal with, that ending it all might feel like the only option. On the other hand, someone else’s ability to cope might be so low and so fragile that even ‘getting up in the morning’ might be more than they can realistically deal with.

I have, on occasion, found myself wanting to end it all. Not in a dramatic “Goodbye Cruel World!” way. Just in an exhausted, defeated ‘Let’s make it stop’ way.

Like ending an unsatisfactory relationship. Or more accurately, like quitting a job that you realise that you aren’t very good at and that you don’t enjoy doing.

“Look, I’ve tried this whole ‘living’ business and it turns out, I can’t do it successfully. Sorry for wasting everybody’s time but I feel you will function far more successfully as a team without me. I’ll let myself out.”

I won’t do it. Whatever happens, I’ll keep plugging on at this ‘life’ business. Like I’ve said before, I have a daughter. Who is, incidentally, quite the nicest person I’ve ever met. And who, for some reason, seems to be extraordinarily fond of me. Even if she wasn’t, having a parent commit suicide would be a maelstrom of hellishness a million times worse than having me stick around, even on my bad days. And I’m the only parent she has, poor sod, it’s not like she even has a backup.

And I have to outlive my parents. Since becoming a parent, I realise that this is the deal. I don’t want my parents to die (and they’re becoming noticeably older these days, it’s scary) but they have to die before I do. Everything else is monstrous.

I have, however tried to kill myself in the past. I made a serious suicide attempt when I was sixteen years old.  I didn’t know I had clinical depression, then. I don’t think I’d even heard of such a thing. I genuinely thought I was going mad.  I dearly hope teenagers these days with access to the internet are more clued in than my 1990s teenage self.

I managed to convince myself that my family knew that I wanted to kill myself and were impatiently waiting for me to get on with it. (Turned out this wasn’t even close to being the case, they totally bought my “pretending to be fine” act and, also, obviously, loved me dearly.)

My original plan of slashing my wrists didn’t pan out. I expected to hit some kind of vein geyser but instead spent half an hour hacking at my wrists with a – probably not sharp enough - kitchen knife with no more effect than causing a massive flesh wound and a load of blood on the sheets. So I went and collected all the painkillers from the first-aid cupboard, instead.  I even had a quick joke and a chat with my sister and her boyfriend when I ran into them in the kitchen on the way. It’s no wonder my family had no clue. I was concealing my feelings to a ridiculous degree.

I took over a hundred painkillers that night. I genuinely didn’t expect to wake up the next morning. When I did, it was with a disappointed feeling of “Oh well, that didn’t work then.”

But the drugs were coursing their way through my body and I obviously wasn’t right that Saturday morning. My mum must have already suspected something was amiss. It was the middle of summer; I had been wearing long cardigans to conceal my arms and most of my hands for months. She demanded I show her the cut on my arm she’d glimpsed the day or so before, saying she was worried that I might have septicaemia. When she pushed up my sleeves, she saw not only the deep gash I had made trying to slit my wrist but also all the cuts and burns I had inflicted on myself over the previous couple of months. She called a doctor immediately. Even then I didn’t mention the overdose.

So by the time the overdose became known – I was vomiting, there was a doctor on the premises, they figured it out in the end – I was already at  risk of organ failure. I spent a week in hospital. I assumed my suicide attempt had failed by the time I was rushed into Casualty. It hadn’t failed at all by that point. In fact, my chances of making it to the end of the week weren't guaranteed. People can die of kidney failure days later in these situations.

My parents were told by the doctors that this wasn’t a ‘cry for help’; that I had seriously intended to end my own life.

My poor parents. They were (and still are) the loveliest people you could possibly hope to meet. My inability to cope with life was never because of any shortcomings on their part. Hours of therapy have been wasted by people trying to probe into my childhood finding what terrible occurrences made me so dysfunctionally miserable.  It was only during my more recent privately funded cognitive behavioural sessions that I could move away from trying to find some non-existent childhood trauma and just focus on the fact that – for whatever reason – I do feel like this. Frequently. We are where we are. Where do we go from here?

Obviously I survived my teenage suicide attempt. In melancholy moments, I do wonder about the scar that would have been left on my family if my attempt at ending it all been successful. I appreciate from a butterfly-flapping perspective that my death in 1990 would have probably prevented the rest of my family history panning out in the exactly the way it did. But let’s assume it did. Let’s assume my brother and sister still married the same partners and had the same kids, Christmas wouldn’t have been the same, would it? How could a parent properly enjoy any of those festive markers when one of their own children had chosen to opt out of existing?

I couldn’t possibly have appreciated it at the time. Depression makes you selfish. Teenagers are selfish anyway. Depressed teenagers are the worst. But now as a parent of teenager, in fact as a parent of a teenager older than I was when I might have conceivably died at my own hand, it makes my heart drop like a stone just to think of it. Yes, I’m happy for my own sake that I’m still here. But far more than that, I’m glad I didn’t make my parents live through that alternative reality. Whatever shit I’ve given them since then (and there’s been plenty) it has to be better than that.

It’s probably obvious to most people. But, like I say, depression makes you selfish. And wanting to leave the party early is possibly the most selfish thing of all. It’s something that I need to remind myself of from time to time. I may not necessarily want to be here. But it’s really, really important that I don’t just up and leave.

Somebody needs to have serious words with that butterfly though.


The title for this post is taken from Dorothy Parker's poem, Resume:

Razors pain you
Rivers are damp
Acids stain you
And drugs cause cramp.

Guns aren’t lawful
Nooses give
Gas smells awful
You might as well live.

I doubt Ms Parker's words ever brought anyone back from the brink of suicide. I doubt she ever intended them to. Still, as a believer that there is literally no subject on earth that you shouldn't make jokes about, I am rather fond of that poem.

The most genuinely insightful writing about depression is written by Allie Brosch on her blog Hyperbole and a Half. There is nothing I have read as heart-breaking, insightful, relatable and hugely fucking funny as Allie's two depression-related posts: Adventures in Depression and Depression Part Two. I sincerely hope they're required reading for all GPs and mental health practitioners. 

I can't be happy that Allie Brosch wrote them because she seems like a genuinely lovely person. I had read her blog for years before the depression posts. I'd rather she didn't have to go through that. But, I am immensely grateful she documented it so wonderfully. "My fish are dead" has become shorthand between my daughter and me during times of not-being-able-to-adequately-explain-stuff. Nothing soothes the soul quite like someone saying: "wow, those are super dead. I still like you, though."

So, given that I probably should leave this blog post on a vaguely positive note. I'll leave the final word to Allie.


  1. Hugs! Since it's what I'm trained to do I know what your doctor will do if you tell them the truth about having suicidal thoughts. They will ask you more questions to try to determine the risk of you actually doing it, and they will try to understand and help you though it. As I've told my friend and neighbor who has schizophrenia - if you want to be hospitalized (which he sometimes does) tell them you have an imminent plan to end your life. It's a ticket to a 72 hour hold in the psych ward or hospital in most places, which can sometimes be helpful, sometimes not. But I'm not sure if it works the same way outside the USA. Thanks for sharing and I'm glad you are doing better.

    1. Thank you for responding, Normandie. My reluctance to admit to suicidal thoughts to doctors is (a) paranoia and (b) because they ask in a vague way 'Have you had any thoughts about killing yourself?' which is a whole different kettle of fish from as you put it 'having an imminent plan to end your life'.

      "Yes, I've thought about it. Repeatedly. Yes, it seems an attractive idea right at this moment. But I won't act on it."

      Seems easier just to say "No" to be honest.

  2. Etta, I'm glad you're doing better now. I read both of Allie Brosch's posts, and though I didn't laugh at the abandoned, shriveled piece of corn under the refrigerator, I did understand how it could be amusing when you're face down on the kitchen floor. Depression is insidious. I've been on medication for several years, so I'm better now. In my teens I was suicidal, but I didn't attempt to kill myself. I will occasionally still have a day where I want to crawl under my bed and hide, but it's really much too dusty under there to stay for very long. When I got older, depression surfaced as apathy and lack of energy. I no longer found enjoyment in the things that used to bring me so much pleasure. Even getting dressed seemed like a monumental task. Overwhelmed is a good word, but that was only part of it for me. I no longer wanted to participate in the world. Talking and expressing myself took too much effort. I wanted things to stop so I could catch up, but it never did, so I never could. Like you, I'm in a much better place now. I can laugh at myself and enjoy the things I used to, which is a blessing. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I've felt many of the same things you have, though I've never attempted to put my emotions into words as you just did. Probably for fear of boring people since depression is--so--depressing. And if someone asked me if I had suicidal thoughts, a part of me would want to answer, "Not recently. Why? Do you think it's a good idea?" Yeah, that would probably get me into a lot of trouble. Hugs.

    1. I don't think the corn thing is funny to anyone but Allie in that particular moment. She is an exceptionally funny writer though. "The Year Kenny Loggins Ruined Christmas" ( is all kinds of genius. And there's so much really funny stuff in the Depression posts - Allie's plane assuring her what a good swimmer she is, for example, and "Everything is spiders".

      I've had people express surprise (and occasional disbelief) that I suffer from clinical depression because I am, by and large, a positive, optimistic and (I hope) funny person. Those things really aren't mutually exclusive!

      So much of your description of depression resonated with me. Especially this: "I wanted things to stop so I could catch up, but it never did, so I never could." This sums it up perfectly. Thank you.

  3. Actually yes they do push a huge red button and you *do* get carted off to the hospital even when you're self harming and not contemplating suicide. It's what "they" "have" to do or something or rather since they can see scars, recent ones, and you're down and not happy smiley as a teen. Yes, it happened to me and numerous times. Of course some of those times were for attempts but that is an entirely different point. It sucks, quite frankly, and I applaud your bravery. It's hard to be open and frank about all this, and you've done so with grace. I'm glad you are in a better spot at the moment, and truly if you ever want to talk to someone who can at least say, yeah I've been there, or I might be going there again, or whatnot, please do! I know it's also super hard (or at least for me) to reach out and request help, so I'm very relieved you did this time. I don't know if you self harm anymore but I know that it's been something always in the back of the mind like, hey, remember what we used to do when you got stressed? Hugs and positive thoughts for you my friend. Wonderful post. Thank you for sharing.

    1. I meant to add that I used to call myself a "functioning suicidal person" similar to an alcoholic because after years of no meds working (I finally had my GYN figure out it was mostly hormonal thank God) it was more along the lines of yes, I've thought about ending this so called life today, but I'm not...maybe tomorrow...and move on with the day. But thankfully that was a few years ago. Okay, I'm off...for real..

    2. Thanks for sharing, Addie, I really appreciate it. I am so sorry you were 'carted off to hospital' against your will. It was never something that was suggested in my case, even in my bleakest moments. I imagine that it would have made things so, so much worse. I haven't self-harmed in about 15 years. I have a bunch of other self-destructive habits which I try to manage but I feel some sense of achievement that the numerous scars on my hands and arms are gradually fading. I really appreciate how open and honest you've been about your own experiences of depression. It's a bloody lonely experience. Thanks for reaching out.

  4. I love you, but you know this, yes? And I love you for posting this and being real, and being you.