We Need to Talk About... Suicide

Blame and accusations cannot take away the pain, but maybe a greater understanding of what leads a person to that terrible place can go some way to helping them to learn to live with it.
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Wait! Come back!

OK, so it isn't the most enticing headline ever, and the first thing I ought to say is that no, I am not suicidal. Far from it.

But in the past I have been.

And I feel that I have something of value to say on the subject.

I have received a lot of comments on my blog, many praising me for being brave in sharing my thoughts and feelings in the way that I have. Such feedback is always a real pleasure to receive and it means a great deal to me. But to be honest, doing this has never felt brave; this is who I am, and I am happy and secure with who I am, regardless of what happens to be going on in my life.

But this post is different. This is tough. This is uncomfortable. And that's why I feel that it is important that I write it.

One of the things that I have learned in recent years is that when faced with things that challenge us, things that we know will be tough, more often than not it is the difficult path that is the right one to take. And there are few subjects closer to my heart than this. I need to write this.

Why is this post so difficult for me to write? I have written very openly about my struggles with depression, but this feels different. I guess there may be something in the fact that, thankfully, depression is being talked about publicly much more these days with many high profile figures talking about their experiences. I'm in very good company.

Maybe it is because, despite the stigma that still exists, there is a growing acceptance that depression is indeed an illness, a serious illness that kills many people, especially young men.

Maybe this is why it's difficult -- how do we tell people that depression kills when ultimately a person who dies by suicide ended their own life? How can we say that depression killed them?

It is natural that people who haven't known the turmoil of severe depression will question how that decision was made, especially given the terrible pain caused to those left behind, especially any children. That's just selfish. Isn't it?

Imagine. For a minute, try to imagine just how bad things must be for the sufferer that he or she takes his or her life. It goes against every instinct that we have. The strongest instinct that we have is overcome -- that to survive. How does this happen?

I have detailed how depression felt for me here. Perhaps the most harrowingly accurate description of the anguish of depression that I have read is from William Styron in the memoir "Darkness Visible."

In depression this faith in deliverance, in ultimate restoration, is absent. The pain is unrelenting, and what makes the condition intolerable is the foreknowledge that no remedy will come -- not in a day, an hour, a month, or a minute. If there is mild relief, one knows that it is only temporary; more pain will follow. It is hopelessness even more than pain that crushes the soul. So the decision-making of daily life involves not, as in normal affairs, shifting from one annoying situation to another less annoying -- or from discomfort to relative comfort, or from boredom to activity -- but moving from pain to pain. One does not abandon, even briefly, one's bed of nails, but is attached to it wherever one goes.

When this has been your experience for months or more all you want is an end to your suffering. Nothing else matters. Nothing. But, as Styron observes, faith in deliverance is absent. One of the hardest truths of this cruel illness is that it robs you of the very thing that you need to survive it: hope.

After recovering from my first bout of severe depression, which lasted for approximately eight months, I used to think that if the worst happened and it did return that it wouldn't be as bad because I would know that it passes. And I would know just how beautiful life on the other side of depression is. And after having my children I thought that I would never again feel suicidal, because now I had the greatest reason that I could possibly have to endure whatever life could throw at me.

I was utterly unprepared for the force with which depression would strike again, and was quickly robbed of my naïve illusions. Although in hindsight there were tell-tale signs that I was sliding back into the black hole, I was adamant that I would not, could not, suffer with depression again.

I was wrong. I went from a week's holiday from work having a wonderful time with my daughter to being able to think of little but how I could end the anguish that I felt within a fortnight.

When depression strikes with such brutality all you want is an end to the pain. That is all. And no matter what else you have in your life, the only thing that you can feel is the pain and anguish that crushes your soul. Even with the knowledge that depression passes, even with the experience of having overcome it once before, the belief in recovery, the hope in deliverance is... absent.

And this is how depression kills. Not because the person wants to end their life, but because they want an end to the unbearable suffering. But there is no end. To the sufferer, there is no end and there will be no end. Not just for them, but for the people that love them and care for them who are helpless in the face of depression's onslaught as it robs them of the person that they knew. So leaving does not feel selfish but an end to the burden, for everybody.

I didn't want to die. But I didn't know how I could continue to live. Because I wasn't living. I was surviving, from minute to agonizing minute I was merely surviving. But to no end. The truth is that if I was offered a pill with the promise that I would go to sleep and never wake up I would have taken it. In a heartbeat.

But, despite being consumed with thoughts of little but ending the suffering, I couldn't do it. And I can't tell you how grateful I am that I couldn't. But that wasn't how I felt then. I felt weak. Weak that I couldn't do the one thing that would end the nightmare for me and those that cared for me.

And terrified of what my life would become, with no hope for recovery, and no way of escaping.

I did escape. I recovered and I would like to think I am stronger for having done so. Not everybody does, and for those people I have nothing but deep, deep sympathy that they were never able to reach the light. And sympathy too for those that were left behind. Blame and accusations cannot take away the pain, but maybe a greater understanding of what leads a person to that terrible place can go some way to helping them to learn to live with it.

I will end with another observation from William Styron:

"The pain of severe depression is quite unimaginable to those who have not suffered it, and it kills in many instances because its anguish can no longer be borne. The prevention of many suicides will continue to be hindered until there is a general awareness of the nature of this pain."

I hope these words can help.

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If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.