It’s been 2000 days since the last time I tried to commit suicide. That wasn’t the first time – in fact, it was the third time. But it was the only attempt that involved the authorities, and it was the attempt that landed me in a Secure Mental Health Ward. It was also my most successful attempt; March 21, 2011 was the day I almost died by my own hand.
I was confined to the hospital for five weeks following that episode. I’m told I remained in a catatonic state for three days after; I don’t remember much of those first three days. I had taken a massive overdose of pain medication. And it took that long for whatever pharmaceutical measures they undertook to bring me back around to reality. I do remember a doctor asking how I felt about not succeeding in my attempt. And I still possess a vague recollection of mumbling in response, “there’s always tomorrow.” In retrospect, that’s probably why they decided to keep me in the secure ward. And I’m quite certain I wouldn’t be here to write this 2000 days later, had I not been “committed” that day.
Of course, that’s not the whole story. For each time I’ve tried to sneak out the back door of life, there have been countless fleeting impulses to lurch in front of a bus, or toss myself into a freezing river. And there have been too many cravingly intense moments of suicidal conviction.
When being assessed for clinical depression, one endures a barrage of standard questions, and one of those questions is, inevitably, “how often do you think of suicide?” My answer for that question has been, for many years now…“I never stop.” Even since being “treated”, suicidal thoughts are still more familiar to me than is comfortable. It never goes away.
That’s called mental illness. That’s what comes of untreated chronic depression. That’s the product of putting on that mask of normalcy for decades, not letting any but those closest to you have the slightest glimpse of the pain you feel, day in and day out.
You might read this and wonder why I didn’t ask for help. You might question why I didn’t reach out. Why I didn’t recognise, in myself, such an obvious need for assistance. And you might not understand how complicated those questions really are. There are so many reasons. There are so many doubts. So many ways a sick mind can trick a person into believing that they deserve what they feel. Or, moreover, that they don’t deserve help. And that help doesn’t help anyway. Even now, medicated and psychoanalysed, I still harbour those same thoughts.
We live in a world chock full of social cues that tell people in pain that the right thing to do is to just rub some dirt on it and walk it off. It’s easy to believe that this is a world without understanding, without compassion – for a lot of people, it really is. Mental illness, especially depression, makes it too easy for us to overlook the caring hands and kind words that surround us. It makes it second nature for us to deny the joys of life, and to commit ourselves to misery and loneliness.
2000 days ago I almost ended my life. It’s just coincidence that this anniversary falls on World Suicide Prevention Day, but I’ll forgive you for thinking it serendipitous. My story isn’t uncommon. The details are unique, but the destination and the cause are much too familiar for far too many people. I wrote this hoping to add to the conversation already started by so many people suffering through mental illness and its fallout. I don’t want well-wishes or pity. I want awareness, I want real help made available from real mental health resources in every city around the planet. I want a cure for mental illness. Those things are attainable, through conversation and compassion. But if I could ask anything of you, my reader, it would be this:
Be kind to those you love, and to everyone; be there for those you know are hurting; and, please, don’t keep your pain a secret.