Suicide and me
As the days grow darker and get shorter low mood and depression will be on the rise, this is why I choose to write about this topic today, not as an expert, but as somebody who has struggled with depression and struggled to ask for help due to years of deep shame around needing help.
I recently read a post by Tamu Thomas of www.livethreesixty.com.com about the deep held shame of asking for help and it made me recognise that this was a huge part of my struggles. If you carry a low sense of self-worth or self-value you will most likely also carry the burden of shame, as you will be trying to hide your vulnerability in the cloak of being ok, and a hidden belief that you are not worth the help anyway. Depression will repeat these stories to you over and over again making it feel impossible to ask for help, like it is a dirty little secret that you require help. So, I want to ‘normalise’ some of the thought patterns and feelings associated with depression in the hope that if you ever feel this way that you will get the help that I so struggled to ask for. My experience was at its worse in the period after having my son, but the thoughts and feelings associated with depression are ever present, it does not have to be a major life changing event to trigger depression and suicidal thoughts, it is not a competion about who has the worst trauma, or worse depression. How you feel right now is valid and deserving of help.
In January 2009 I gave birth to my son. It was totally planned, I was 31 years old, married, financially stable. So really it should have been a breeze. But it wasn’t. My mood plunged rapidly within the first few weeks. It was that dark time of year that I had always struggled with, but this was a new sort of low. It was a secret low of silent tears, of feeling like a failure over and over again.
“its ok to not be ok” “this too will pass” were phrases that were banded around. And as true as they may be they were hollow words. Because it really isn’t ok to feel that bad, it feels shit. And although it may well pass, at the time it was a never-ending reminder of how much of a failure I was. It was like every minute of existence was there to remind me how shit I was, how I am not strong, too strong, a control freak, cold, hard, unloving, unlovable, closed off, ineffectual. I made little or no impact on anything. Depression makes these words feel so incredibly real. Any help offered was like more people noticing all of this, it was as if there was a poster up on a wall announcing how crap I was. Every well-meaning statement was like acid being poured into this huge wound of my own making.
It never ended, these feelings of being nothing, worse than nothing. I shut down. To stop the pain I simply shut it all down. No happy, no sad, no joy, no bliss, nothing. I would drive and think how easy it would be to just put my foot down and swerve into the central barrier, smash. No more feeling. I can remember walking around a reservoir and standing on the dam and very easily and peacefully thinking I could just climb up and jump. Fly away. It was so appealing. So very simple, and with all emotion shut down it seemed perfectly ok to do. It was like a fantasy of just not living anymore. Its not that I wanted to die, I just didn’t want to live. Because living was feeling, facing myself, and that had become too painful.
Suicidal thoughts are just that. A fantasy. There is a very big difference between suicidal thoughts and actually taking your own life. I didn’t know that, and I was so deeply ashamed at these thoughts, that it fed my self-hatred loathing even more. It is estimated that 1 in every 5 people experiences suicidal thoughts, but we don’t talk about it. I had never read about other people having these kinds of thoughts, so felt that I was in some way a sick individual, over dramatizing over what everyone else just cracks on with. I felt like I was making a fuss, attention seeking if I should mention it. So, I told nobody. And the big problem is whilst there is still shame attached to these thoughts it can all too easily tip over into actually taking or attempting to take your own life.
For a whole year I silently cried tears onto my baby’s head. I curled into a tight ball when alone, burying my feelings. I closed my heart. I retraumatised myself everyday by not asking for help. By not meeting my needs I was just rewriting all my old stories. You are making it up, don’t make a fuss, pull yourself together.
I can’t remember the last time I had a suicidal thought, this period was over 10 years ago now, so maybe not for 10 years! Interestingly my suicidal thoughts were not the rock bottom to motivate me to get the help. They didn’t feel very rock bottom, they actually felt quite calm and nice, they were moments of peace, quickly followed by long periods of self-shaming and more walls of defence.
And shame is the beast that I am facing up to today, it is why I am sharing this with you to attempt to take away the shame associated with these behaviours. Because with shame comes defensiveness, and defensiveness pushes people away, blocks the help that is available to you. Shame comes from judgement, and judgement comes from fear. For me it was fear that I was ‘creating’, that I would be proven to be false and be publicly shamed. It is a childhood story that I carry. I was raised to be strong, so anytime I hurt be it physically or emotionally I was told to not make a fuss. My feelings were constantly downplayed. I was constantly told that I was playing up ‘for attention’ So my thoughts and feelings became false. It was a clever game of control by my father and avoidance by my mother. So as an adult, these big feelings seemed to me to be another case of me ‘playing up for attention’ So I shut them down. And shutting down included these delightful fantasies of no longer existing.
I am no longer ashamed of how I feel, how I felt. I now see the beautiful complexities of all of our humanness and revel in the fact that this connects us all. Depression speaks falsehoods to us, and shame stops us from getting the help to rebalance these thought patterns.
How did I help myself? I am not sure what happened to tip me over to get some help. I think my mum may have suggested I see a doctor, because although she would never had said anything (I wouldn’t have listened to her, the old defensive shame thing!) She could clearly see my struggles and did what she could in persuading me to see a doctor. I did finally get an appointment with my GP and got super pissed off when he barely looked up from his screen and just prescribed me anti-depressants. I desperately needed to be listened to and he just dismissed me. Luckily, I got to see a different doctor and she gave me details of a local therapist and that was the start of me unpicking my stories. There is real deep healing for somebody with stories and beliefs similar to mine to be heard without judgement or shaming. This often needs to come from a source outside of your closest friends or family as they are usually tied up in those stories already.
So, in conclusion, depression is an absolute bitch, it tells you lies, it feeds into your deepest insecurities, it can be triggered by everything and anything. It is personal and not to be compared to another’s. Suicidal thoughts are just that, thoughts. You do not need to act upon your thoughts.
The ultimate strength is found in vulnerability. ASK FOR HELP.
Be it your GP (even if that just triggers off alternative action, it is a good start) A counsellor or alternative therapist.
Understanding yourself and your triggers is a great start, be brave enough to be honest with somebody about your thoughts and actions. Get yourself a support network. You may be surprised that you know a number of people already who you thought totally ‘had their shit together’ who are secretly struggling or have done in the past.
We need to change the conversation around depression and its impact. Sometimes we need a coping strategy, be it medication, a safe supportive space to be held and heard. Other times we need a strategy to unpick the stories behind the depression to alleviate its hold, so that you can begin to recognise where these beliefs come from. And other times, those really dark times we need to let others keep us safe from harm.
Some resources if you are struggling are:
www.suportline.org.uk 01708 765200
www.sane.org.uk 0300 304 7000
www.thecalmzone.net 0800 585858
I am also available to offer support and guidance, as a person who lives a fulfilled and calm experience with depression, I offer an understanding ear with lived experience. I support people in being better able to understand themselves therefore offer themselves loving compassion so that they can get the help and support they deserve. You are not alone, no matter how much depression might tell you that you are. You are loved, you matter. Please seek help.