AF: Shortly before Christmas a reader of this blog contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in hosting a guest post about the day he tried to take his own life.
On the week when ‘Stranger on a Bridge’ survivor-turned campaigner Jonny Benjamin launches the #ThinkWell initiative to get better mental health teaching in schools, this seems an appropriate time to share the post with you.
I’ve tried to ensure this post stays within the Samaritans media guidelines, but obvious content notes apply.
One day, I got up, I went to work, and I fucked up the presentation I was meant to give that morning. I was shaky, nervous and couldn’t concentrate, because that day, was the day I planned to die.
I stumbled through work, and then started to enact my plan. I stopped by the local off-licence and bought some vodka, and some other random drink, “for a party” so as not to look suspicious.
I popped along to a model shop, and bought the tools I thought I’d need. I made bullshit small-talk with the guy working there about the aerodynamics of spitfire wings so he wouldn’t be suspicious.
It was important that I avoid suspicion. Go quietly and without disturbance. I took the sim card out of my phone.
With everything I needed, I bought a ticket to a small seaside town that I had many fond memories of.
At this point, I didn’t feel like I was slowly being dragged to my death any more, but sucked, rushing into it.
When I arrived at my destination, I faltered a little. but, I knew by this point, people would be wondering where I was, that now would be the point of no return.
I walked for hours up and down the streets. I stood by the sea, and I listened to the waves. I didn’t really think. I just absorbed.
During these hours, I bumped into an old friend. I didn’t expect this, and It’s something I never wanted to happen. we chatted. We talked about how we didn’t hang out enough. He asked what I was doing, and I told him that I was going to look at the windmills.
It was a desperate attempt to avoid suspicion.
I could. and probably should, have told him the truth, or something approximating it. “I don’t feel well, man.” “I’m cracking up and I needed some space” or “I’ve been having dark thoughts”. Now, in the cold light of day, I have absolutely no doubt he would have dropped everything, he’d talked with me, he’d taken me to hospital, home or police station. Any of my friends, family, the many people who surrounded me would’ve. But, I didn’t.
I didn’t want to cause a hassle.
After that, I walked on a little more, and found somewhere to settle down. The town sits in a valley, and I walked to the highest point in the ‘town’. Isolated and some distance away from foot traffic, it wasn’t perfect. But it was good.
As the sun started to dip low, the sea shimmered, and shafts of light pierced the cloudy sky. As the wind tugged at my jacket, I thought it was beautiful. It was the first time I’d had a thought like that for months. I thought it was beautiful, and an amazing sight to see before I’d die.
There and then, I honestly thought I was going to die. It’s an odd feeling. If you take the hind-brain confusion and panic from stumbling on the stairs, mixed with a twinge of that irrational fear the moment before the roller-coaster dips over the first drop, and then stretch that over a period of hours, that’s how it feels.
I took a swig of my vodka. and I sobbed. I cried. I cried, thinking about what I was about to do to everyone. I cried, because of how I felt. I cried and I yelled because I had desperately wanted to talk to someone, anyone, and I wasn’t able to bring myself to. I was angry at the world, and furious with myself. I was ashamed for crying, that I’d probably die crying.
I tried to drink as much of the vodka as I could, but I spat it out. This was the one time I couldn’t stomach it. I tried some of the other drinks, but it didn’t make me ‘drunk enough’. I wanted to get blind fucking drunk so the next part would be easier. I did not succeed. I tried to club myself about the head with the vodka bottle. I can’t remember why, maybe to numb myself- maybe just because I needed to fuck myself up. It hurt, but didn’t do much else.
Upsettingly sober, I watched the sun set. It started to rain. I (tried) to write the suicide note. in the days leading up, I had a million ideas of what to write. I had fanciful ideas I’d have some kind lengthy laminated leaflet that would answer all questions, and alleviate any guilt anyone felt. In the end, I used a biro to scribble “BURN THE BODY, NOTHING OF VALUE LIES HERE” on the back of an envelope. It quickly pulped up in the rain.
I then tried to kill myself. Obviously, I didn’t succeed. It hurt, and was messy, but didn’t go as planned. All I gained from this was some wounds and a slightly improved understanding of the circulatory system.
I have never felt more ashamed. I felt that killing myself was the minimum responsibility I had to society, and by not doing that, I’d cemented my status of ‘parasite’. I laid on a park bench and pretended to sleep. I will never forget how cold it was that night.
The next morning I got a train back into the city because I didn’t know what else to do, and I went to the hospital’s A&E because I didn’t know what else to do.
I said to the receptionist “Hi there. I uh. I have been having some serious thoughts of killing myself”
This was the first time I had ever told another person how I was feeling. I half expected to be told to fuck off and stop clogging up the department. She told me to take a seat instead.
I was called to triage and asked how I was feeling. I told them what happened, breaking down half way though. I can’t remember what was said, but it was sympathetic. I spoke to a very tired looking doctor, told them the same story. I was ushered into a room with two people with clipboards and the restrained manner of headteachers, and I told them the same story. They asked me if I had been hearing voices, how much I drank, and other interesting questions until the police arrived. I had been reported missing.
I pleaded with the police not to tell any of my family. “I can’t do that without your consent, but I’d strongly advise that you do, mate”.
My dad picked me up. We talked, I told him I was sorry. I just wanted to be someone he could be proud of. He said he’d always been proud of me. we hugged, and both cried. This is the only time I’ve seen him cry. He didn’t cry when his mum died. he didn’t cry when he told us my mum had cancer. Strong men, don’t generally cry. I seriously considered telling him, my family, what happened.
As you probably gather now, I didn’t. I told them that I wandered out to the seaside and that I didn’t feel well. That was it.
I felt that I couldn’t possibly burden anyone with the truth. It felt so good, such a relief at the hospital that I was being taken seriously, but about thirty seconds later I felt so guilty for that- that I hadn’t ‘earned’ the right to be taken seriously.
I would be leeching. Attention seeking. Whining.
It was much easier, and much easier to justify passing the whole thing off like a comparatively harmless eccentric adventure.
I say comparatively. My family were still distraught.
I was prescribed a course of antidepressants.
Due to patchy NHS coverage, I visited three consultants throughout my recovery.
The first consultant was rotund, with an Attenbrough-air of restraint and, of course, a dickie bow. He asked a lot of details about my plan, the frequency of my planning- “did you really want to kill yourself?” more than once.
“I just wanted to sleep. Escape it.” was my response. “Would you describe it as a cry for help?”. I still don’t really know what that question means. I still don’t have an answer now.
I told my fiancée the full story, a few weeks later. She cried for hours. She thought she’d done something wrong, was to blame somehow. completely the opposite. I couldn’t articulate a reason why I’d done what I’d done, which made things difficult.
Slowly, the fog began to ebb away to be replaced with a generic numb wooziness. I really wanted to talk to my friends about what had happened but I couldn’t think of any way to broach the subject with the requisite amount of frankness, detachment and self-deprecation needed. If I couldn’t laugh about it, show that it was all behind me now, I just couldn’t approach it.
So obviously, I never said anything.
Weeks pass, and I see the second consultant. He reminds me a lot of the people with the clipboards. He asks me how I’m feeling, and if the antidepressants are working. If I still think about killing myself (not nearly as often). He seems pleased, and asks me to fill out a questionnaire for his research. My answers don’t seem to please him as much, but he tries not to show it. “you can evaluate the symptoms of depression to an extent- your answers are giving me a different impression from talking to you…”
I get more anti-depressants and a pat on the back.
A few weeks, and I head back to work. Things start to get back to normal. Some people ask if I’m OK, since I’ve been off a month, and I say yes, and that’s the end of that. Depression wanes more than it waxes, and I slowly return to square one. I begin the process of pretending that nothing ever happened.
I see the third consultant- frank and pragmatic, I feel like out of the three, I actually communicate with this one, though I can’t be sure if that’s just because I can finally reach through the fog. It feels like the first time I’m actually talking with him about my depression as a thing that I can separate from myself, like a person with an illness, rather than a problem to be handled. I ask him about what could be causing it- ‘sometimes, at the other side, you can look back and say “oh, that was a cause” but sometimes- there isn’t really a cause, I wouldn’t worry about it”.
He gives me a prescription to wean me off the antidepressants. And I do.
And that is it. ‘Recovered’. Except not really. I lied to all the people who care for me the most. I wasn’t capable of putting aside my need to seem ‘independent’ and ‘self-supporting’ and ‘strong’. I prioritised “man up and deal with it” above all sensible advice. I still instinctively associate ‘wanting help’ and ‘needing to talk’ with inflicting a cost- that support needs to be ‘earned’. I cannot bring myself to so much as say out loud what I have done. I still feel that incredible shame, and I still remember what I put people through, I have a lot of conflicting feelings that I have boxed away and try to never explore.
Sometimes I have dark lulls, and sharp thoughts about a better method. I sometimes remember how easy it was to go quietly slip away and I am tempted.
But I will not. One of the main reasons that I boxed myself in and cut myself off was that I didn’t think that I would be listened to. that is not true.
If you have these feelings? People will listen. People will absolutely listen, and give you respect and trust what you say.
Want to talk?
CALM helpline 0800 585858 (5pm-midnight, daily)
Samaritans 116 123 (24 hours)
National Suicide Helpline (USA) 1-800-273-8255