In this article I’ll share my personal (and detailed) experience with suicidal thoughts, which could be triggering. If you are currently experiencing suicidal thoughts or extremely low mood please visit Samaritans.org or call +44 (0) 8457 90 90 90. Those in Berlin can contact: International Helpline Berlin: 030-44 01 06 07.
I first contemplated taking my own life when I was 18. I felt the world would be much better off without me. This wasn’t self-pity or melodrama — I genuinely felt the world would improve with a Ricky-shaped hole in it. I didn’t plan on telling anyone my intention. That’d put a spanner in the works. It’s not easy planning a suicide if people know about it. Especially if those people love you.
I was exhausted by the daily emotional pain. I was overwhelmed and I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t really know what was going on or why I felt the way I did. I had no idea what steps to put in place to manage the feelings and thoughts I had. There was no escape. Countless quiet Sunday mornings I’d lie in bed, paralysed by a sense of foreboding, thoughts of death ringing in my ears. What was a symptom of depression disguised itself as a rational form of treatment.
A Lunchtime SOS
One day, I cried in front of my mum. I remember that day because it was the day after my mum picked me up on my lunch break, after I made an SOS phone call. I was working in a law firm and I’d just been promoted into a new team, somehow functioning despite regular panic attacks and a death wish. My first task in the new role wasn’t difficult. I had to phone a solicitors’ office and ask for their email address. Well, that’s a piece of piss, I remember thinking.
So why couldn’t I do it? 9:10am, 10 minutes into the day. I was a sitting duck at my desk, just about keeping my head above wave after wave of despair. I was shaking. I couldn’t breathe. I thought I’d pass out. I waited. I pretended to look busy, hoping no one would detect how I was feeling. I made it until 12pm. “Just gonna pop out for lunch,” I said as nonchalantly as possible, tripping over the chair as I stood. I flung my bag over my shoulder, pleading for no one to ask: “Ricky, why are you taking your bag with you to lunch?”
Of course, no one would ask such a innocuous question. But to the depressed and anxious mind, this question was a threat. It was a threat because my bag symbolised freedom. It symbolised my intent to walk out of the door and to never come back. If anyone asked, well… Then I’d have to find an excuse. Knowing me I’d fail to find one. I’d probably cry and in front of the whole office. Game over. I’d be revealed for the pathetic, depressed weakling I was. Man up, or end it all. That’s what my thoughts told me.
I walked out that lunchtime and phoned my mum instead. “I can’t do it, can you pick me up?” were the words I used, or words to that effect. No matter how old you get, there’s nothing more comforting than your mum coming to pick you up. She did, of course, her maternal intuition knowing not to ask too many questions in reply to my cryptic-yet-obvious plea for help. She knew she needed to be there and that’s all for now, and she was.
The confession was freeing. A weight lifted. Truth be told this moment was coming for a long time; the depression was consuming me, the anxiety burning from the inside. Until that point, I’d only confided in my girlfriend of the time. Neither of us knew how to handle it. The time had come to share the burden; through the tears the next morning I confessed. “I just feel so sad, and I don’t know why.”
It’d be some years before I explained to my family that “so sad” meant suicidal. Although the stigma is reducing, there’s a visceral response to talk of suicide. It’s almost as if it’s too much to handle, yet one of the most effective ways of fighting the cause is by being open. Before writing this article, I was speaking to my mate Ben. I’m vocal about my mental health experiences, yet in seven years of friendship, I realised I’d not once spoken fully about my experience of suicidal thoughts.
Mental illness and stigma kills people, far too many people, and the easier we can openly discuss, the better. So here goes.
The Times I’ve Wanted To End My Life
I’ve had three or four suicidal spells. Lunch walk-out was one moment in a year-long period killing myself felt a viable option. I remember searching on Google for techniques. I remember considering crashing my car on the motorway and making it look like an accident. One of my more flamboyant plans was to jump off the Bristol Suspension Bridge, before I realised they had suicide barriers. Balls.
I had a special spot in a beautiful park some miles from my house I’d morbidly nominated as “the” spot. One day soon, I told myself, I’ll go there and I’ll overdose on pills, washed down with vodka to make sure. Occasionally I’d drive to the spot and sit. Waiting. Contemplating whether to get out the car, to walk to the place I’d identified. I never got out of the car. I sat until the sun set, the darkness embracing me, a familiar embrace.
Aside from fantasising and plotting, I got dangerously close to taking action a few times. Stumbling back from town, dizzy from five-too-many Jägerbombs, far too much smooth R’n’B and Joop Jump aftershave, I got in an argument with my girlfriend over the phone. It was five in the morning and I was five minutes from home. Fuelled by the falling out, something kicked in and I turned back where I came from, towards the canal. I walked onto the bridge I crossed on my daily commute. I climbed over the barrier. I sat and stared at the mud-brown water below, contemplating jumping in. Not today, I decided in the end, and went home.
I had another severe bout of depression at university, triggered viciously when a friend from home died suddenly in a motorcycle accident. I fell apart. I was experiencing extreme paranoia, panic, suicidal thoughts, I heard voices. The noise was deafening. Staying alive was a challenge; sitting on a bus was the mental equivalent of holding my hand over a burning flame. Lecture halls were sensory torture. Social interactions were exercises in how long I could act hinged when being wildly unhinged under the surface. It’s surprising how far smiling and cracking jokes can get you.
Drinking didn’t help, neither did drugs, I did both. In a similar incident to years prior, triggered by a drunken argument with my then-girlfriend, I stormed back from town, walked into my kitchen, picked up the sharpest knife and held it to my wrist. Long enough for the cold sensation of the blade to match my body temperature. The next day I attended a friend’s birthday party. I joked as I retold the story of storming home, censoring my stoppage amongst the cutlery.
Depression Is A Great Teacher
All things considered, it might sound weird for me to say that I wouldn’t change a thing. Depression has been my greatest teacher. Depression taught me courage. It made me realise the power we each have to shape our perception of the world. Depression forced me into a journey of understanding the mind, to glimpse behind the curtain. Knowing what true rock bottom feels like opened me up to a new appreciation of normal.
It’s not easy to recollect and articulate these experiences. But I do so with a purpose. I want to send a message of hope to anyone feeling the way I did. I’m here now, behind these words. I survived, somehow, and I’m happy to say in the years passing, I’ve experienced stillness, tranquility, peace, contentment, fulfilment, joy. Not all the time, of course, but it’s a miracle I feel the way I do now. I experience low mood at a tiny fraction of what once was.
Contemplating suicide isn’t contemplating physical death. It’s contemplating an escape from extreme suffering. Within the midst of immense mental pain lies an opportunity for rebirth. An opportunity for the self-image to crumble, the ego to disintegrate. It’s an opportunity to rebuild. In A Road Less Travelled, M. Scott Peck goes so far to argue mental illness is an act of grace, a “powerful force originating outside of consciousness which nurtures our spiritual growth.” Indeed, depression, anxiety, psychosis and a host of mental illnesses are so much more than emotional responses to events.
Shameful To Shamanic
Suicidal thoughts don’t have to be acted upon. Instead, if we can transform our approach to mental illness and reduce the stigma, we may find Peck’s words ring true. We may find emotions are some form of intelligence telling us something isn’t right, the beginning of a significant shift in consciousness. In many indigenous tribes, those who suffer become healers and shamans. Their mental illness is viewed as a gift.
If you’re reading this now, and you’ve experienced suicidal thoughts, this post is for you. Seeing the experience as a gift may feel almost insulting. But I want you to remember hopelessness is not truth, it’s a symptom. I want you to make a promise to yourself to keep going. I want you to have the courage to continue to fight. I want you to surprise yourself by living and experiencing things you never felt possible. I want you to look back in 10 years time, teary-eyed and stunned by the beauty you’ve seen, beauty you never thought possible. All of this beauty lies ahead, hidden from view.
I don’t know what stopped me from harming myself, but something did. If you’ve had suicidal thoughts and you’re reading this now, it’s what stopped you. Never underestimate the power in staying alive. And never underestimate the power that has kept you alive. Let this be an indication of your strength, a reminder you can rebuild, transform, grow, experience, love, laugh, create, take control.
For now, just keep going.