Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Talking about suicide

After many years of dealing with mental illness I’ve reached a point where I’m quite open about my mental health. I’ve had negative experiences when sharing my story but I’ve had many positive ones as well. Perhaps the best thing to come out of it has been the way that my openness has helped other people to talk about their experiences too. Learning that I’m not alone, whilst in some ways sad has also helped me overcome some of the isolation which seems to be the lot of a person with mental illness. Helping other people by providing a listening ear or supporting them while they access professional help has done wonders for my self-esteem too.

Yet there is still something I find it difficult to talk about. Suicide, whether that be relating my past experiences or discussing the still recurrent ideas or urges that pop up, is a difficult topic to tackle. Firstly, there are other people’s reactions to is. Far too often I face a lecture on how selfish it is. Frequently instead of being able to talk about why I feel like I do I end up having a discussion about how my suicidal ideation is upsetting and distressing for those I’m talking to. I’m sure that it is and I’m happy to talk about that, but right then in that moment what I need to talk about is me.

There is a common belief that if you are talking about suicide you aren’t at risk of taking that step, but that’s not true at all. If I’m talking about it, thinking about it, contemplating it then what I need is someone to listen. To set aside their distress and help me work through mine because when I’m at that stage I’m simply not in a place to be offering support. I’m in desperate need of it myself.

I can honestly say that I don’t want to die, what I want is to no longer be in the situation I’m in. There are times when my depression and anxiety become so bad I honestly can’t see any way out that doesn’t involve death. What I need at those times is another option, another way to improve my lot. In talking about it that’s what I’m seeking.

It’s not about being selfish, or wanting attention. It’s not about having given up. It’s about not wanting to live with things the way they are and being unable at that moment to see a way to change my life. Sometimes it’s about being so afraid of my suicidal thoughts that I fear I will give in to them, simply to make them stop. Thoughts of suicide can be horribly intrusive, hard to deal with and often times come with a compulsion to act on them.

All I ask is that if I – or anybody else – talks to you about suicide, listen. Take them seriously, but don’t panic. Keep listening and keep me talking. While I’m talking I’m still fighting, still seeking an alternative. It may be that I’m not safe to be alone. Perhaps I need to be seeking professional help and support. You can help me do those things and I’m not saying that you have to deal with the situation alone. All I’m saying is that if I’m talking about this it’s because I’ve recognised that I’m not coping alone.

Later, when I’m coping better I will be happy to listen to your side of the story. I think it’s important to do so. I just need you to recognise that in the moment, I’m not able to help you. All of my energy and ability to think is taken up trying to survive until this current urge passes.

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