~ Trigger Alert ~
I don’t like to court controversy in real life or on these pages and it’s most certainly not the reason that I’m writing about the subject today. If you remain unaffected by this subject your whole life through then you have been incredibly fortunate and so has your family. The statistics may tell you that you and your family will easily escape this cursed outcome but the statistics only tell of the ‘successes’, the mortalities. There are thousands if not millions more ‘attempts’ each year. Someone you know may well be one of those unreported statistics.
Even in this modern society where there are precious few taboos and the word ‘sin’ long passed out of fashion, the s-word remains both. No one talks about it. It is something shameful, confusing and ridiculously painful. And we’re not even talking about its victims.
Are you prepared to talk about it?
We don’t do much in the way of preparing our children for mental health crises, perhaps we feel an almost superstitious fear of broaching the subject as if we were putting ideas in their innocent heads. One of the reasons that so many parents aren’t prepared to talk clearly about the ‘birds and the bees’ to their children either. But ignorance isn’t bliss. Ignorance doesn’t save lives, protect innocent minds. I know because I grew up in the most sheltered, naïve world that you could imagine, beyond that probably too. I didn’t even watch television. The s-word had never been uttered. I start self-harming at nine. Perhaps my attempts were naïve but they reflected a deep-seated pain that I knew no other way to express or to get rid of. Ignorance didn’t protect me. It won’t protect anyone else either.
How do you feel about such ‘attempts’? It is easy to write it off as just some attention-seeking episode. Perhaps it’s more convenient to our own perceptions of children, teenagers even the mentally ill as a whole. Just doing it for the attention. Perhaps it’s easier than having to ask questions or address a whole cataclysm of behaviours and feelings that we ourselves aren’t ready to deal with. Perhaps it’s easier than realising that our perfect little world isn’t quite as perfect as we’d like to imagine, perhaps we’d rather ignore it than face the shame of our families, friends and communities.
But what if it’s just ‘attention-seeking’, a cry for help? Does ignoring it not just do more damage? A young voice that cries out desperately yet constantly goes unheard. What are they learning and what messages are you reinforcing? That no one cares, that no one takes them seriously? Maybe it was a cry for help but what if it succeeds? Would you not question even blame yourself for not having done more? It’s easy, convenient to ourselves to tell them to pull their socks up, to get a grip but does it make it any better or easier for them?
The s-word raises more questions than there are answers. It is a scourge and one that needs to be addressed. Carrying posies and marking crosses on the door did little to quench the Plague. We need knowledge. And we need compassion.
Are you prepared to raise the issue when necessary? Or when a loved one is in difficulties, will you shy away or tell them to get a grip?
I have a stubborn streak. It seems to have kept me alive all these years. Most days I don’t know why. I never know how. A lot of the time I am ashamed of myself for all those ‘failures’. I should have tried harder! Obviously there’s nothing wrong with me if I keep surviving attempt after attempt.
Does it make me weak and pathetic that I have failed? Do we only measure success when it comes to the s-word by its mortality? Is that success, achievement, a desirable outcome?
There are no easy conclusions, there is nothing straightforward. Human emotions are complex and there are fewer more complex emotional situations than this pain. It is pain that eats you away from the inside, a burning in your chest. Physical, real, solid. It is not a whimsy or a passing weak thought, a temptation. Does that make you think differently about the s-word?
One thing I know about the s-word is that it happens, an ‘attempt’ takes place, when all hope is lost. When you lose hope then you lose everything. You have not been heard, you have no answers and the future if you see one at all is bleak and threatening. I have not just lost hope. I can’t remember the last time there was hope in my life. Maybe that is why I keep going. Because I know nothing else. I might not be good enough, there might be no future or hope, there might be overwhelming stress and pressure but that is nothing new. It is the loss that prompts the ‘attempt’. Whilst I don’t believe, I can’t, that the future will be any better I am stuck in this rut of daily survival. There is no shock loss that prompts me to drastic action.
The truth is you need to be able to feel to ‘attempt’. We believe as a society that the s-word is the worst that it can get. There is worse. A lot worse. The paralysing numbness that Depression can drag you down to, beyond the motivation to get up and put an end to it all. The s-word is the tingle before your foot goes numb. And if you happen to get better or have a good day, the s-word can be the tingle as life comes back to it. The s-word can get you on the up as well as the down. Did you know that?
I don’t have the motivation to act. Maybe it’s because I’ve lost all sense of belief too. In choosing to ‘attempt’, whilst acknowledging that things are at rock bottom, you also believe that you deserve better. That this mess that your life is in is not the way it should be. So you opt to take the only way out.
It’s the only way because there are no other answers at the time. There is no one listening often. There is no escape plan or people and organisations that you can turn to. It can be spur of the moment, a knee-jerk reaction to a shock loss (it’s always a loss whatever that may be, not being listened to or not having your opinions heard or not being respected – those are big losses). Sometimes it is planned, controlled and meditated on. But there has been a loss and there is no hope.
Would you be alert to those changes, those warning signs in your loved one?
I do not praise the act but it is too easy to say that it is just a ‘selfish act’. At a primal, emotional level then we have to act selfishly, for our own interests and our own self preservation. Sometimes we are cornered into choosing to self-destruct. It is rarely done with thoughts to harm or betray our loved ones. If it is then maybe then that is the genuine attention-seeking act of a hysteric. It’s only when you get to that point yourself do you realise the tortuous state of mind, you will feel guilty and ashamed but what other option is there left?
You can try to reason with them but reason belongs to another world, to minds that are fit and healthy. The logic has changed completely, a crosswire connection has been formed and things seem entirely different when they are in that place. Reason is for an earlier time. Love and compassion is what you need to give now. And support, endless support.
Would you give that or would you be too busy reacting, dealing with your own emotions? That’s selfish.
I can see how the succeeding is a good thing. It appeals me too often. The end of the hopelessness and all those burdens that I carry daily. I can see why people end up trying. Can you? Sometimes I wish I could find the strength to do so because too many days I don’t know how to go on. I have lost too much. So much that I don’t know what I have left.
The s-words rips through lives and families and communities like a missile blast. Jagged, cruel and indiscriminate. The question ‘why’ echoes in every conversation that follows. Although that seems obvious to me at least. We don’t like to think that life can get that bad. We like to believe that we were always there for them. We like to believe that there were always other options. But was there? Were we listening to them, really, genuinely, deeply? Maybe the ‘why’ is just a vocalisation of our own guilt, our own shame. We like to believe that we could be better or stronger, we like to believe that we would do differently. We also have to ask ourselves whether we should have done more or responded differently to that one we have lost.
How do you respond when you hear that some has gone that way?
If your friend or neighbour or colleague or loved one was in hospital after such an ‘attempt’, would you go to them? Or would be more comfortable to pretend that it conveniently never happened?
If we never talk about it, pretend that it never happens, who are we protecting? Ourselves and our own emotions or the people that matter? It could be a child in your life.
There are no easy answers and this is just a viewpoint, a viewpoint of someone who has battled with Depression for over two decades. I wish there was an easy way out regardless of my own personal belief systems and values but do you blame me for feeling that way?
Are you prepared to discuss the s-word in your life?