A little over five weeks ago, I drove to a DIY store and bought a bag of sunflower hearts, some liquid tomato feed, some hessian sacks, a hand towel and a tow rope. The woman serving at the till was attractive and flirtatious and we shared a joke as I paid. I walked back to the car, replied to a text from my Mum to tell her that I was looking forward to seeing her at the weekend too, and drove home. I fed the birds and refilled their water bath. I diluted the tomato feed in a watering can and fed my failing butternut squash plants. Then I went to the garage, fashioned a noose in the tow rope, attached one end to the rafters and put the other around my throat. I stood with the noose around my neck and a sack over my head for five seconds. Or maybe five minutes. Or five hours. I’m not sure.
I wasn’t crying. I wasn’t screaming. I wasn’t pulling at my hair or scratching my face. I wasn’t unclean or unkempt or unshaven. I wasn’t swigging from a bottle of cheap whisky. I wasn’t rambling incoherently about being betrayed or abandoned. I wasn’t, in short, what “Man On The Verge Of Suicide” looks like on telly. I was relaxed and quiet and methodical. I hadn’t decided to take my own life, but I’d decided that I might want to and that now was a good time to do it, should I wish. And so I stood, calmly, with a bright blue rope around my neck, for five seconds or minutes or hours or days, and then I took it off again. And I went into the house, and replied to some emails, and cooked dinner, and played a board game with my children, and walked the dog, and went to bed. The rope was still swinging from the rafter. Nothing was resolved. I hadn’t decided not to kill myself, I’d just decided not to kill myself that day.
Why I made that decision, on that day, isn’t important to anybody but me. People love to make judgements about suicide. It’s a coward’s way out, they say. And then they say it’s cowardly “to not go through with it.” It’s attention seeking, they say. Just look at me now, writing about it, seeking attention, fishing for sympathy and compliments that I don’t deserve because I didn’t even have the decency to finish the job. And then the blame, and the guilt, and the endless questioning of “How could we have known? What could we have done? Why didn’t he ask for help?”
The first two answers are simple. Nobody could have known, because I was careful to keep it that way; and nobody could have done anything (see answer one). Not you, not my friends, not my colleagues, not my family, not the woman on the till, or the birds in the garden, or my butternut squash plants. I put on a smile for them all and said I was fine, and that’s how I wanted it. And as for attention seeking, I didn’t want anybody’s sympathy or compliments then, and I don’t want them now. I just want to keep living and not be in that position again. What I do want to do is answer that third question, why didn’t I ask for help? I want to because the answer surprised me, and because somebody else might feel the same way and not even know it yet, and maybe it might just help somebody who needs it.
Talking later about “The Crisis” (as everyone has taken to euphemistically calling it), my therapist asked me to consider what, in retrospect, I could have identified earlier as the red flags that my suicidal impulse was becoming so strong. I think she was expecting me to say that I’d started drinking more, or withdrawing from people, or wandering the streets looking like Phil Mitchell and screaming to the sky that I wanted Sharon back.
Or perhaps she expected me to say something internal and emotional, about feeling useless or unworthy, or a failure, or letting people down, or bringing disappointment and pain to people instead of happiness. Or about sometimes thinking that I’m an experimental organism created by malicious robots to be emotionally tortured to destruction as part of the Quality Assurance process of a vast galactic conspiracy devised by the shape-shifting tiny aliens who live in my attic. Well, DUH, everyone thinks that, right?
But no, none of those were the danger point for me. I’ve danced up to and over all of those lines plenty of times, and drifted back again just fine. The danger point for me was deciding…no, not deciding, REALISING, that nobody at all could help me. Not that they wouldn’t help me, or that I didn’t deserve help, or that I didn’t know who or how to ask for help. That they couldn’t.
When I woke the next morning, I went for a walk and thought about things and fought the urge to step in front of a passing bus or jump off a bridge or whatever, pushing away the impulses like somebody batting away mosquitoes. Let me THINK, I told those thoughts. Just let me think for a minute.
I knew I couldn’t go on like this, but asking for help felt like taking a roller-coaster ride with a blindfold on. Once the ride started, I’d be out of control. It would throw me around and make me ill and dizzy and I wouldn’t be able to decide where and when it ended. But, you know what, I thought. Fuck it. Being truly on the line between choosing life and choosing death is a great moment to think “fuck it.”
Fuck it, it can’t get any worse. And fuck it, even if it is worse, I still have that rope, right?
And so I asked for help. And I’m still alive. And it wasn’t even a terrifying blindfolded roller-coaster ride to get to where I am now. I thought that nobody could help, even if they wanted to, and I was so wrong. And if you ever feel that way, I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong too. I know it doesn’t feel like it, but you’re wrong. Fuck it. Give it a try. Everyone helped.
My regular GP was on holiday, as was my therapist. So I sat in the office of a young, male, handsome, fit-looking locum GP who looked like he would never understand feeling like anything other than a MASSIVE SUCCESS. And I sobbed and hyperventilated for five seconds, or minutes, or hours, or days, unable to talk. And he brought me tissues and a glass of water and cancelled his next three appointments and said, “Just take your time, whatever it is, we’ll figure it out.” And when I’d managed to talk, he called the local Mental Health Crisis Team for me and waited with me until they rang and arranged to come and talk to me. He helped.
Two nurses came to visit me at home within an hour, and the first thing they said was, “Nobody wants to put you in hospital, nobody wants to put you away, nobody thinks you’re crazy.” And they made me a cup of tea and asked how I was feeling and promised to visit as much or as little as I wanted over the next few days until I felt better. They asked me to be honest with them, and promised to be honest in return. One of them was a keen photographer and goaded me into a jokey argument about our preferred brands of camera (him: Canon. Bleurgh!) as he walked me to the garage without ceremony and helped me untie the rope and put it in the bin. They helped, and the rest of the nurses who came to visit over the next couple of weeks, sometimes talking about serious things, sometimes checking on my safety, sometimes just having a chat and a coffee and helping me to paint my porch for an hour. They all helped.
The Consultant Psychiatrist who came away from his Sunday dinner to talk to me, as an equal, as somebody who had a valid opinion and who had choice, and who wrote me a prescription and took me to get it and laughed with me about the argument he’d have to have the next day with my Cardiologist who’d said that ON NO ACCOUNT should I be given the medicine we’d decided together he should prescribe for me. He helped.
And my regular GP, and therapist, who I felt I had somehow let down or embarrassed, or who would be cross or disappointed in me. They both smiled when they saw me and said they were happy to see me again and we started to work together on making sure this doesn’t happen again. They helped.
All of them helped when I asked.
And they all asked me, “You’ll know, if this ever happens again, that we can help and will help?” And I said to them all, “Yes, I know.” And I meant it.
I can’t stop anyone feeling despair, or pain, or worthlessness, or like Phil Mitchell, or an alien experiment. I can’t stop myself feeling that way sometimes. But if you are feeling like nobody can help, if you feel like you can’t face stepping onto the roller-coaster of asking for understanding and compassion, I beg of you to say “Fuck it” and try, and let the world surprise you as it did me.