Today I saw a picture posted by a guy I used to work with. It was a picture of a motorway bridge and a laminated note next to it saying:
Suicide doesn’t take the pain away. It just passes it to someone else.
🙄 < my own eye roll was much larger than this.
I don’t know the origin of that photo, perhaps it was written by someone who was grieving the loss of a loved one to suicide. I also know the guy that re-posted it, and I’m sure he did it with good intentions. However, it’s a message which isn’t filled with compassion and support.
It’s a message loaded with guilt.
It says ‘I know you want to die, but if you do you’ll make someone else sad, so just keep going. Keep going with your pain, with your depression, with your memories and flashbacks of trauma. Keep living even though your own mind scares you and you don’t feel safe in your own body. Keep going even though you don’t know how you are going to feed yourself and your family. Keep going in your grief. Keep going with the pain that you feel cloaks every waking moment of your day, with the ruminating thoughts that don’t stop, with your diagnosis that you can’t get any tangible help for. Keep going with your guilt, and here is a little more to load on top of that. Keep suffering, but don’t make anyone else sad, ok?‘
Suicide isn’t a conscious choice. Suicide is an option that feels like the only remaining option when the pain of living becomes greater than the pain of dying.
People who contemplate suicide already feel like a burden. They know that people will be upset but their unwell mind will convince them that the sadness other people feel will be temporary and lesser than the upset, frustration and disappointment that they will endure should they continue to live their lives.
There is absolutely zero compassion within those words. There is no hope that in the future things might get better, there is no clue as to where to look for resources that might help. There is no inkling of the fact that if you are contemplating suicide you are very, very far from being alone.
There is just guilt. So, much, guilt.
People who feel like ending their lives and their suffering don’t need to be told things like this. They need to be reminded that the good days will one day come again. That there are people out there who will listen, and that the words that come out of their mouths don’t even have to make any sense. They need to be held – physically and emotionally. They need support, they need friends to sit with them in the silence when their mind is anything but. They need hand holds in the dark when it’s 4am and the tears won’t stop coming. They need governments that recognise how huge the scale of mental ill-health actually is and who are willing to put funding into supporting those who need it. They need financial support and they need appropriate treatment for their unique condition. They need to be reminded that none of this is their fault.
They need compassion, and understanding and for people to listen and begin to recognise just how complex and traumatic even the very thought of suicide is.
I wrote this post a little while ago, and this morning I have shared it over on LinkedIn, because like my post yesterday it may be useful for employers to read if they are helping to support an employee with mental illness, or for anyone really to understand the complexities of dealing with mental ill health every day.
Also, I don’t use LinkedIn all that much so I don’t have a lot of connections on there and especially not with fellow writers 😦 If you want to send a friend request then please feel free and if you feel like sharing my post then I am happy to share one in return on Twitter or via a re-blog ❤
I have been a bit quiet and neglectful of both this blog and
my social media presence of late. I have had ideas about what to write and I’m
sure that those posts will make an appearance over the next few weeks, but this
one is perhaps like a bit of a stopgap.
I have been quiet because I haven’t been very well. My
depression and anxiety has been sneaking back in over the last couple of months
– at first I thought it was a blip, but it lasted, and was getting worse…
Last year I decided to come off of my medication – with the
help of my doctor. It was so that I could go onto a new medication that would
treat both my depression and my fibromyalgia. Anyway, once I was off of the old
one, I wanted to know what I was like without it – I had been taking this stuff
for 8 years. For months, I was fine – all throughout winter, this was a
success!! There were still hard days, but the nights were long, the mornings
dark and here I was being able to cope, to work, to socialise, to combat my
depressive thoughts with healthy behaviours…
Until I wasn’t any more.
It started off with a constant sense of being overwhelmed.
Now, I don’t have children, I don’t have anyone depending on me apart from my
dog (and my husband when he’s hungry), I work 23 hours a week, I have two days
off a week completely to myself. I have a therapist to talk to, I have
wonderful friends, a fantastic and very lovely husband… but everything, even
the smallest of things, was beginning to feel like it was too much.
I think something that people who haven’t suffered with
mental ill health struggle to realise, is that when the small things are hard –
the sleeping, the eating, the getting up and showered and dressed – everything
outside of that, seems insurmountable. These are things that other people take
for granted – going to work, going into town on your own for an appointment,
driving, getting public transport, planning things, deciding on things. And
then, then something happens out of the blue, something past the everyday
struggles, something past the tasks we have to do that feel insurmountable and
leave us exhausted, these are things on their own level – a family member gets
sick, your pet gets ill, work messes up your wages – and sometimes, all of
these three examples happen within the same week.
I was feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. All I wanted to do
was sleep. My concentration was fading fast – I couldn’t even find relaxation
in curling up with a book, I hated the thought that my depression was back and
so, still, I tried to push onwards. In therapy we were talking about bullying
and trauma, I was having intrusive thoughts, unwanted memories, feelings once
again of not being good enough, not clever enough, thin enough, smart enough,
adventurous enough, pretty enough, tough enough. I felt that I was letting everyone
down; my guilt was increasing by the day. I’d go to bed at night and think of
friends I had lost over the years, things I had said in arguments, and mistakes
I had made – which were long forgiven, by everyone but me. Holding conversations
was hard – trying to hear and focus over the voices in my head all talking over
each other and so I became quieter.
And the tears… I was crying at anything, if someone asked
me how I was, tears. If there was an advert with a doe-eyed animal on, tears.
If my brother sent me a picture of my beautiful baby nephew, tears. If I just
so much as thought of someone, in a
situation where they were being taken advantage of, or deceived -this is a very
strange kind of intrusive thought I have which proves quite hard to explain,
but yes, tears nonetheless. My mother’s voice on the phone, tears. The smell of
my dogs fur, tears. My beautiful friend April doing a tarot card reading for
me, after two cards, tears…
And when I cry, my words dry up. So I couldn’t tell anyone
any of the thoughts that were jumbled and overwhelming. They all felt
ridiculous to me anyway -my depression was hissing at me to not be such a baby,
to think of others that have it worse and realise how lucky I was.
I am meaner and harsher to myself than I would ever, ever be
to anyone else.
But it was all too much, all of it. I have self-harmed
before, over a long period of time, but I was even past the point of that.
Suicidal thoughts were becoming more and more frequent – there was a massive,
overriding part of me that knew this could get better and that knew I couldn’t
do that to my husband, or my friends, or my parents and family. But the
thoughts were still there, the need to just stop everything and drift away, was
still there. I felt that eventually, they would be better off without me, but
then I would remember small things – my husband’s laugh, or how he sings along
to whatever music is playing when he’s doing the dishwasher. I would think of
my friends – brave, inspiring and something I never thought I’d be lucky enough
to have. I’d think of visiting my parents and my Dad giving me some whisky as
we settle down to watch some TV, or my mum waking me up with a coffee in the
morning. My nephew, how proud I was of my brother and his wife. How the wind
feels on autumnal days, when that first bite of winters chill is in the air. I
thought of the sunrises and sunsets I’ve seen, I’d remember how everything is
cyclical, that pain and grief comes but it also goes and that’s when joy and
gratitude come to take its place. These thoughts would keep me going until I
slept, or until my husband came home from work. Just a few more thoughts, just
wait it out a bit longer…
But it wasn’t sustainable; I was scared of my own mind and
my own thoughts. This blip wasn’t going anywhere so I decided to go back to my
doctor and immediately he put me back onto the anti-depressants that I had
worked so hard to get off of 8 months previously, I was gutted.
There is no shame in taking medication and I know that if it
was anyone else, I would comfort them with the things we hear all the time
about taking medication for mental health issues; I’d tell them it was ok, that
sometimes we just need that helping hand and that depression is a chemical
imbalance and the medication helps to get things back on track, but I’m not so
great at turning that kindness inwards. Eleven days later and I know that it
was the right decision, aside from the initial side effects, my general mood
has improved – the depression is still there,
it just feels very numbed down. I am aware that I haven’t cried in eleven days,
which having cried so much beforehand is a very strange sensation. I’ve been
close, but it’s like the tears are just out of reach right now, even if at
times they would be a relief.
So, why am I telling you all of this?
It’s not for sympathy – I know some really lovely people
read my posts and I am very grateful for words of comfort ❤ However, it is
more for awareness. For the people who don’t
know what depression feels like; for employers, parents, friends, spouses,
siblings, work colleagues…
When someone has depression it can be very hard to know what they are going through because it can be very hard for them to try and explain it. For example, the word ‘suicide’ makes people panic, but just because we have those thoughts, doesn’t mean we have any plans or even a real desire to carry it out. However, the thoughts and idealisation are a symptom of being depressed and they can be unwanted and distressing. People with depression can very often feel overwhelmed by the smallest of things and they may suffer with disassociation – which, I’m sure is the minds way of trying to protect itself, but again it can be very unnerving and distressing.
I know that when I’m depressed, I’m very quiet – but this
does not mean my mind is. My thoughts are going too fast, getting too jumbled,
being too loud, contradicting themselves. With all of that going on inside my
head it becomes very hard to determine what
one thing is wrong – what do I tell
you, when even to me it makes no sense? When I have the logical answer but the
illogical thoughts are so loud that they drown it out?
Seeking help – even when we know it’s the right thing, can
be incredibly hard for a number of reasons. It can be hard on the very basic
level of getting a doctor’s appointment, but it can also be hard because we
know that once we are in the consulting room, we need to talk and that can
sometimes be a challenge in itself. We have to face up to what is happening,
and this may mean going onto medication or taking time off of work which may
impact on finances and career aspirations. Guilt is also a massive factor when
it comes to depression; I have always pushed on because I don’t want to let anyone down, whilst neglecting my needs in the
process. If you are an employer and a member of staff has called in sick with
depression – please, acknowledge that this was probably incredibly hard for
them to do.
There is a lot we don’t say, a lot you don’t see because we
feel that keeping it hidden will save others the discomfort – but depression
isn’t just a case of feeling sad. It
is a whole myriad of emotions, of symptoms and of discomfort. Its complex, and
its different for everyone – we rarely understand it ourselves and yet people
so often want answers from us.
But this is also how depression works – it isolates us, it
whispers in our ear that no-one really cares, that others have it worse, that
if we tell people the truth we will push them away. Depression lies – but it’s
So, if you know someone who is depressed, in the words of Stephen Fry – ‘please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather. Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through.’ – Because we don’t want you to fix us, scold us, push us or protect us from ourselves, we just want you to be there, and accept us.
Because knowing that you are there, without judgement, is perhaps the most helpful thing of all.
Zero Suicide Alliance – A free online course which takes all of about 20 minutes which offers some useful knowledge that will help if you think someone is suicidal or if someone confides in you that they are having suicidal thoughts.
Mind & Blurt – Two really great mental health charities offering great advice and support – for those suffering from depression and also for those who help support us ❤
Thank you for reading
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This is a very hard subject for me to broach. Its hard for a
number of reasons, but one of the main ones is because I am going through one
of those phases where every thought I have seems contradictory. This is anxiety,
I know it is, its my brain not trusting what it tells itself.
Its also hard because I don’t want to offend or say
something ‘wrong’. I know that online you are likely to offend someone just by
saying hello, but this is a sensitive
subject to some, and I feel I should point out from the very start that this is
my opinion, based upon my experience. It will not be the same for everyone…
I am someone who spends a fair amount of time online. I
always have been, from using dial-up in my brothers’ bedroom to using the
internet for work and my own passions (this blog). It was only natural then
that when I was first unwell with my mental health and at home a lot of the
time, I sought comfort online. I very quickly found a forum for people with mental
health issues and on that forum I made friends – some of which I still have
nearly a decade later.
The me that sought comfort then feels like a different
person to the one writing this, now. I am still me of course – I am still
brunette, quiet, sensitive. I am sat in almost the same place, I still have a
dog (albeit a different one) nearby. But in many ways, I am not the same person;
I have changed, I have had to. I have had to educate myself about my own mental
and physical illnesses, I have grown mentally, spiritually and also physically.
I have learnt things about myself through therapy, through pain and through
heartbreak. I have experienced amazing joy and happiness, but I have also
reached points so low that I have questioned whether I would ever surface from
the pit of my despair. I have found incredible, amazing friendships and I have
lost people who I thought would be in my life forever.
And you will have done similar, I am sure.
Because we are all constantly growing, learning and evolving
– even if at times it doesn’t feel like it.
When I was a member of this forum, I like to think I helped
people. I am still in touch with someone now who has thanked me very recently
for the help I offered – and I was helped too, by others. People who reached
out when I was frightened and lonely and daunted by things happening to and around
me. For nearly 11 months, back in 2010, I struggled to leave my house – I had
agoraphobia, I couldn’t even walk my dog, let alone go to work, so this
community formed a little extended safety net of people. My boyfriend (now
husband) was amazing, but he didn’t fully understand the magnitude of what was happening,
my parents were the same (and also ninety miles away). These people though,
they got it, they understood, and
that was great and what I needed – I needed to feel understood, less alone and
less freaked out. They were, quite literally, a lifeline.
I have found little mental health ‘communities’ in other
places online throughout the years. I have spoken to people dealing with their own
mental health issues and I have marvelled at how people experiencing anguish so
great will help others without a moment’s hesitation. I have had wonderful,
expansive conversations that have helped my own recovery and growth and I have
watched as friends have recognised issues, sought help, and bloomed. I have
talked friends through relapses and confided in them about my own in moments of
darkness and struggle. I have felt fortunate to have all of this help, experience
and solidarity at my fingertips or at the push of a button and I have felt my
heart swell as I watch the bravery of others as they tell their stories, and
help, one voice at a time to break down the stigma and confusion surrounding mental
But I have also seen the flip side.
Because there will always be one; I have formed a codependent relationship with a man who’s struggles with his own mental health threatened to destroy my own self-worth. I have lost friends because we have been at different stages of recovery, I have cried and grieved over people that I will never have the chance to meet. I have seen how predators can wheedle their way in, gain trust, lie and leave people (including myself) in ruins. I have seen whole communities turn against one person for having an opinion or saying something out of turn and I have not been in a place strong enough to make a stand for either side. I have watched the steady decline of friends who I have had to accept that I cannot help in any way other than being there, listening and offering brief words of comfort or support. I have found myself being triggered and have had to work out the underlying reasons why and work very hard to heal myself – that one, is still a work in progress.
I have had to also learn the difference between online, and
real life – but also, how closely the two are linked.
Yesterday, I had a pretty bad day. It was a bad day for a
number of reasons – I was in a lot of physical pain and as a knock-on effect,
my depression was simmering and bubbling away. My anxiety was through the roof-
as it has been for nearly two weeks now and I was, exhausted. I slept a lot,
but in moments of wakefulness I scrolled through Twitter. This… didn’t help.
What happened yesterday on Twitter isn’t the issue here, I
think anyone who knows anything about mental health can agree that asking
someone about their self-harm scars, is wrong. But what impacted me, more than
that – as a survivor of self-harm and as someone who still struggles with that
and has scars – was the reaction and subsequent fall out.
There are two terms that are banded around Twitter a lot; ‘Mental
Health Community’ and ‘Mental Health Advocate’. Now, I am not saying that
either are bad – to be able to access support and companionship online regarding
illnesses that are, by their very nature isolating, is wonderful. But it is
wonderful only when it works well, when difficult subjects are handled sensitively
and when those involved appreciate that every-one is fighting their own battles.
I will not be putting the words ‘Mental Health Advocate’
into my Twitter bio at any point, not because I have anything against
advocating for better understanding around all mental health disorders but
because I feel I am wholly unqualified to make such a claim about myself. According
to a post I saw yesterday, a ‘Mental Health Advocate’ must have an
understanding of all mental health conditions
– and I am sorry, but I don’t. I rarely understand my own, never mind someone else’s
and it would be wrong of me to profess that I do.
Mental illness is not like diabetes, its not like a broken
leg. We know about diabetes – we know what causes it, we know the symptoms and
we know how to treat it. I know there are complications and its not always as straightforward
as that, but it is a case of cause and effect. Same with a broken bone. Mental
illness is different, it is vast, it is – even by medical professionals – at times
misunderstood and misdiagnosed. I have depression and anxiety but my symptoms
can vary massively to someone else that has depression and anxiety. I have an
unhealthy relationship with food – but I am neither anorexic nor bulimic, even
though I have exhibited symptoms of both. I am a survivor of trauma, and I only
found that out about myself within
the last six months. I exhibit signs of other mental health disorders, but I
have not been diagnosed as having them. I also have a physical illness that has,
possibly, been brought on, in part, by stress and trauma.
And that is me, just one person. I struggle to understand my
own behaviours and reactions to things – that is why I go to therapy, that is
why I spend a lot of time working on myself and trying to recognise what is me
and what is my illness.
I can empathise with other survivors of trauma, with people
who also struggle with food. I can go to group therapy alongside people who have
also fallen under the same diagnosis, but I can still exhibit wildly different symptoms
from them. I can listen and understand and learn, I can help to validate someone’s
feelings and offer them comfort – but I am not a medical professional and I am
not immune to being hurt or affected by someone elses actions. I can understand
that mental illness – whatever the ‘label’ can make any of us act in a way that
is out of character or in a way which we later come to regret, because I have
been there and done those things myself.
But putting that title upon yourself – ‘advocate’ – is pressure.
I have seen posts by people asking others what they believe a good advocate is,
what they need to do in order to
earn that title, and honestly, I would tell them not to worry about earning it
in the first place. If you are here, if you are fighting mental illness and
still waking up each day, if you are sharing your stories and helping others
with their recovery – and even if you are not, even if you are just working on
yourself and growing and learning each day, then you don’t need an additional
title to validate your worth.
It is not up to me to tell others how to behave online and it is not up to me to say what is right and what is wrong, but yesterday was incredibly eye-opening. I have unfollowed a lot of accounts and I do not believe that anyone had any malicious intent, but for me, dealing with my own mental health, seeing the posts and the comments that were being posted by ‘advocates’ made me really question the value of that self-imposed title. I have no doubt that there are wonderful people who advocate every day on Twitter, or any other social media platform – with or without that title. But, I would always exercise caution, and advise that others do the same, because online isn’t the same as real life, but the fall-out from it all can be life-alteringly real.
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