World Suicide Prevention Day 2021

It’s World Suicide Prevention Day and, as last year, I wanted to reflect on my own experience of this often-avoided topic. Last year I wrote about the impact of referring to a suicide attempt as “failed” and how it ought to be described as “survived”. This feeds in nicely with the theme of this years World Suicide Prevention Day – hope.

World Suicide Prevention Day 2021: Creating hope through action – NSPA

It could be quite simplistic to say that suicide is what happens when hope runs out, when there is a lack of vision for the future, when there is nothing to look forward to. Wanting to die brings forth images of emptiness, darkness, a place where nothing can survive or grow. In depictions of suicidal persons you typically see the stereotypical depression tropes.

In my experience, that does happen. But that’s not what it’s like when the need to die sets in. Suicide itself for me was hope. It was a solution to the pain and the emptiness. It gave me something to plan for and look forward to. It gave me a reason to get my house in order, so to speak, and made me consider who was important in my life and how to lessen the impact. It got me to think about what I wanted to communicate to people, what my valuable possessions were and what I wanted to happen to them. There was a release of burden and weight going through this process, it was a relief to find motivation, there was a freedom in taking back some control of what was happening to me. It may sound perverse but in those periods of time, I was almost happy.

Evidently it still never happened. I’m alive. Sometimes the process of going through all that planning and consideration was enough to reset me, it created some momentum and got me moving – thinking about people would sometimes make me reach out and that led to plans to meet which I would want to see through; looking at possessions would remind me of places or get me thinking about plans I once had around it – a souvenir guide would inspire me to work out when to return to that place, for instance; organising bills would show me it wasn’t that difficult and ease any stress around it. Often, I wouldn’t notice the shift from planning for the end, to planning for the future.

The time I planned and went through with an attempt, it was because of something happening which forced me to skip a few steps and I ended up surviving because of how flustered and unprepared I actually was. Wanting to die but not being ready, caused me to survive.

It’s a similar story with the other times I survived. It was the lack of planning and not being psychologically present which created my survival.

I’m wondering what would have happened if someone had intervened when I was feeling like that and tried to find hope. If they had said that I needed hope that things would get better I would have felt like I had that – I had a way of getting out of the situation if it became too much. Perhaps there was hope that it wouldn’t have to come to that. Perhaps there was hope that I would go to sleep and things would magically have improved – that some sort of fairy godmother would have waved a wand and found me some shoes that fit right. There was hope that I wouldn’t have to feel that way, that I wouldn’t be lonely, that I would have happiness, that I would have security, that I would be loved. There was no belief that anything I hoped for was possible.

I was certain my life had no way back and all that was ahead was more pain. I was certain that I was a horrid person that didn’t deserve good. I was certain that I had nothing positive to contribute to everyone and everything. I was certain that my death would only bring relief to those who had known me. I was certain that I only had one option remaining.

When I reached for help, it was because I hoped there was an alternative and that I was wrong. I believe that when anyone says “I want to die” there is still hope within them and with a bit of help and guidance, that hope can be nurtured into something more. It isn’t necessarily about fixing a problem, it can be about finding something new, something that person won’t be certain will go wrong as it did before. It’s about believing them and acknowledging that for them, there is no alternative, but showing we can see something different for them. We can see the good. We can help them find things to look forward to with a sense of hope.

With hope comes a sense of control of the future. Of not being resigned to a particular outcome. The worst thing that can happen is someone taking over when you ask for help. Even small choices can bring a sense of hope and relief – would you like a hot drink or a cold drink, would you like to eat a sandwich or some chips – small choices that ultimately have the same effect (they eat and drink something) but that remind the person they are still there and can make decisions. Shall we speak in the morning or the afternoon.

I was once given a choice that didn’t feel like a choice. I was asked to pick between going into weekend respite care or being sectioned. But it was a choice. I was asked to decide whether the home treatment team spoke to me on the doorstep or whether they came inside. I was asked whether I would open the big pile of brown envelopes or whether they would. Would I like them to walk me into the respite house or whether I would go in with the staff working there. Whether I wanted biscuits or fruit with my drink.

There was a councillor who talked to me about my suicide attempts. She asked me if I want to go to sleep and never wake up or go to sleep and wake when the problems had gone away. I’ve since asked that question to others who have told me they want to die, and I’ve never had anyone say they want everything to be over for good.

As long as there is a hope that things don’t have to be the way they are, there is a chance they don’t have to be. While the person who is considering death may see hope in a permanent change, there is a chance to find other alternatives.

Our actions and words can give hope and help others find hope in themselves. Hope is an opportunity. Grasp it.

1 Comment

  • commented on September 14, 2021 by fee

    this is such a great piece, thank you Tess for sharing your experience – and how it’s shifting, over time. I love the nuanced reflection, particularly “Often, I wouldn’t notice the shift from planning for the end, to planning for the future.”
    it’s so true that the smallest tasks can sometimes catalyse big shifts before we’ve even noticed the darkness starting to lift.
    i’m so grateful for your ability to talk so honestly, it doesn’t help anyone to hold shame and stigma over this, particularly in these dark times. the more open we can all be about these realities, the more we might be believed, seen, heard, accepted, loved. and if we are those, then we can be more brave about asking for help with those who actually understand, and rebuild our agency with safe companions along the road.
    big raw solidarity love to you x

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