Sunday, April 10, 2011

GUEST POST The other side of suicide

Elinor O'Neill writes for the Harborough Mail and is the author of the blog Lost in Notation. Last year she wore a different dress every day to raise money for the mental health charity Mind. Those dresses will soon be on sale at a charity auction at The Oat Hill pub, Market Harborough. More details here on Liberal England when I have them.

One of the golden rules of surviving self-harm is to be open and honest about when you get the urge to harm yourself. In this way it is hoped that just by voicing the thought you release some of the tension associated with it in your mind. The problem with this theory is that it requires you to let a loved one know that you are thinking of hurting yourself.

I have never been a self harmer but I have tried to take my own life six times in the past six years.

There is a fabulously dark joke, probably only one that a legitimate loon can fully appreciate, about the patient on his third suicide attempt whose doctor calls him a failure because, as the patient’s father had told him all those years ago, "you can’t do anything right".

Sadly it is extremely easy, once your mind is made up, to find a way to end your own life. Not only do we see instances of at times insensitive reporting’s of suicide in the media but there are literally hundreds of sites and chat rooms happy to answer questions as complex as how much do I take to as painfully trivial as what should I have for my last meal.

Rather than give you a graphic account of how I tried all those times what I hope to do is explain to you a little about why a 26-year-old girl with a fabulous job, good friends, a supportive boyfriend, a stable family and a stunning shoe collection would want to take her own life.

I was diagnosed with bipolar on the anniversary of my 17-year-old sister’s death last September, but my friends, family and me all agree that I have been a bit of a crazy long before that day. I remember being in Belgium with the ATC and my sister’s boyfriend at the time telling everyone that I had the most extreme mood swings he had ever seen. At the time I was only 14 and I guess everyone put it down to PMT, but I often wonder whether life would have been simpler if a diagnosis was made at an earlier stage.

In brief, my own illness means that my mood fluctuates at a rate far quicker than that of an ordinary person. The best way I can describe it is like being on a roller coaster which occasionally pauses to let you off to see your photo, but which makes you jump right back on afterwards. In this way I have experienced times where my mood is so low that I cannot physically get out of bed, where I do not eat, dress, sleep or lease of all talk to anyone. People at this time become too much like hard work and I retreat leaving me all the more susceptible to committing the big s.

Strangely though, the other side of this illness is that in general my personality is that of a bubbly cheerleader who has had a bit too much coca cola. Left without medication and meditation I can be a hell of a lot to handle. The world becomes a beautiful place which simply must be experienced today. People and socialising become my reason for living and I have been known to walk home with strangers just to share the stars and pass the breeze.

Let us though return to the harsher side of this illness, its survival rate. One in ten of all people with bipolar illness will go on to die at their own hand. It is the tenth biggest killer in the world and claims lives and destroys families every moment of every day.

But what is it like for the ones who survive the attempts? How do they feel in the moments before they act on the impulse and why do they do what they do?

I wish I could explain it properly, so that you don’t all think that I am a crazy, selfish, melodramatic drama queen, but I don’t know that I can. My experience is personal and in no way does it describe the feelings of everyone who has ever had the urge to end their own life, but what I do know is that when the urge comes upon me it is very strong and very real and unless there is some sort of intervention there is little that I can do to stop the thoughts cascading and the fifth becoming a sixth.

Part of my problem, as I said in the beginning, is that I struggle to tell anyone when things are getting bad and because of this when the urge comes for me to end it, when the world has all gone black and the colour seems gone from my life, I feel, utterly alone.

My most recent attempt was just two weeks ago. It was perhaps the most serious so far and though I will not go into detail for the sake of safety I ended up in Leicester Royal for a week with my kidneys functioning at a third of the rate they were before my attempt.

For more than a year I have managed to hold off on the suicide attempts in spite of having extreme lows by trying to think of the effect it would have on my family, friends, colleagues and partner. By talking about things and voicing the s word whenever it got too strong in my head I managed to stave off suicide for another year.

Due to medication, however my personality has been on shut down during the last five months. Socially I have withdrawn from the world, and though there have been no major lows, so too have the highs of life been gone for me. It had truly got to the stage where I could count on my hand how often I had felt anything more than just alive in months and all of a sudden the urge got too much and the curtains came down.

It was all so sudden and though I did try to reach out in my mind I was made up that my loved ones and the world at large were better off without me. The feelings of that day have dimmed but of what I remember the world seemed a beautiful place which was all the more terrible because the beauty and charm of it was totally inaccessible to me. I felt as though I’d been watching the playground for years from outside of the gate, not allowed to go inside in case I tripped.

I remember getting on a train from London back to Harborough weeping like a child half of me hoping that someone would notice and do something to make it stop. I could hear the thoughts, I knew what was coming but the wheels were in motion and though I talked to my partner it was as though my mind was made up and nothing could stop me.

It is hard to know looking back whether anyone could have got through to me had they known how bad I was feeling but I like to think that had I just had the strength to pick up the phone or even just pressed a panic button, that I did not have, that something could have been done before the act.

A note I wrote but never posted sums up my feelings moments before the act as someone desperate for escape: "I know it's so selfish and cruel of me to do this but I just can't go on living like this. I am so hideously unhappy. I'm not the bub that I once was, I see it in the eyes of my friends. Their bored with me and they wonder where the other Ellie went. The one that was fun and happy, talkative and up for a laugh."

The truth of the matter, of course, is that my friends and family were not bored with me and that few but myself had noticed how flat I had become. For me, I had lost all personality from all the different drugs I had been taking: for everyone else, I was just an ordinary girl.

Although I survived the attempt and have come out the other side happier, drug free and more like me than I have been in months the act was final and the consequences could have been more dire.

As it was my body faced a fight for seven days where my kidney and liver struggled against the damage I had done. It put my parents and partner through hell and has left me weak and unable to drink, which is maybe no bad thing. There are hundreds of people who take this decision and who do not come back from it. It breaks my heart to think this because there are alternatives. There are therapies, medications, options and just other ways. When the black dog closes in it is hard to see that there is still a path up ahead but that is why it is up to us as a society to light the way.

There is currently a three-year waiting list for counselling on the NHS and your chances of seeing a psychiatrist or a CPN are slim to none except in extreme cases such as my own. I have received excellent care through the NHS but there are failings in the system and there is more that can be and has to be done.

Life is so truly wonderful and sitting here writing this blog, lying in bed beside the man who would have been lost to me in the home of a family which would have been broken apart again and in a world of so much possibility I weep at what could have been and for all that can now be.

1 comment:

MMM said...

This gives real insight into the mindset that leads to a suicide attempt. Very honest and open. MMM