Tag Archives: suicide

Talking about mental health

In a recent blog post, Cat Treadwell flagged up some of the things that reliably happen if you try to talk about mental health problems.  It is unfortunately quite normal to hear that you are attention seeking, making a fuss, being a drama queen, over-reacting and things of that ilk. It is also equally normal, when people turn out to have self harmed, attempted suicide, or managed it, to find a lot of people wondering why they never said anything and never asked for help. As though these two things are totally unrelated.

Talking saves lives. Emotional support, witnessing, expressions of care and help with the problems that are causing the depression in the first place all increase a person’s chances of survival. Our culture tends to frame mental health problems as personal, but usually it isn’t – poverty, lack of opportunity, poor physical health, insecurity and a lack of dignity all pushes people towards the edges. These are social, systemic things and we could fix them. Western culture makes people lonely.  The solutions to this lie in community and relationship, but if you can’t speak of it, you can’t access that support.

How something is experienced depends a lot on resources. The less resourced you are, the harder a setback can be to bear. So, if you are doing ok, and your friend appears to be in a similar situation and struggling, is this because they make more of a fuss than you do? What’s the bigger picture? Throw in a large debt, a health problem,  an abuse history and the thing you think shouldn’t be a big deal becomes much harder to manage.  When people ask for help we can’t always see the scale of their issues, so it is as well not to dismiss or diminish whatever is mentioned.

Some people are more sensitive than others, but society tends to view sensitivity as weakness. To care, to feel empathy, to be afraid for the world, to grieve over the loss of species, or the homeless on the streets, or the hungry children depending on food banks – there is so much to break your heart over. Increasingly to be viable is to be heartless. To care about anything is to live with a broken heart. If we prized that sensitivity we’d be a lot closer to fixing the entirely fixable woes we create. If we treat sensitivity as a failing, we can only push on to make life worse for each other.

You may think that if someone was suicidal, you’d be able to do and say the right things to keep them alive. What many non-depressed people don’t realise, is that your suicidal friend isn’t likely to pick up the phone and tell you they are going to kill themselves. It’s not what we do. It’s not when the windows of opportunity occur most reliably to save lives. Your very depressed friend might however speak up about some aspect of how they are suffering before it fully overwhelms them.  It may not make any sense to you. It may not seem like a big deal. Often, the life and death stuff is much smaller looking than is really the case.  Respond well to those smaller expressions and the person you are supporting may never end up trying to kill themselves.

Tell someone they are making a fuss, and when they no longer know how to keep breathing, they may remember that, and not reach out for help.


Struggling with mental health

I wrote this in the middle of the night recently, crying, unable to sleep, overwhelmed with panic and despair. The first version went up on Facebook. I’m mostly trying to out a brave face onto my online presence – easy to hide behind a screen. But, I doubt I’m the only one feeling this way and I think it needs talking about.

TW – Suicide issues.

Like a lot of people, I was suffering from anxiety and depression before the virus. There has never been much help available for us, and now there will be less.

Many of us have lost key things that were keeping us going. We may express hurt over that online – the loss of the gym, the dance class, the pub time, the live music – we may not be being super selfish when we express distress. We may be talking about the things that helped us stay alive. Depression also kills people. Knocking people back for expressing distress or difficult, really doesn’t help.

It’s really hard for me, reading people saying ‘stay in’ and ‘don’t see anyone’ with a clear message that anything other than total isolation makes you a terrible person. I’m really struggling with feeling like a terrible person, I expect I’m not alone. I don’t do much going out at the moment, and I’m being careful and have been for weeks. But I’m also not sleeping, and crying a lot, and terrified of being trapped in this flat and what that would do to my already poor mental health.

Tom has some serious anxiety issues and for him, being trapped in a building is deeply problematic.

So maybe don’t share the memes about how all you have to do is sit on the couch, it isn’t that hard. For some of us, isolation could well be a death sentence.

And yes, lots of anxiety about how selfish I am in not wanting to end up suicidal. I’ve been through periods of wanting to kill myself before now, I’m fighting not to go back there. I’m seeing people online hoping the virus will take them quickly because they’ve already lost the will to live. I see the same thoughts creeping in with me. ‘Selfish’ can be something of a trigger term for me and again I suspect I’m not alone. I think people who kill themselves often do so because they think its the best thing they can do for the people around them. What else is there, if the things you do to try and stay alive are deemed selfish?

I know many of you are new to massive anxiety, and you just want everyone else to be more sensible so you and your loved ones are safe. Of course you want that. But some of us were only ever holding on by our fingertips, and now things are worse. Please, when you go online to vent your fear, consider how it might sound to someone who is having a mental breakdown. Someone – for example – for whom going outside for a run, or a walk is the one tool they have left to manage their failing mental health.

Your suicidal friend probably won’t tell you how they feel because that’s part of how this illness plays out. They won’t ask for help, especially not if what they need is time with another human being. You won’t know who is in trouble, most likely. Yes, isolation saves lives. Kindness also saves lives, and your depressed friends need to know that their lives matter too and that they are not failing as human beings for wanting or needing things that are difficult at the moment.


Suicide and selfishness

Trigger warnings, in case the title of the post wasn’t entirely clear on that subject.

This week has seen World Suicide Prevention Day, and a lot of conversations around why suicide happens and how to stop it. The idea that suicide is an immensely selfish thing to do has been challenged a fair bit, but, I wanted to pick over the mechanics. I feel this one keenly.

I’ve had a lot of rounds of wanting to die – not necessarily wanting to take my own life, but just wanting it to be taken from me so that I might stop hurting. I have also had rounds of wanting to take my own life and moving towards acting on that. Those rounds had one thing in common – the growing belief that it was the best thing I could do for everyone else.

When depression gets its teeth into me, I feel awful, useless and worthless. I feel like I’m a burden to everyone else, a nuisance, a problem. If my being depressed has a negative impact on other people, if my not coping causes someone else a problem, that suspicion creeps in that the best thing I could do would be to offer my absence. Usually I just step back, go silent, disappear, but death is the ultimate absence, and sometimes it starts to look like the single best thing I could do.

There are so many things around how people often respond to suicidal feelings that really, really don’t help with this. Here’s a non-exhaustive list. Calling it selfish. Focusing on how suicide would harm other people. Demanding that you get meds so as to not make the other person uncomfortable. Shutting you down when you try and talk about what you’re feeling because it makes them uncomfortable to hear it. What all of this does, is to make the suicidal person the least important person in what’s happening.

If you’re staying alive so as not to inconvenience someone else or to avoid upsetting someone, this is not a strong position to be in. Whether it’s ok to keep living or not becomes an equation in which you weigh their comfort against what you do. The worse you feel, the more depressed and stuck you are, the harder it gets to persuade yourself that the upset you’d cause by leaving is not in fact greater than the harm you cause by staying. When you’re feeling awful about yourself, it is hard to see your existence as anything other than innately toxic.

If you want to feel comfortable dealing with someone who wants to die, you are not the best person to be talking to them. That might feel uncomfortable, but I think we need to ask people who are largely ok to think carefully about how they prioritise themselves when dealing with people who are desperately ill and in massive distress.

If you want to keep someone alive, you may have to engage with what’s going on for them, and that may hurt. Consider whether it hurts more than the prospect of losing them. Consider what you can say or do to boost their sense of self-worth so they might want to live for their own sake. If you make it about you, then you may well be piling on the pressure and adding to their stories about how little their own life is worth.


Gender identity questions

On plenty of occasions, I’ve encountered people saying they have legitimate questions about trans issues. Most often, these come down to fears for female safety. There is certainly an issue around the scope for predatory men to temporarily adopt trans identities to invade female space. Toby Young – an infamous and vile creature who for reasons that make no sense to me has had some high profile UK jobs – admitted to dressing up as a woman to go after lesbians. However, there are a great many questions I don’t think we are asking, and should be.

Are we doing enough to support diversity in sexual expression? Are we looking after our effeminate boys and butch girls and allowing them to express that way, or are they under pressure to conform to hetranormative standards?

How much gender normalising do we do with children? Are girls who don’t like pink and passive toys being told they are boys? Are boys who like sparkly things being told they are girls? If some young people are being pushed towards trans identities it isn’t trans folk doing this, it is hetranormative pressures from the adults nearest to them and I think we should be talking about it. Historically, telling a child they were behaving like someone of the opposite gender was a scare tool designed to bring them back in line. How many people have been persuaded they don’t belong as one gender because others have told them they’re not acting like a ‘real boy or ‘real girl’?

Pushing people towards a gender change can be a way of pushing them towards heterosexual conformity. I’ve seen it suggested that in some countries, trans is considered preferable to queer because it holds up cultural beliefs about gender. We should be questioning this.

I’ve seen people question the kinds of gender stereotyping trans women seem to go in for. I’m not seeing enough people asking why that might be the case, and what the link might be between performative femininity, and access to support. I am seeing a lot of trans women talking about the pressure to perform femininity in these narrow ways. I think we should be asking questions of what kinds of hoops trans folk have to jump through, who the gatekeepers are, and what kinds of ideas about gender are in the mix here.

If you believe the right wing media, a person, even a child, merely has to suggest that they might be trans to be rapidly operated on and plied with hormones. We don’t spend enough time asking trans people what their experiences are, or listening to the answers. How long does it take to get an appointment at a trans clinic? How many clinics are there and how far do you have to travel to be seen?  What do you have to demonstrate to be taken seriously? To transition, a person has to live as the gender they consider themselves to be, for several years. This includes using a name that is not their birth name, and all the technical problems you can imagine might go with this. What support is there? What help? What legal protections? We’re not asking enough of these questions.

One of the key issues with transitioning is that it reduces suicide rates. The one question I don’t see anyone asking is what else we could do that would help reduce suicide rates. Surgery is not attained quickly. It’s not available on demand. There’s years of process here. What could we be doing in other ways to reduce the suicide rate for trans people? What is it, specifically about the experience of being transgender that has people wanting to kill themselves? How much of it comes down to the behaviour and attitudes of the rest of us? What can we do, individually, to help the people around us be as comfortable as they can be with themselves?

How many people could have happier, more comfortable and viable lives if the people they dealt with simply accepted them as they are?


How to save a life

I’ve written here repeatedly about my ongoing issues with depression as I grapple with it, trying to survive, to overcome it, maybe even to heal. I don’t talk much about how bad it can get, because I’m afraid of sounding melodramatic, or worse yet, making someone else feel a bit uncomfortable. Wanting to die is a re-occurring issue for me. That’s different from wanting to kill myself – less violent, more like a yearning for a simple off switch. On my saner, calmer days, the issue of how not to get into such a dark place that I want to die, is something I pay attention to.

I know exhaustion is a trigger. The more worn down, burned out, threadbare I get, the more likely that I start to feel that only the end of my existence will put me out of my misery. Prolonged bouts of pain have the same effect, and both of which can be tackled without having to top myself, and mostly I do manage to remember this even though I can feel really, really awful.

Perhaps my biggest trigger – or at least the biggest one I’ve identified – is fakery. The more energy I pour into being a tidy, acceptable sort of person, the more likely I am to feel hollow, threadbare and suicidal. The harder it is for me to be myself, the less will to live I can muster.

The trouble is that I’m a bloody awful person to be around. I know a lot of people like my blogs, books, social media stuff, but I’m like this all the time. Always thinking this intensely, always as deeply emotionally engaged, always this intense. I feel everything keenly, I worry a lot, I think, and think more. In person, the emotional intensity may be more of an issue. Add to this that I’m obsessive (this is where blogs come from) and thin skinned. I care about everything I run into and have an awkward habit of loving passionately the people who are in my life. I try and tone it down, but it’s hard and requires a lot of attention.

That might sound ok as a paragraph in a blog, but in real life, it isn’t. There have only ever been 2 people who have encountered me in a sustained way as I really am, and not run away or asked me to tone down. It can be lonely sometimes, and every friendship is a waiting game. How long can I last? How long can I fake it for before I slip up and am too real? And all the while, the faking it is taking me apart and digging me a deep, dark hole.

For anyone who wants a quiet, gentle, peaceful, easy going sort of life, I am, quite simply, too much. Too intense. Too serious. Too passionate. Too giving. I’ve heard them all and more along the way, repeatedly. So I’ve bent and battered myself trying for more acceptable, harmless shapes. This morning I realised that this is, metaphorically speaking, killing me, and if I keep it up sooner or later it might quite literally kill me.

I’m choosing life.

This means I am not going to be a tidy fake for anyone again. I have a number of strategies for how I’m going to handle this. Absence and silence are at the top of the list. Not being in places where there are people. Moving away if I feel something. Holding distance. I’m an ok person to have as a casual acquaintance, but that may be the limit, and for everyone’s sake, I need to hold those lines better.

My bet is that most people won’t see much difference anyway. It’s possible there are one or two people who would choose to have me in the raw (ever the optimist, me) but I’m going to be looking for much clearer feedback in the future. People are going to have to opt in, really clearly, using the kind of small words I can’t possibly mistake for anything else. You would have to love me a lot to do that, and you would have to be ok with the idea of being loved in return.


Too much

One of the things I like about blogging, is that if I prove too much, I don’t have to watch any given individual trying to back away from me. Out here in my actual life, that has always been an issue. I keep the majority of people I know at a careful arm’s length, I’ll give you a light hearted, moderately serious, Nimue, and I may in fact come over as a bit cold, aloof and poker-faced. There have been people in my life who, due to this, thought I was incapable of feeling emotion in the first place. I have a fair capacity for self-control when needs be, but even in that I am often too much.

I was fourteen the first time someone told me I was too much: too serious, not enough fun. It’s been a recurring theme, and in my darker moments, it is often those events that come back to haunt me. The looks on people’s faces, tones of voice, words uttered. I was less cautious as a young human, more willing to risk my heart in the quest to find someone, anyone, who could accept me as I am. By the time I reached my early twenties, I had stopped believing that was even possible, and started learning how to hide it.

I feel everything keenly. I’m not good at casual disinterest, I take everything to heart, and despite more than a decade in the flaying realities of the publishing world, I have never grown a thick skin. Everything gets in. I feel my own shortcomings and mistakes as sharply as razor blades and what I forgive readily enough in other people, I find intolerable in me. That my actual nature causes other people distress is one of the things that has, on more occasions than I care to number, left me wondering if the world would be a happier place were I to absent myself from it. I mention this because I am fairly confident that a couple of the people who read this blog have crawled into similar pits, and might be able to view that differently for hearing it from someone else.

In the Druid community, I have found there are other people who love and cry and whoop to excess. I’ve found at least the possibility of being acceptable, and sometimes the definite, tested reality of it. In my bloke, I have found someone who will gladly accept what I have to give and who is able to see what I am as a good thing, not a problem. Beauty and the Beast is a story that has always resonated with me, but I never cast myself as the pretty one in that arrangement. The person who can see you as you are, monsters and all, and love that, not in the hopes that it will magically transform you into a Disney prince or princess… that person is a rare and precious find. You exist, you brave and beautiful people who are not horrified by intensity, by passion and dedication and who will not be shocked into running away if I say ‘I love you’. And I do love you, a great deal.

To those of you who howl, and who cry until snot comes out of your nose. To those of you who can laugh so much you end up quite literally rolling about on the floor. To those of you whose happy dance is not a typed comment, but a real, leaping exuberant mania cast into the world to offended the jaded apathy of the many… I salute you. There are days when just knowing that you are out there, mad and chaotic, wild, daring, passionate and not cowed yet, makes it possible to keep going. I’m not going to name check you, but I hope you know who you are and what you mean to me.