“There comes a time when you look into the mirror and you realize that what you see is all that you will ever be. And then you accept it. Or you kill yourself. Or you stop looking in mirrors.” ~ Tennessee Williams
I was five years old when I first decided that I wanted to die.
It was during school assembly on Children in Need day.
The teacher taking the assembly was explaining to us that one of the reasons for Children in Need day was to raise money for other children just like us who had leukemia. Leukemia was making them very sick and sometimes some of them died because the doctors couldn’t make them better.
I didn’t understand why that meant that I’d had to come to school wearing my clothes inside out. I did know that I liked the sound of leukemia; I’d spend the next five years hoping that I’d get it, and being desperately jealous when I heard of anyone that did.
It’s the first time I remember having really understood the idea that it was possible for someone who was alive to at some point stop being alive. Not being alive sounded like something I would much prefer to being alive.
When I wasn’t secretly hoping that I would get sick and die soon I decided that I wanted to be a shepherd when I grew up. I thought shepherds still shepherded the way they did in the stories they told us, like The Boy Who Cried Wolf, all alone up a mountain with no-one but their sheep for company. A shepherd or an explorer – I pictured myself heading off alone to get lost in places where nobody had ever been before. I still think it’s unfortunate that by the time I was born everywhere had already been discovered.
I think I was eleven the first time it hit me that if I wasn’t lucky enough to get cancer or hit by a car I might end up having to wait until I died of old age. And that could take a very, very long time.
The thought of having to live for another thirty, forty, maybe even fifty years made me cry myself to sleep. I’ve done the same thing on at least a semi regular basis ever since.
When I was fourteen they started talking to us about choosing careers. They gave us a book to look at with information about lots of jobs in it, about what they involved and what you needed to be good at to be able to them. I thought I was good at everything but maths. I scoured the book looking for a job where you didn’t have to be good at maths and that didn’t involve spending time around other people.
I pictured myself as a grown up living in a little two up two down cottage in the middle of nowhere with a cat, a dog, and lots and lots of books, going to work somewhere alone every day.
It occurs to me now that the underlying theme of these dreams I had for my life was avoiding it as much as possible. It had never felt like something I was supposed to be a part of – having friends, families – being accepted – was something other people did.
And yet for some reason the thought that it was possible to simply end my life never entered my head.
When I was seventeen I started college. For the first time in my life I met some nice, civilised human beings. I stopped hating life quite so much and decided I wanted to be a social worker. My parents refused to accept this idea and it was decided that I would become a lawyer.
I moved away to study law – for the most part I hated it.
When I graduated I found myself a good job with that international finance company that sponsors Formula One. I travelled a lot and I thought my life was glamorous. I cried any and every time I was alone because my soul hurt so much that I genuinely expected it to kill me. I didn’t know how to tell anybody what I was feeling so I texted the Samaritans a couple of dozen times a day.
Things didn’t work out.
I moved back home and started temping.
My soul carried on hurting until one day I was suddenly so happy that I thought I might burst. Happier than I had ever thought it possible for one person to feel.
I quit my job on a whim and went travelling round Africa. The day after I got back I moved across the country, into a house with three girls I’d never met, and started a job giving legal advice to homeless people.
I believed I’d finally found the life that I wanted.
For six months. Until I stopped being hypo-manic.
Then the bad thing happened.
I moved again.
I hated everything about my life until the following year when I moved into the flat. It was the first time I’d had my own living space. I loved it.
I felt independent and for another six months I thought I might be happy – or at the very least content. Then my soul started hurting again and I resumed crying myself to sleep in despair at the natural life span of a human being.
I seriously injured my back and while I was whacked out on pain medication for the next eight months I gradually lost touch with people I’d know from other places. The pane of glass I’d always felt existed between me and everyone else seemed to thicken.
As my back got better I got sadder. And started voraciously reading about serial killers. Voraciously. Seriously, I’m pretty much a serial killer expert.
Someone suggested I go and see a doctor.
The doctor referred me to a psychiatrist, who diagnosed me with complex post traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder. And told me that my obsession with serial killers is tied up with my obsession with death, that I’m looking for someone to identify with. She believed that I was trying to find what it was that gave serial killers such an apparently casual approach to the ending of lives; so that I could take it and use it on myself.
I started taking medication.
It didn’t keep me from the realisation that life is optional.
I became suicidal.
After taking an overdose I had several months off work.
When I went back to work my employer attempted to drive me out of my job. The stress on top of my illness led to several more months off work.
The legal wrangling over that issue finalised I decided I needed a change. I was eventually offered what I thought would be a perfect job working for No Second Night Out in London; in the mean time I started temping at a stockbrokers.
The job at the stockbrokers was surprisingly interesting and the people were fantastic.
And I started going out again. I went out dancing every single night for weeks on end.
The stockbrokers office was fifty miles away and in order to make it to work on time every day I had to ditch the medication. I didn’t think I needed it.
I moved out of the flat which by this point only reminded me of being ill. I was incredibly excited about the prospect of eventually moving to London.
I was ridiculously happy again. I thought I’d finally cracked it.
Then the London move fell through.
The job offer was withdrawn because my previous employer wouldn’t fill in a four page form for a reference. They wouldn’t fill in the form because to resolve my disability discrimination claim they’d signed a compromise agreement that only allowed them to give a pre-agreed reference.
No Second Night Out were expecting this. I’d told them about it in my application form and my interview. They’d told me it would be fine. They said that my previous employer never agreed to fill in their forms anyway and we’d be able to work around it.
Then they changed their mind.
The depression gradually began to creep back in. I went and stood on the roof of my building and almost jumped.
I got sicker and sicker and in November I stopped working again.
I took another overdose at Christmas.
I’m back on the medication and I’ve been trying to get better. I’ve tried and tried but it just isn’t happening. The only thing that I can manage to want to come next is the end. I want to die the same way people who are so tired that it’s making them grumpy want to go home from a dreadful party they never wanted to go to in the first place.
The only thing stopping me is not wanting to hurt the person I live with.
Now a friend I’ve met recently keeps telling me that this feeling will pass, that I’ll get better. That my wish to die is new, fleeting; that for most of my life I was happy and I’ll be happy again; that I really want a whole bunch of things.
I don’t believe him. I don’t believe that this will ever end. He offers no evidence or reasoning. In fact he ignores all evidence and reasoning in favour of bald assertion.
So I’m trying instead to remember how to pretend.
I’m trying to remember how I used to pretend that a life was ever something that I really wanted.
I’m not doing very well.