“Let them think what they liked, but I didn’t mean to drown myself. I meant to swim till I sank — but that’s not the same thing.” ~
Obligatory Disclaimer: I am not a qualified mental health professional. Or even an unqualified one. I am not a health care professional of any kind. Any and all advice contained in this article is based on my own personal experience of my own personal mental health issues. If you are in need of emergency medical attention – for example because you are at imminent risk of suicide – please contact your emergency healthcare provider.
So, I’ve previously talked about how one might help someone else to not die by suicide, and I’ve made some suggestions about why you shouldn’t take your own life, but until today it’d never occurred to me that I might have any advice to offer on how to prevent your own suicide.
Partly because the first few years of this blog were in very large part about how I had no earthly idea how to do that for myself, or indeed why I was even bothering with trying.
I created Make-Up & Mirtazapine six years and three months ago, and it has taken until about three months ago for me to reach a point in my life when I couldn’t pin point for you exactly when the last time I thought about suicide was; even if it was only the most fleeting of consideration.
But today is #WorldSuicidePreventionDay. And it has helpfully occurred to me in considering this fact that I finally have something that may be useful to say about preventing your own crazy brain from murdering you.
And my advice essentially boils down to two very simple instructions, that, unfortunately, if you’re looking to take them for yourself, will be incredibly difficult to put into practice.
I’m not here to offer you the false hope that coming all the way back from that ledge – so far back that you can no longer see it – is going to be anything other than a long, hard-fought, and extremely painful experience.
I would tell you that it will all be worth it – but why bother – I know you won’t believe me anyway.
Not because you necessarily think I’m lying; it’s just that right now you have an imposter in your brain – a lying liar who lies – and at this particular moment in time you find the things they tell you more plausible than anything I’m saying.
An imposter who’s been whispering their lies for so long that you’ve forgotten they haven’t always been there, and aren’t just a normal, every day part of your own internal narrative. Even if it’s only been there for a day and a half.
It’s a bit like how there’s human years and dog years. There’s suicidal ideation time and normal time. A suicidal ideation hour lasts for roughly one normal week.
So, what are the two simple instruction?
Talk about it
Read everything you can lay your hands on about mental health and psychology
I would also suggest that you at least consider taking any medication that might be offered to you – but if you really don’t want to then I’m not going to bother arguing about it*.
Talking about it
Now, before I start, I’d like to acknowledge that a lot of mental health campaigners and service users are, justifiably skeptical about ‘talking about it’ campaigns. Especially when the stated goal of those campaigns is to ‘raise awareness’ or ‘squash the stigma’.
But what I’m recommending here is not like those campaigns.
I’m pretty sure that if you’re reading an article entitled How To Prevent Your Own Suicide your awareness of the subject is already far higher than you’d like it be – and actually you’d like to become rather less aware if it’s all the same thank you.
Fuck stigma. What faceless strangers might think is the least of our worries right now.
And if you’re only going to do this on one day a year it really doesn’t stand a hope on hell of working.
I’m not thinking a nice, supportive chat over a lovely cup of tea kind of talking here. I’m thinking more along the lines of the six years of endlessly banging on about it here, there, and everywhere that I’ve been doing.
So maybe not so much talking as externalising.
Because you’ve got an awful lot of terrible, no good, fucked up shit going on inside you to have driven you to the point where you think that dying might be the best way to escape from it. Or even worse that you might deserve to lose your life just because you have an illness or because something bad has happened to you.
(By life I don’t mean this life. This life is clearly one that nobody deserves to be living – except maybe unless they’re a war criminal or a serial killer, and even then I’m not *wholly* convinced. I mean the kind of life that everyone else has. One where you don’t think about dying almost constantly and you actually go out and do things, and see people, and have experiences.)
But if that stuff is going to stop hurting you, kinda like with a poison, we need to get it out. All of it. And that’s going to take time.
Not six years necessarily. It can be a lot quicker for some people. But for others it can take even longer still. It pretty much depends on a whole bunch of differentials that would take me a whole other essay to explain. Just plan on it taking a long time, okay?
If you’re not used to talking about this stuff the challenge of broaching the subject to another actual human being for the first time may seem insurmountable. So we can start off with some practicing. Do what I did. Start an anonymous blog.
Or an anonymous Twitter. Or an anonymous Tumblr. Or join whatever platform really. Either anonymously or under a fake name.
And just write down the first thing that comes into your head. And then the next thing. And then the next thing. And once you’ve got the hang of it the next thing you know you’ll have spilled out enough words to compose an, admittedly incredibly bleak and disjointed, novel.
Or, if you need a guarantee that somebody will actually talk back to you to get motivated to start talking yourself, you can tell it the Samaritans. Still in written form. They have both a texting and an emailing service. So you can send them a thing, and they’ll say a thing, and you can say a thing back, and so on.
They’re quite good – I can say this because at one point in my life ‘Sam’ was my most frequent contact by far, we exchanged upwards of three dozen text messages a day – and yet they have absolutely no way at all of knowing who you are unless you tell them. The Samaritan who reads your message won’t even be able to see your phone number or email address – I can say this as well because I also used to be a Samaritan.
The immediate goal of all this practicing, by the way, is not so that you can tell your friend, or your partner, or your mum. It’s so that you can tell your GP, or a nurse, or a psychologist, or whatever mental healthcare person you have easiest access to wherever you live.
You might find this relative stranger easier to talk to than someone who you’re really close to – you might be less likely to feel as though you’re burdening them with a share of the information. But more importantly, they’re the ones who know about this stuff and how to fix it. Or if they don’t, then they can refer you to the people who are and do.
If you can’t picture how that conversation might go I wrote this about speaking to your GP in the hopes that it would make the prospect a little less intimidating for you.
But you do need to let those nearest and dearest to you in on the dreadful secret eventually. Because they can’t help you with this until you make them aware that you’re dealing with it.
Don’t worry. This thing that is wrong with you isn’t directly contagious. You’re not going to transmit the hideousness that you’re feeling on to someone else by telling them about it. That’s pretty much confined to your head for the time being.
That being said, it is worth considering when you’re choosing who to talk to that this is going to be a depressing conversation which is going to require emotional energy to be spent on both sides. Choose someone to talk to who you trust to be willing to give you that energy, and you think will be in a place in their own head where it is energy that they have to spare.
Also try to choose someone from whom you can reasonably expect a warm and supportive response. Someone who is generally negative towards either issues surrounding mental illness or emotional distress, or your need for support, could end up making you feel worse if they are their usual dismissive self when you’ve had to pluck up so much courage to open up to them.
This could be another point where this gets hard. You’re going to need to surround yourself with as many compassionate, supportive people who care about you as you can find. And you’re going to need to let go as many of the cold, dismissive and/or hurtful people as you can manage.
If we’re going to beat out that imposter’s voice in your head we need you to avoid conversations where other people reinforce its messages.
And if compassionate and supportive people are hard to find for you at the moment then you might have an easier time of it looking for them online. There’s a very supportive mental health community spread around the internet. You can start by following me on Twitter, and you’ll find some good, thoughtful, kind people in my mutual follows.
Now, where you go after telling the people you’d usually confide in about things is up to you.
You should not feel in any way obliged to share your pain and unhappiness any wider than your circle of trust. You certainly don’t need to share information about your struggles with people who will only use it compound them.
On the other hand I’ve that found becoming the kind of person who wears their heart on their sleeve has brought benefits and changes in my life, and the lives of people around me, that I could never have anticipated.
You do whatever feels best for you, and at whatever pace you feel comfortable.
Read everything you can lay your hands on about mental health and psychology
So far as I can tell the other big thing that worked for me was coming to a better understanding of how my mind worked; and learning all the ways in which what was happening to me was in no way unique – and actually part of a very common pattern that loads of people have been through before me, were going through right along with me, and will no doubt continue to experience for many, many, many years to come.
And I learned this stuff by reading quite literally everything even vaguely related to my mental illness that I came across. Loads, and loads, and loads of reading. If you’re too depressed for reading trying audiobooks.
In the period I made the most progress I read 176 books in a year.
Don’t worry. I’m not saying that you need to read 176 books in a year. Or even that you need to read 176 books in total to make yourself better.
I realise that 176 is a great many books. I read them during a year when I got my first Kindle, and while I was spending at least two hours and ten minutes on a train too and from work every day with fuck all else to do with that time.
Instead I’d suggest that you take a look at this list of twelve books and four blogs that aren’t this one that may help you to get started. And that you do at least carry on from there, even if you don’t come close to reading 176 books.
Read anything. Read memoirs of people who’ve been through anything vaguely similar to what you’re experiencing. Read popular psychology books. Read professional psychology books if that your jam.
Anything that will help you better understand the horror in your head. Because as with most horrors, the more you understand it the less afraid of it you’ll feel. The more common place it seems the less insurmountable it will appear.
Only don’t stop at the first epiphany. Keep going for a while after that.
For two reasons:
- There’ll just be plenty more to learn
- But also, more importantly, you need to experience it more than once
You *really* need to experience it more than once.
Because if we could defeat that voice in your head at the first time of telling all I would have needed to write here is that I’m right, the imposter is wrong, and that you are a wonderful human being deserving of a life filled with love and happiness.
But I didn’t write that, true though it is, because I know that you wouldn’t have believed me; because your belief to the contrary is too strong right now; and you’re going to need to hear, and read, and feel the truth a great many times before you are able to accept it.
Keep reading until when you learn something new you find yourself thinking, “oh yes, of course, that makes perfect sense to me now, I can see how this new piece of the puzzle might help.” Rather than deciding, “okay, this is great, but I’m not convinced it’s enough to save me.”
And that my friend – that Herculean task I’ve just laid out for you – is it.
The best advice I have to offer you.
Except to look into whatever other help – be it emotional support from people in your life, or professional support from people in healthcare – is offered to you. Consider whether it will suit your needs. Accept it whenever it will be useful. Politely but firmly maintain your boundaries when you think it won’t be a use of energy that will help you towards recovery. Or remission anyway.
And keep trying, even as you keep failing, to be as compassionate and patient with yourself as you would be towards your own best friend.
That Disclaimer Again: I am not a qualified mental health professional. Or even an unqualified one. I am not a health care professional of any kind. Any and all advice contained in this article is based on my own personal experience of my own personal mental health issues. If you are in need of emergency medical attention – for example because you are at imminent risk of suicide – please contact your emergency healthcare provider.
* Although, if your concerns about the potential side effect of weight gain maybe I’d suggest that you read this.