My Brain is Trying to Kill Me: Post 1: Hiya
TW: Suicide, Suicidal Ideation
My name is Emma. I’m a forty something year old mum, autistic, really good at my job, almost never take a day off sick and for the past three years I’ve kept data on how many times I’ve thought seriously about not being alive anymore. To be more specific, it’s something I’ve felt occasionally in the past but recently it’s got noticeably more frequent and stronger.
It happened 10 times in 2020, 15 times in 2021 and rather disappointingly 18 times in 2022. None of these days led to me making attempts (I have a simple but pretty flawed defence strategy which I can tell you about another time) but all these days were very, very hard to get through especially as in 2022 one was my birthday and another was Christmas Day.
I’ve had similar occasional thoughts for decades but they’ve definitely ramped up since I’ve spent large amounts of time at home alone obeying other people’s rules and hiding from Covid. I’m not sure if the increase in frequency and ferocity is down to the aftermath of a pandemic and the isolation it brought or if there are other causes at play but I’ve decided that 2023 is the year that I need to shift from managing this defensively to attacking it head on. Which is partly why I’m writing it down here for you to read.
Suicidal Ideation is one of the few taboos we have left as society. We’ll happily talk about people we know or have heard of who have taken their own lives and how we had no idea they were anywhere near that place but despite suicide being the biggest killer of men in the UK under 50 we’re not actually very good at talking about those kinds of feelings regularly or openly.
There are plenty of campaigns urging people to tell others how they feel and social media posts sharing the number of the Samaritans but the reality for me has been that it’s incredibly hard to actually tell anyone that something so awful is in your head. On the very few times I have done so, I’ve spent most of the conversation back-pedalling with apologies for the awkwardness of my feelings adding the follow up line that “I’m fine and I’m not a danger”.
I realise how preposterous this is; there’s that old trope about how we wouldn’t ignore a broken leg but sometimes when I’m trying to talk about my ideation I feel more like the Black Knight in Monty Python; I’ve been battered into submission but I’m still telling the other person “Tis but a scratch!” when clearly it’s more than that. I feel the need to protect the other person from my feelings (even when the other person is a paid health professional) and I think that’s a barrier along with the attached shame.
The irony of suicidal ideation is that it can take huge personal strength to get through it (and many people get through it completely alone) but suicide (and mental health generally) is often still seen as weakness.
The other barrier to sharing is that it can — and does — freak people out. It’s a horrible thing to feel and even worse to say out loud so why would you want to upset someone else with your secret misery? When I’ve told anyone, I’ve not even been able to use the word suicide and have a bunch of euphemisms I’ll use instead which may or may not be understood. That’s what makes suicidal ideation so powerful, the sense of shame it brings with it means it’s really hard to tell anyone or get help, so maybe the answer is to stand up, point at it and call it out like the kid from the Emperor’s New Clothes. If we all looked suicidal ideation in the eye more often instead of turning away from its ugliness then perhaps we’d be less frightened and treat it more like other unpleasant conditions like cancer or strokes.
So right now I’m talking about my own particular health demon. It’s not here today and it feels like I’m all in the clear now but I know it’ll be back at some point. It makes me feel vulnerable writing about it on a publicly available page but what’s the worst that can happen when I’m already fire fighting it in secret several times a year?
I like to think writing this piece is a massive step for me (and hopefully helpful to any others who may stumble across it) but will I share the link to it on my Twitter feed? Will I hell. At the moment the plan is to publish it so it’s technically out there but also safe in the knowledge that it’s unlikely that anyone I know will actually read it.
The point of writing all this stuff down is to raise my head above the parapet so others can see someone who has actually spoken up, and to let more people know how I feel (even if I’m blogging by stealth currently). Maybe having my uncomfortable feelings somewhere public will also change my relationship to them so I can speak more objectively about them.
I also hope getting this stuff down will help me form a plan for staying alive, because that’s what this is all about really. I’m a pretty practical kind of person and if I have a problem I’ll search for a fix so this is the first step of that.
I’ve thought about being more open about this for a while but the main thing which has stopped me has been the fact that I have a daughter who is still in her teens. I don’t ever want her to be frightened that her mum might suddenly disappear but I’m also aware of the fact that as she gets older my brain keeps trying to tell me that she doesn’t need me anymore.
This year she will be 18 and her Dad will be getting remarried. As someone whose primary reason for staying alive has been their role of a mum to a child this leaves me a bit concerned; when she’s 18 she will be able to inherit my house and have a step mum so the need for me feels much diminished. When my brain is firing suicide thoughts it doesn’t think about the emotional impact of me disappearing. That in itself is interesting and something I’d like to find out more about.
I’m also worried about my parents reading this, or indeed my sister. I don’t think any of them will though and we’re not a family who shares feelings very well so I’m happy to take the risk knowing that if any of them read this we’ll probably politely ignore it and not mention it anyway.
One last thing; I’m a photographer and not a writer. My ex husband is a proper published writer with a book that you can buy in the shops and he once explained to me how hard it is to write in comparison to my photography. He said you have to pour your soul into something for months instead of just pointing yourself in the right direction and pushing a button. Whether or not he’s right, I’m not even going to try to learn the craft of writing and I haven’t got the time to spend months finding the right metaphor or creative devices to explain how I feel. That’s not what these pieces are about.
I’m hoping these posts might do some greater good to others as well as myself but they’re coming from a place of urgency. I need to get a handle on how I feel in order to make my mental health better so I’m just going to go for a walk around my feelings and take snapshots of what I see. I’ll try to put some structure into the posts (and I’m anticipating some will be much shorter than this) but as with any photo walk, you can plan to go somewhere but you’ll never quite know what you’ll find there.
Below are some resources if you need to seek help. These will be on every post.
Samaritans (UK) https://www.samaritans.org/ — Telephone 116 123
988 Lifeline (USA) https://988lifeline.org/ — Telephone 988
International Suicide Hotlines https://blog.opencounseling.com/suicide-hotlines/