I promise I’ll get back to blogging about magical cats or the diary featuring the exploits of girl about town soon, but for now I need to put forward my thoughts on suicide.
This was brought to the forefront of my mind because of the incident on a bridge over the M42 motorway yesterday and the Twitter furore that followed it. For any of you who don’t know what happened a man climbed over the barrier of a bridge running over the M42 and the motorway had to be closed as negotiations took place to get him to safety. It took hours. People stuck in their cars, people tweeting about the selfishness of the guy. “Jump already!” “Shoot him down!” Cries of attention seeking and the fundamental selfishness of suicide.
Is suicide a selfish act? It’s something I’ve pondered repeatedly over the years. Mostly because my dad committed suicide not long after my twelfth birthday.
My initial reaction was definitely to write it off as a selfish act, I spent my formative years angst ridden; how could he do it to ME? How could he leave ME? How would I cope without him. I thought this for years and years. In my early twenties I trained to be a nurse, I struggled if I encountered patients who had self harmed, who were suicidal; I came across many, I worked with alcoholics and drug users and I (in my head) labelled them as selfish and attention seeking. I was one of those people who didn’t feel sympathy if someone jumped in front of a train; I felt angry. What about the poor driver? What about the commuters? I’d tut, I’d mutter. So. Selfish.
Then, a few years back my marriage broke down. It was my choice, I was happy that it had ended but I decided that it would be a good idea to go and get some private psychotherapy and it was there that my opinion first began to falter. My therapist who showed me masses of empathy on issues I discussed with her turned around one day and disagreed with me. Well, I say she disagreed, I hadn’t actually sounded my opinion about how selfish my dad was but I had assumed that everyone would think that way. She didn’t. I remember everything about that moment: the sadness in her voice, the pained expression on her face, the words that I had never heard or thought myself ‘Your poor dad, I can’t begin to imagine how utterly hopeless he must have felt to feel that that was the only choice.’.
And it sunk in a little. What if he felt he had no choice? What if he hadn’t taken a decision at all but had found himself in a place where there was no answer in his mind but suicide?
My opinion started to wane, I stopped judging self harmers, I started to sympathise, I’d try to understand and then two years ago my understanding was brought into sharp focus. I became ill, very acutely mentally unwell. I experienced lows that I couldn’t have even imagined. I’ve been under the care of a complex care team since then and have a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder with anxiety and depression, the help is sporadic but it is more than my dad had, it’s more than many have, it might have been more than the guy above the M42 had, though that is just speculation. What I do know though is that suicide is often like my shadow, in my lows it taunts me. My dad was 39 when I lost him. I’ll be 39 when my own child is 12. That fact haunts me. The part of my brain that is controlled by the BPD tells me it is inevitable, a fait accompli. As that guy stood on that bridge for that 10th hour I felt sure that his jumping was inevitable too. He didn’t. He’s in hospital now. He’s in hospital because people were patient, people didn’t think he was selfish, people helped him.
My initial reaction to the Twitterati calling him selfish was anger, was disgust, was wanting to scream at humanity but as I’ve thought about it more I realise that it’s just ignorance, literal ignorance. I was ignorant too once, it took years to realise the real tragedy of suicide; education takes time, just like the time and patience those people who helped that guy off that bridge showed. Mental Health issues are far too common, it’s still seen as scary and taboo in our society which in turn causes ignorance. We need to put in the effort to get people to understand the reality. It really is time to talk.