I was all set up to call it an early night (if quarter to midnight can ever be called that), my paperwork was done, boredom had overtaken even my social media reflex and I was just about to turn off and tune out for a few hours when I saw someone I very much respect, retweet the following:
Tweet by Matthew Chapman reads as follows:
“Millions of people who attempt suicide and survive regret it and are grateful to be alive. Think how many people who took their own lives were just crying for help, and if it hadn’t been for a gun in their house, might have gotten it”
And this is why I’m sitting here writing at an even more ungodly hour…because this kind of well meaning, ill-informed, saccharine simplicity makes me absolutely crazy. I shall try and marshal my thoughts enough to explain why…
I am a suicide attempt survivor. I last attempted in 2007 and have had many thoughts since, in late 2015 and early 2016 the option was back on the table after a long absence – without the help of a therapist I worked well with, and support from both home and work environments I may well not be here right now. I do not claim to speak for any suicide attempt survivor but myself. My views are my own and if someone shares them then it’s their job to tell you not mine. Some will agree with the above tweet. Others will not – we survivors are a diverse bunch. Mental distress and suicidality is not choosy, it can happen to you whatever age, gender, race, creed, status, ability or anything else you are. The reasons are deeply personal and bound up with that individual and this gets lost because in the media it’s always assumed that there must have been a clear cut reason for a suicide – and despite these lazy efforts, it is never just one thing.
These are important things for me to point out – just to give you the lie of the land on this one – it’s a complex subject, but think of people as individuals and you’re off to a solid start.
And so to the tweet…
Firstly, on ‘regret’. I am sure there are attempt survivors who do regret their attempts, I know I harbour some level of regret for mine. But this is regret due to the emotional distress that discovering me mid-attempt must have caused to the family member who did so. My regret is due to them nearly having to call emergency services and undertakers. My regret is not for the attempt itself. That attempt came as the logical conclusion drawn from an understanding of my identity, values, expectations and self. And the absolute certain knowledge that I could not fulfil them. Based on the resources and evidence available to me at that time, I cannot regret the attempt. New evidence and information presented after the attempt, has helped change some of those beliefs that led to that period of suicidality, but these are not ‘rational’ new thoughts as opposed to ‘irrational’ faulty ones. I used to think that the urge to kill oneself was mental illness by definition. I’ve changed my mind. Suicide is often the point someone reaches when they’ve run out of perceived options and have nowhere else to go and cannot stand their existence further.
Secondly, I am grateful to be alive. More grateful than I could ever express and I suppose that makes me one of the ‘millions’ mentioned **citation needed for this figure – which would be good because we’ve no idea how many people attempt**. But let’s talk about those that aren’t so grateful. Those who’ve chosen suicide as a way out, survived, and just aren’t feeling so swell. There’s an inbuilt assumption for many about suicide attempts, that once you’ve survived you come to see the ‘error of your ways’. That being that close to death and making it through comes with an added epiphany of all the good things in life and all the reasons not to die. This is not so. Wanna know the epiphany I got when I was discovered mid-attempt?:
“Oh fuck – I can’t even fucking die correctly…”
I wasn’t grateful at that point. I’ve reached a point where I am now. Don’t assume that all make that step. If you think of someone’s suicide attempt as a jump from the top of a burning building, their world collapsing in flames around them, and they’re then caught and survive the fall – don’t be surprised if they’re not ‘grateful’ when they have to go back to the burning building that is their life. “It gets better”, is a lovely activist feelgood phrase, but I often think this is for the benefit of the messengers rather than the suicidal. If it doesn’t get better almost by default, then what are we doing? And what does it say about our society? We often ask far too much of the suicidal, by saving them and then returning them to the exact same situation with a cheery promise of “it gets better”…
And thirdly, many of us (I suspect most of us) attempters, were not “Just crying for help”.
I hate this trope. I hate it with a passion that is almost visceral at this point. Again, it’s minimising an experience to save society from hard questions. Want to make suicide less of a problem than it is? Say the attempters didn’t really mean it. It was just a cry for help. It should be pointed out, that that’s a pretty monumental just. It’s rather like saying that Donald Trump is just a mildly obnoxious man with some strong opinions. Suicide is never just anything. It is the act of trying to end one’s life. That is a fundamentally huge moment when it first comes on the table. And it’s often not a cry for help either. When I attempted I didn’t want help, I didn’t want discovery, I wanted to die. And say those four words louder for the people at the back. Doubtless there are some who do wish to be found and helped, but if you’ve reached the point of suicide many of us lost the hope and fear that would pull us back from the brink. Often a suicide is not a cry for help. We know there is no help to be had, that is why we can choose to die, because we know what staying entails.
If anything suicide is often not a cry for help. It is simply a cry. Of despair, of pain, of grief, of emotions as yet unclassified. These are not cries for help. They are cries because there is no help coming. And if that is the case, then what is there to do but cry?
If you’re reading this and you’re suicidal. I hope something changes. I hope the building you are returned to is not in flames. I am not so made that I can be passive enough to say that I wouldn’t intervene to save a suicidal person, but I would at least try and help them towards a building they can live in again.
But please understand, I know this is not just a cry for help.