It Doesn’t Matter What You Live for. The Important Thing is That you Keep Living.
By Jasmine Ketch-Neumann
People can often have quite ridiculous reasons for living.
Jeanette Winterson, our own professor of Creative Writing, once talked herself out of suicide when it occurred to her that Inland Revenue might not count self-inflicted death as a legitimate reason for not handing in taxes (or so she writes in her memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal — yes, the title is tongue in cheek, and I urge everyone to read it).
Anyone who battles depression will have their own reasons to keep fighting, day after day. As someone who is intensely high-functioning — simply put, I work fine, until I snap and go in a matter of hours from coping to suicidal — I’ve certainly had my share of reasons, some of which might seem quite silly and small when put to paper.
Because I wanted to know what it was like to get drunk at a club, and I wasn’t eighteen yet. Because I’d studied for a lot of exams, and it seemed a bit of a waste to do it now, rather than later. Because I was meeting someone next week, had something planned for next month. Because I’ve read too many articles on famous unsolved mysteries, and hoped if I held out as long as I could, I might be around when they found out who Jack the Ripper was. Even while hell-bent for leather on doing it, finally, I swear — because I got a text. Because my cat moved. Because I reached for my bag and dislodged a friend’s revision comic for the A-Level text Dr Faustus.
All of these things are relatively minor. I felt a little silly trying to explain to people exactly what had stopped me. I couldn’t really be suicidal, I thought, if I was stopped by something so tiny. People who wanted to die had nothing left: people who wanted to hurt themselves just did it. They couldn’t be stopped.
This was a line I was fed throughout school and therapy, and I get why. To those who are trying to support chronic self-harmers, or those who are around those who attempt (and god forbid, succeed in) suicide; it is comforting to know that it is not your fault; that there is nothing you can do. To an extent, this is true. Mental illness is a battle that has to be fought by that person, within their own head. We cannot march into someone else’s mind and slay their demons, no matter how much we may want to.
That doesn’t mean that someone feeling suicidal is a clear-cut case. Someone who is suicidal can always be saved, even up until the very last moment. Helplines like Samaritans echo the truth in this. Suicide attempts are often a cry for help, and when you are suicidal, your body and mind react in very strange ways. Sometimes that means you feel no emotion at all, or that you feel adrenaline rushing through you like a piledriver, or that you feel intensely sad, or manically happy — there is no wrong reaction. But it also means that your mind goes into strange contortions to keep you alive.
Your body, your brain, even when you want to die, want you to live. It’s how we as a species have survived so long, it’s basic evolutionary biology. When you’re in the depths of mental health hell, it can be scary to admit it. Suicide can become a comfort blanket, a fire escape: you might not use it; but it’s there; waiting; if you need it. You are locked in a room with shouting voices, and you can console yourself with the thought that if they get too loud, you can run to the far side of the room, where the fire escape is waiting, with its little push-down bar that sets off an alarm, and you can use it.
What you won’t ever admit to yourself, and what your brain knows, secretly, keeping its last card up its sleeve, is that the emergency exit won’t open to a magical solution.
So your brain is clever. It tells you to live, not in big, grandiose ways, and not in neon flashing signs that read “LIFE IS FULL OF HOPE AND BUTTERFLIES”, because that might very well not be true for you, but in small ways. In silly ways. In ways you can simply nod and accept, because it’s not telling you never to open that door, it’s just putting it off a little. Not right now. There are different things to do right now. Later. You walk away from the door, and acknowledge that it will always be there, but the noise in your head has died down and things are quieter for now.
Maybe someone loves you. Maybe you haven’t been to America yet, and you’ve always wanted to go. Maybe you need to feed your cat right now, or your dog, or your pet spider. Maybe someone you don’t even like that much has sent you a message. Maybe you’ve nearly finished your essay, and you might as well finish it now. Maybe this doesn’t apply to you, because everyone is different, and that’s okay. Maybe it does.
If it does, then eventually, all the ‘not right now’ moments add up, and they become ‘not then’. They become ‘maybe not’. Each of the tiny reasons that all add up quieten the voices, and make it just a tiny bit easier to reach out, not for the fire escape, but for the locked door, and ask for help, and get out.
And there is nothing silly about that.
This article discusses serious mental health issues. If you are having suicidal thoughts or feel that you are a danger to yourself, you can call the Samaritans 24/7 free hotline on 116 123.
Jasmine is a first year Undergraduate at The University of Manchester. She comes from London, and when not reading or gaming, she is probably planning her future as a crazy cat lady. Her favourite things are animals, her friends and BBC political satire.