Suicide and Me

My mental health is something that I have never, and probably will never, be okay with; I think that is the norm for a lot of people who deal with or have dealt with mental health issues. The road to recovery is always long and arduous as well as about as much fun and easy as giving yourself a rectal exam. It is also fraught with dead ends and false beginnings. By this I mean that one point in your life it could feel as though you are doing great and finally getting control of your emotions as well as your path to ‘normality’. But in the words of Jack Johnson — whom I am enjoying the melodious hums of at this very point in time —

“It’s not always easy and sometimes life can be deceiving”

And there are no truer words that have been sung; life is very deceiving and it is at these points in our lives that something makes us sit up and smell the coffee. These bad points are so frequent in my life that I never get too comfortable in the good ones and just await the glitch in the matrix for my life to return to normal. As I write this I see how sad this is, not in a ‘OMG that’s so lame’ kind of way, but in a way that makes me see I cannot truly appreciate the highlights of my life because I am awaiting the inevitable lows. I understand life has highs and lows, I really do, but I guess when you have a mental illness of a significant severity, it impacts your life so greatly that your perception is twisted and you learn to associate sadness and dismay as your normal feeling. This is probably around the time I explain the tug-o-war I have been playing with my sanity for just over half of my life.

I cannot account for my former years aged 0–10 from memory, but in pictures I seem to be experiencing a relatively normal and happy childhood. The earliest memory I have of those years is being in hospital getting my arm in a cast at around age 4 as a result of my grandparents playfully swinging me; unknowingly pulling one of my arms out of it’s socket while on holiday in Dominica. Other than that, like i said I remember very little apart from photographs and stories from my family. My mum said recently while in a meeting with a home treatment community member (more on that later) that as a child I would always rather be alone than play with others, which is still very true of me now, although now I enjoy my select group of friends and venture out more comfortably.

The first memorable time I felt this sudden dip in mood is when I was around 11 years old; I was at my grandparent’s house lying on the bed with my granddad, he was sleeping while I was watching cartoons and I felt this sudden urge to hurt myself. I took my nail and just kept scratching my wrist; I still have the scar 10 years later, but it is faded and slightly hidden by a tattoo. It was the first time I had also purposefully hurt myself and felt it positively affect me. This may sound so completely strange to somebody who has never dealt with self-harm; but for myself it’s a feeling of letting me feel rather than being trapped inside my own head when I’m overwhelmed. As someone who is conscientious of literally every part of my mind, body and life I do not recommend or advocate self-harm, I’m simply stating that in times of extreme stress it is what I have turned to for immediate relief. Everybody has scars and everybody’s scars have stories but if they don’t need to be there, don’t put them there.

The next noticeable dip in my moods came during secondary school; I don’t remember exactly how old I was when the self-harm started again, but there wasn’t a large span of time before it began again. I think the initial encounter with self-harm exposed a part of my personality I had not previously explored and I had not only this fascination with the macabre, but an emotional link I had made to the act that drew me back in. I remember reading a magazine which had a story in it about a girl who self-harmed and I adopted her method and the ritual began again. I did it with anything I could get my hands on and soon, my arm became a notepad for my darkest thoughts and feelings. Again, the scars have faded relatively well and they weren’t deep; only I and a few keen-eyed individuals will ever know they are there. I don’t remember feeling the level of depression I experience now, but the mix of puberty and teen-hood is a deadly concoction on its own; throw in low moods, anxiety and feelings of inadequacy and its a potion of epic proportions. I would say this chapter of the suicide saga was around 12–14 years old. Nobody knew of the little secret I had hidden under my sleeves until the day I was washing up in my pyjamas and my sister saw the marks. I made her swear not to tell anyone and it became our little secret. I didn’t think then of the influence it would have on her or the fact that she was also at a vulnerable age being 19 months younger than me.

December 24th 2009 was one of the most devastating times in my life, the day my granddad died of lung cancer. We all knew it was coming and he had been in a hospice for the last few months of his life but it was such a horrible shock. Picture it — the whole family (mum, dad, grandma and at the time 2 younger siblings) getting ready for Christmas morning and the excitement was palpable. 6 o’clock in the morning my mum got a phone call from the hospice telling her to come quickly, my granddad couldn’t breathe. As I type this now, I remember the day like it was yesterday. I sat anxiously waiting as my mum, dad and grandma went off to the hospice and I was left waiting with my two younger siblings. I waited for what seemed like aeons before I got a phone call from my dad saying my granddad had passed; my mum told me he was making this horrible gurgling noise before it happened. I was told not to tell the kids and to keep it to myself until they got back. I did as I was told and instead of letting out cries of pain, I was forced to lock myself in the bathroom numerous times to cry silently into a towel or my hands. They came back and the rest is a blur. I was the first of his children and grandchildren (besides my mum obviously) to be told the news. I had to keep it from my siblings for what was probably only maybe an hour, but it felt like the heaviest secret that made me feel physically sick to my stomach. Everybody in the family was affected so deeply, my beautiful granddad left a gaping hole in all our lives that can never and will never be filled. I don’t remember his death ever affecting me to the point of suicidal feelings and I think it’s because I didn’t have to deal with it alone. There were all of my family members there who knew exactly how I felt and I had support from every person around me. We all coped in different ways and that was a time where the ‘normal’ way of coping was my go to — I cried and thought about him when he was around, I didn’t touch my skin. My sister on the other hand felt that his memory needed to be etched into her skin. She got caught out by my mum while we were staying at my aunt’s house with the smallest cut on her arm that read ‘I miss you’. I was completely unaware of this and what shocks me the most retrospectively is the fact that I wasn’t for a second concerned about my sister, I was concerned with the reaction it garnered from my mother and the tens of other marks that hid just up my sleeve. I was frozen with fear that she would turn to me and ask to see my arms too and bit my thumbnail to a stub. My heart was racing and I was praying to every deity I could think of that my sister wouldn’t rat me out. Looking back, I know I had no reason to worry about my sister or wonder if she would follow in my footsteps because she never did and she never would. My sister was popular and cool and the only thing she had to worry about was her homework. That may seem a very blase statement to make but it’s true, back then she had not a care in the world and was probably just curious as to the feeling it gave like I initially was. After this incident I stopped harming myself for a while and tried to let the cuts heal as to avoid getting caught. I even bought bio-oil in an attempt to rid myself of them, needless to say it hardly worked.

Secondary school was a blur and mish-mash of emotions as I’m sure anyone who’s been there, done that and bought the t-shirt will tell you. Honestly, it was a difficult time in my life just like it would have been for any of my peers; crying over maths exams (which I now realise wasn’t because I couldn’t do it but because I have a mild learning difficulty) and crushing over boys who would never in a million years look my way. Because it was such a tumultuous time, I don’t think I had time to stop and think about the impact it was having on me and I managed to get through the rest of my secondary schooldays relatively unscathed. Now comes the main tete-a-tete, the final showdown, the big boss level of the game that is my life.

The main struggles of my mental health came once I’d left secondary school and went to a sixth form college in Hammersmith. It required me to get a minimum of 2 buses and a train to college and the same on the way back. Of course, being at college I was allowed to come and go relatively as I pleased and when lessons were over, I could leave; as opposed to my peers who stayed on at the sixth form at my secondary school who had to be in at 8.30 am every day, leave at 3.10 and wear smart clothes — yes, even if their lessons didn’t start till 1.00pm and ended an hour later. I could wear what I wanted, come and go as I please and I thoroughly enjoyed the majority of my time there and met people there who have completely changed my life for the better (shout-out to you Princess Pia). I followed the natural curve of life; dyed my hair blonde, pink and a mixture of pink and purple for the two years I was there, earning me the nickname Pinkie (or Pinko). Although these were times in my life that were beginning to feel like the fresh beginning I had dreamed of, the little voice in the back of my head rose out of her crypt and began her devilish tirade once again. Only this time it wasn’t just thoughts of harming my skin, it was of jumping in front of trains and buses or being blown up on the tube.The feelings didn’t subside so I went to my GP multiple times telling them I was going to end up hurting myself if I didn’t get help. This began a completely new saga entitled: Tiana the ping pong ball and her journey to countless useless therapists. I was referred to a place called CAMHS — child and adolescent mental health service — a counselling service for mentally unstable people up to the age of 18. At the time of my first referral I was 17 and the meetings would be at 6pm right after college and at almost the opposite end of a tube line so that went bust pretty quickly. I was too tired by the time I got there to do anything productive and talking just wasn’t going to happen; as well as the fact it was around winter time so there was zero daylight left and I still had to commute home. That ended after probably around 3 sessions, so 3 weeks. The feelings still hadn’t subsided and instead were getting worse; cue my first ‘suicide attempt’ I put it in inverted commas simply because the amount of pills I took were not enough to do any real damage which I knew so I see it more as a cry for attention than a suicide attempt. I told my dad and he took me to hospital where I was checked over, had a cannula put in and was sent to a ward where I waited to see a mental health member. Cue round 2 of useless counselling sessions; a different woman from CAMHS was sent to have a chat with me and my dad about what I had done, why I had done it, yadda yadda. I was set to see this woman on a weekly basis for meetings near the end of my second year at college. This means I was steadily approaching 18 — the cut off age for CAMHS — so I only received 6 sessions in which I basically spoke about nothing of consequence to me and my feelings and it didn’t help one bit. The college were very helpful and I was checked on all the time to see how I was coping and for my final year exams I was allowed to sit them in a room at the college instead of the hall everyone else would be in. It helped a lot with my anxiety but as I stated previously my issues with exams and things of that nature were affected greatly by the fact that I had this unknown learning difficulty.

While I was attending these sessions in and around school and the summer holidays, something unthinkable happened to me and my sister. We were sexually abused by a family member. I always get so uptight about things like this and question if what I experienced was actually sexual abuse because it wasn’t as bad as what my sister experienced or even remotely as bad as other stories I’d heard. The story goes like this; while I was at college, one of my aunts asked me if I would tutor her son on certain days and help with homework. Now on those specific days I finished college around 11.30pm and he didn’t finish school until 3.10pm. So I would make my way to their house and just wait for him to get home — side note, this individual is younger than me by about 4 years — sometimes while waiting I would fall asleep and be woken up by him when he arrived home. A few times this happened and nothing untoward had been done. But one day I fell asleep and when he arrived home I was woken up by his fingers on my breast. As I wasn’t fully awake yet I thought maybe it was just misplaced actions and when I fully opened my eyes he had moved back. I didn't think anything of it and left this unspoken for a while. That was one of the biggest mistakes of my life and I have felt responsible for what happened next ever since I was told. That particular aunt, uncle and cousin were going on holiday to Miami that summer and my sister got invited as a thank you for attending DJ sessions with him. Of course I was jealous at first because all I got as a thank you were ‘discounted’ driving lessons — which I never finished because of this incident and so another part of my life was effed up. She went on the holiday with them and all was great until about halfway through the holiday I get a call from my sister telling me she had been sexually abused by that same person, though hers was much more extreme. She had her own room and locked it at night to feel safer but one time she forgot to and felt this individual stroking her bare backside and standing in the doorway with his hands down his trousers doing something I think is pretty obvious. I felt sick to my stomach and was asked to not tell my parents — something I had to oblige by because I am nothing if not loyal to my word — but my parents found out soon anyway because she told them. My parents were in outrage and it is one of the few times I have ever seen my dad cry. Timidly I told them of what happened to me and more outrage erupted; why did I not tell them sooner, why had I allowed them to okay her trip with somebody like that. I felt like dying, I had been responsible for my little sister to be abused like that because I didn’t say anything weeks earlier. The backlash of this event is still happening today, we have disregarded those people as our family and it has caused a massive divide in the family we still speak to; the individuals involved at first apologised profusely, told us the things that they were going to do to stop it happening again so the police weren’t involved. But they quickly turned and began accusing me and my sister of lying and making their son look dirty and all of this other stuff that frankly was just suuuuch BS it was unbelievable. The history with those people and the wake of familial division left in their past is just ridiculous. Ties were broken, college ended and I got into the University of Lincoln.

Cue another bout of ‘fresh start fever’ and thinking that uprooting my life and moving 3 hours away from home would help change everything. Oh how wrong was I. During my first year of University I didn’t see anyone about my mental health and was sort of placated by the fact I had my first boyfriend and he had pretty much moved to Lincoln to be around me. That is a whole different saga which I will save for another time, but essentially I felt loved and cared for and that I had someone who could help when things got rough. Again, how wrong I was, and this false belief basically led to a decline in my mental health and the self-harm began again, though this time I defaced my thighs and the cuts were deeper and longer. It hasn’t been nearly as long as the time my other scars had to heal so they haven’t faded much, but I have a feeling they won’t be doing much more fading. My then boyfriend was concerned in the beginning but as problems between us increased, so did the lack of concern. He turned me on to smoking and drinking to get drunk which I hadn’t done before. I isolated myself the first year so I hardly knew anybody and went out probably a total of 3 times to clubs. Emotional abuse to a whole different level took place that I was unaware of until it was over with and that knocked what little confidence I had to pieces.

Fast forward to second year and with a new accommodation picked out I had another ‘fresh start feeling’ and was SURE this time would be the right time. I made such wonderful and crazy friends and was actually becoming the person I had wanted to be for so long — popular, fun to be around and most of all, happy. But of course if that had lasted then I wouldn’t be writing this post. It lasted around 2 and a half months and this time I was alone with my feelings again so I went to the GP and explained my past. I was put on 50mg of Sertraline to manage my depressive thoughts and anxiety which had gotten increasingly worse. The suicidal feelings subsided although the cutting continued but I was bumped up to 100mg after a couple of months as the first dose just did nothing for me. The side effects were horrendous and I am still dealing with an embarrassing amount of sweating even after stopping the medication numerous times — only the last time advised by a psychiatrist. But being a student and being that depressed just didn’t work out for me and I would rather drink stupid amounts with my friends and feel 10 times worse, than stay sober and be in a club — trust me being sober in a club is just not fun. One time I was at a club and just got this overwhelming feeling of sadness and hopelessness, I went outside and began sobbing hard, I ended up going to the bouncer and saying I was on the verge of hurting myself very badly. I was sat in an area where the paramedics were stationed and kept there until a friend of mine in the club came and sat with me and we were both taken to the hospital so I could be seen. After waiting about 5 hours I was seen by the crisis team and talked to for a while before being told to go home and sleep off the alcohol and told that I would be referred to a counselling service — I know. The next morning I was picked up by my dad and spent about two weeks at home. I stayed on the sertraline and in that space of time my learning difficulty had been found, I sat all my exams and I was doing relatively okay.

I was having regular checks with my doctor, had counselling for 6 weeks at the university health centre and as summer was coming around I was feeling excited and looking forward to being at home as I am a home bird at heart. But this summer at home has been where the most devastating attacks on my mental health have been. I experience things I never have before such as an abhorrent fear of the dark; not your everyday normal scared of the dark though, I mean panic attack inducing moments where every time I open my eyes I feel like the shadows are trying to attack me and I’m just waiting for something to get me. I have paranoia like I’ve never had before; the sum of my anxiety getting progressively worse to the point I do not leave the house unless I’m forced to. I hate going outside with such fervour that anytime anyone mentions going somewhere or I think about the multitude of things that could happen while I’m outside just sets me to panic mode. I have moments where I’m utterly convinced someone is trying to kill me or that I am being contacted by aliens. I have an overwhelming feeling that I am going to die soon — but not necessarily by my own hands, just a feeling that my true purpose is not on earth but for something higher. My own mind scares the ish out of me at times and sometimes I find it funny because the one thing I am most scared of is the one thing I have no control over — my brain — the very thing that makes me, me. As a result of my anxiety worsening, my level of ‘OCD’ has heightened as well. That is in inverted commas because I say it offhandedly but I am not beginning to get more and more overrun by the things I do. If something is not a certain way I cannot just leave it. It has to be fixed then and there or I will have a panic attack. Simple things like the dishwasher has to be filled a certain way, I absolutely cannot wear odd socks to the point I have told my friends to change their socks or left a room because of the uncomfortable feeling it gives me. I do all things in 3’s — I eat biscuits in 3’s, the volume has to be on a multiple of 3, if I’m watching a tv series I have to download 3 episodes at a time. Basically my life revolves around the number and multiples of it. When I ‘touch wood’ I can’t just touch my head or a bit of wood, it has to be for example; wall, head, wall, or to me, the action is invalid and whatever I’ve touched wood on is going to happen or not happen. I feel like some of these are just superstitions but it is amplified by the urge to do it or something bad will happen to me or someone I love.

If you’ve made it this far in this post I commend you because I would never read a post this long in one sitting, I’ve been writing this on and off for at least 5 hours simply because I have zero concentration. But alas we come to the most recent saga of the lot and that is my most recent suicide attempt. A few weeks ago I took another overdose of pills washed down with some alcohol for good measure in an attempt to end my life. This time it was legit because I took an amount that could’ve actually killed me. Again I’m not going to state the amount because I don’t want to trigger people or give them ideas on how to hospitalise themselves, it’s not worth it. So that day I was fine and happy, I took my two little sisters to watch Life of Pets — good movie btw — and we got home and my dad was painting the living room with my cousin who was down from America. He shouted at me for no reason and my mum and brother were laughing at me so I stormed upstairs in tears and did what I did. I sat down for about an hour and a half watching a movie before I started to feel funny and something prompted me to tell my mum what I had done and that I needed medical attention. She got so angry at me, the angriest I think she’s ever been and ordered me to my room while she rang 111. They asked a bunch of questions and sent an ambulance, this shocked me because I thought she’d just take me to the hospital like last time in the car. The ambulance came and checked me over in my bedroom and my heart rate was all over the place so I was taken to hospital and arrived at 3am. On the way there my heart was monitored and with shaky legs I walked in to the majors emergency room and sat on a bed. I had bloods taken and a cannula put in again and all this while me and my mum did not say a word to each other. I felt sick to my stomach, dizzy and spaced out. My heart was checked so many times over the day and a half and I had stickers all over my chest and ribs I felt like a walking gluestick. While waiting to be seen I was feeling all the effects of what I had done, I was losing ALL my fluids so had to be hooked up to an IV and then I was wheeled to a ward full of old ladies breathing funny or moaning in pain. Needless to say I didn’t sleep a wink while I was there — over a day and a half — and my heart was monitored the whole time. I saw about 5 mental health people in that space of time and 3 doctors. I ended up answering the same questions about a billion and one times and if I ever get asked what course I’m doing or if I find it interesting again, someone is getting back handed. Also the number of times I was asked how I’m feeling, how many pills I took, why I did it, what I was feeling then etc was ridiculous and I think that is the number one reason I have been put off doing this again, which is sad but also terrifying that it’s the main reason I wouldn’t do it again.

Before the incident occurred, I had researched how many of the pills I wanted to take would kill me or harm me, I hadn’t actually planned on doing it and when I did it was a split second decision and I even wrote a note. The research I think was more of a game I had started to play with myself to see how many days’ worth of pills I could take and not die. I realise now and after the two trips to hospital (I returned less than 12 hours later because my chest was hurting and I couldn’t breathe, probably the result of the major panic attack I had on the first trip there and freaked myself out) how serious what I did was. I actually could have died or even worse, given myself irreparable damage that I would have to have dealt with for the rest of my life. The saddest thing about it all is that I only felt remorse because of the physical pain I felt afterwards; I still felt and still feel somewhere that me killing myself will take me on to my true higher purpose but the uncertainty of what exactly that is, is stopping me from making the big leap. I feel sad for my family too but lately I don’t even want to be around them. I have been staying at my nan’s house and every time I go home I realise I have missed certain people but after about 10 minutes of being there I want to be somewhere else. If I don’t even have my family to live for, what is going to stop me next time something like this happens?

Suicide and mental health are serious topics and I hope I don’t sound too lighthearted in this post about any of my experiences. This post doesn’t even go into half of the in depth feelings I get or will have but is instead a glimpse into the struggles of another person weighed down by this BS. I have only ever been diagnosed with depression and generalised anxiety but I feel like that doesn’t even begin to cover what is going on upstairs. I promise the next posts I do, if any, will feel like haikus compared to this mammoth essay. I know my journey to recovery is going to be a climb up a steep glass hill with water for shoes, but the main point to take away from all this is that I’m still here and I’m still trying to better myself and get to a me I can be proud of.

Thanks for taking the time to read this long ass post and listen to my crazy story so far, please feel free to comment and ask questions or give constructive criticism!