Trigger warning: This blog post explores a previous experience of suicidal feelings. If this triggers in you anything that causes you anxiety or poses a danger, please seek help now. The following may be helpful:
Feeling suicidal but don’t want to die.
Two years ago, that was the Google search that may have saved my life.
This isn’t a comfortable post to write. It’s taken me a long time to commit words to the screen. But I decided months ago that I must share this, because it might save another life too.
It started in early 2017. I was pregnant with my third child, and I caught a cold. The cold got worse, and I became quite unwell with a chest infection. I ploughed on with life and, being heavily pregnant as well as unwell, became absolutely exhausted.
I recovered just in time for Emily’s birth, and the following weeks were riddled with minor health issues for her as well as me. I was trying to care for a newborn who needed several hospital trips – two of which were emergency appointments – as well as a toddler and pre-schooler at home. I was missing my pre-baby life, as I suspect most mums do in those first few weeks of overflowing milk and poo, screaming and soreness. Despite being on maternity leave, I was still doing an significant amount of work – the parts of ministry I was committed to and enjoyed – but under some pressure to prove to myself that I could still juggle these multiple vocations of motherhood and ministry. I was grieving the loss of a close friendship, and dreading the Autumn days when I would commit my first baby to the state education system as he started school.
Loss on loss, with little time or energy to give these things the headspace they needed.
I started to feel low, and the cloud didn’t lift. I was no stranger to post-natal depression, but this time I was fighting it. I had no more patience for illness. No more time for myself. I thought that if I ignored it, it would go away. I felt ashamed of the darkness that surrounded me: as someone who gives a great deal of time to the wellbeing of others, how could I admit that I was struggling so much?
So I didn’t say anything. I struggled on with good days and bad days. I hid it well, from everyone except Jim.
And then the intrusive thoughts started. At first I could brush them off. Then I found I couldn’t. Then I felt really, really frightened.
I always thought that feeling suicidal meant that a person would have no fear of death, and no regrets about taking their life. That wasn’t how I felt. I felt mixed up, confused, longing for life but convinced life would be better without me. It was the thought of my kids, and them alone, that was enough, some days. I didn’t want to die, but I did want to end it all. I felt stuck between the two parts of myself.
I thought that if I was really suicidal, if I was really that ill, then even the thought of the kids wouldn’t be enough to stop me. I thought that if I was really struggling with life, then thoughts of ending it all would overrule any desire to keep living. But then I was terrified that the less rational part of my mind might win over in a few fateful moments. I made plans, I felt myself going numb, I was terrified.
And one night, after an awful day, I sat on my bed and did that Google search. Just to prove to myself that I wasn’t really that unwell.
Feeling suicidal but don’t want to die.
Because that is how I felt.
And I discovered, from Mind or the Samaritans or the NHS – I forget which – that people who are at risk of suicide often don’t want to die. They have reasons to stay alive, but things just get too painful, too overwhelming, too difficult to go on. And I knew that’s where I was headed.
It was a red flag that sobered my depression in a moment. That night I got help. It took time to recover, but I did.
We are all different. Many of us will struggle with our mental health, and these struggles will be unique and different for each of us. But I am writing this for three reasons.
Firstly: The power of story. I think most people know me as someone cheerful, upbeat, calm and happy. There were few outward signs of how unwell I was. I have an amazingly wonderful life, with gorgeous family and wonderful friends and a fulfilling job. If I can be as unwell as I was, then anyone can. Depression doesn’t discriminate. If you’re struggling – get help. Tell someone. Take it seriously. If I can talk about it like this, then you can too.
Secondly: For me, feeling suicidal didn’t feel as I expected it to feel. For a time, things got dangerous, and all because I didn’t recognise the warning signs in myself quickly enough. I didn’t phone the helplines because I didn’t think I was that ill. Until I started to enact a plan to end it all, by which point all rational thought was out the window, at least momentarily. The moment ending your own life even enters your mind is the moment to get help, with no shame attached.
Thirdly: No amount of “My door is always open: I’m here for you” Facebook posts would have helped. I know people genuinely mean them and I think it’s right to share them. But what stopped me speaking out was the stigma that is still attached to poor mental health. Things are shifting, but it still doesn’t feel safe to say that you are having thoughts about taking your own life – I’m guessing that would be something of a conversation stopper! And the only way to change this is to take a deep breath and change it. The more of us who talk about our experiences of depression and mental illness, the more we will bring about a culture change. As well as sharing how willing we are to listen to the issues of another, we need a culture of increased honesty and openness about our own struggles, our own depressive moments, our own dark thoughts.
I’m not writing this for sympathy, or to shock. There were a million reasons for me to bury this experience and never speak of it again. But it is because of those reasons – because of the roles I have and the positions I hold – that I have to speak about this. It might shock you to know that I felt like this, for a time. I hope one day that our honesty about our mental health – in good times and bad – will not shock, but be received in the same way that talk of physical health is received. Until then, this is my small contribution towards changing attitudes and normalising what is a common experience for so many of us.