Self-harm and suicide must no longer be a secret shame
– It’s time to make the breaking silence easy
I’m not going to hold back or dilute this. Like so many, I’m writing about this to reach out to people. And If I even help one person, that is enough. Every person is special, every life valuable.
It sounds utopian doesn’t it? But the reality is for many years I was walking around feeling like an oxygen thief. Feeling undeserving of friends, family and life. Feeling totally isolated and detached, even in a room of my closest friends. And during my darkest times, drinking heavily… On my own.
I’ve lived with having no self-esteem and self-worth for as long as I can remember. The breakdown of my first marriage only reinforced the feelings of ineptitude and failure.
I tried to take my own life the night before we separated. Selfish - my now ex-wife would have not deserved to find me, no matter how dysfunctional our relationship was. Somehow my pills and neat vodka overdose failed, and my body rejected the lot. It wasn’t messy, so the house was okay when I left it. As I stumbled away from the house in the dark, all I could think was ‘What a failure, couldn’t even do that right.’
How we die profoundly impacts the people we leave behind. I wish I’d had such clarity of thought back then.
I went straight home to my parents and carried on like nothing had happened. I was all but sober, so able to pull it off. The world class liar in me coming to my rescue. I only wish that there and then I’d felt able to talk to my family and close friends. But it was never going to happen. The word ‘suicide’ still petrifies people, makes people turn the other way, or look at their shoes. Back then it was brushed under the biggest and bumpiest of carpets - avoided at all costs.
There’s was worry…
There’s still stigma…
But this attitude must change, so we can improve well-being in society; and save and enhance lives. I hate statistics. People are immeasurably more than a number. There is a story behind every single one, and a distraught family living with grief and never-ending guilt. And tending graves.
This is why we must fight to change perceptions and banish stigma for good.
Since then I’ve not tried again, but have often been flooded with suicidal thoughts, and the desire to self-harm. Which I acted on for some weeks. And again, I hid it - damaging myself in areas covered by t-shirt and shorts. Doing it while no-body was around. In the same way an alcoholic hides their drinking, and pain, from the world.
My self-harming was a direct bi-product of my struggle with post-natal depression. And although I was in therapy, I make the mistake of trying to remain at work. I put on a brave face, but for weeks, emotionally, I was running on empty. A soulless shell. A shit husband and father- that’s not harsh, or melodramatic. It’s the absolute truth.
This is another taboo subject, especially for men. I was so scared of the uncontrollable and manic thoughts I was having. It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced, even more than the minutes before I thought I was ending my life. And honestly, I found this even harder to talk about that self-harm or suicide. The shame I felt was the most pain I have ever experienced; and is still with me; festering away at the back of my mind. I felt like the scum of the earth.
Not only because of the mania and thoughts, but how much I was hurting my current wife. Who has stood by me through everything, even when she’s struggled to process everything and stay strong because I couldn’t… Partners and close friends are unsung heroes, wonderful people who we must value and cherish… Truly remarkable people…
Support must become stronger than stigma.
We must do whatever it takes to create a society where there is no need for people to be shocked or uncomfortable. Ten years ago, I would have never been able to write, this. And even though it’s still painful, I know there’s more empathy and understanding today. More people are becoming braver, wanting to share experiences and help to save people. And I find it inspiring – there are so many people who are living with daily challenges far worse than me, showing what we can achieve.
I look back now, and know I was one of the lucky ones. And although I still have challenges and living with many conditions, I have so much to live for. Even though I can’t accept compliments or praise, and still often feel I don’t deserve my wife and children. I try and remember that people love and value me, and just want me to be comfortable in myself, and enjoy life as much as I can.
When we’re in the grips of mental illness we lose all perspective. But that is exactly what we must try and hold on to. Everyone can tell us how proud of us they are, how amazing and how brave we are. But only we can believe it. And if we don’t, and are struggling, we must try and summon the courage to confide in someone close to us. People loves us. People will listen, people will empathise, people will support us... If they know how we really feel.
We’re worth so much more that we give ourselves credit for. And it’s time to take it.
It’s time to talk… Talking changes lives.
Much love and respect,
Copy Right (C) Stephen Gillatt
Author of ‘Mad,sad,dysfunctional dad’