This post is about suicide. It may trigger you or cause you distress. You have every right to look away if you think it will save your own life but if you think that reading this will save the lives of others then please, read on.
Yesterday I planned my death. I pictured taking Mersyndol one at a time until I slept and never woke up. It’s the coward’s suicide, pills that make you drowsy until you drift off on a cloud and leave the life of walking through mud in a malaise of fog behind.
I don’t have the energy to be violent. Shooting a gun, stabbing myself, slicing my wrists, throwing my car into oncoming traffic all seem so wretchedly dramatic and hanging seems so so so lonely it makes me want to cry. Better someone find me curled up under my doona, eyelids closed like velvet covers to soothe the truth of death.
This is the first time I have honestly considered life’s end. Though we all know that’s a lie, I, like you, have imagined it before.
When I was young I thought I was special and had been placed on this world for greatness. It never occurred to me that my privileged white life wouldn’t work out the way it was served up to me on the television in my lounge room.
So, when life got complicated as hormones surged and my breasts grew, I thought if none of this works out long term then I can always just end it later. But I never thought I meant it. Until now.
I wrote this from the point of view of the main character for a short fiction story I am writing, or so I told myself. But then, I read it again. Every writer, actor and creative borrows from their own life to build a work designed to move the reader, the viewer, the listener and pull them into their craft. Could this really be me?
Suicide is always a hot topic, more so now with the release of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why based on the book by Jay Asher. I watched it, no, I inhaled it, all 13 episodes in a mere two days. I knew I should look away, but I couldn’t. The clear skinned faces yet to grow into future wrinkles, the pouty lips, the angst of high school cliques. It all felt so terribly familiar.
As a teenager I wrestled with my body in the hope that fixing my appearance would fix me, swinging from anorexic behavior to bulimia, binge eating and back again. I am not sure when I first thought I needed fixing, when I saw myself as broken. But I do know there were times, in the darkness, I thought that I may be broken beyond repair.
I never consciously wanted to kill myself but I taunted death with high risk behaviour, just the same. Binge drinking till I fell down stairs, driving drunk and mixing all sorts of party drugs with strangers to take away that broken pain.
Those teenagers on the Netflix screen are not so dissimilar to my teenage me and last I looked teenagerdom hadn’t necessarily got easier than when I was there. Just add selfies and social media to that hormonal mix and watch the girls, the boys, the transgender cry.
Watching 13 Reasons Why didn’t make me want to end my life, but it made that life dark for two days and it showed me, graphically, how I could do it if I wanted to. A sharp razor slice on the flesh of my inner wrist while lying in a bath of water. The brutality of the main character Hannah Baker’s chosen death is there on the flat screen for all to see and it is shocking, though the scene is styled in hues and the water a pale shade of pink as it seeps over the lip of the bath tub. Making it violent then beautiful does not help.
There’s not one thing, nor 13 things that make a person kill themselves. Bullying is a huge contributor to life long depression that leads to suicidal thinking – the school system in it’s current form is not set up for difference. There are teenagers making it easier for teenagers, like the kids at Boca Raton high school’s ‘We Dine Together’ program to help address the isolation that bullying and difference brings.
But, alas, there’s still more. According to the experts family violence, sexual orientation, physical and sexual abuse may also contribute if the teenager is already at risk due to a family history of mental disorders and is unable to manage the overwhelming hell that we call adolescence.
I don’t know why my parent’s family friend gassed himself in his thirties when I was an adolescent, I don’t know why my best school friend’s cousin shot himself when we were teenagers, nor why my friend in hospitality in London chose to end his life and leave his kids behind. They were all males, I am told they are three times more likely than females to do it.
I do know that extreme uncomfortable anxiety got the better of one of my friends in more recent years, another male, and while I mourned that we could now do nothing I felt relief, for him, that he was free. I also know that we will all know someone who has been impacted personally by suicide and if it hasn’t brushed through your life in some way, shape or form then just wait because it will in the future because the stats don’t lie.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for kids aged 10 to 24 in the USA (The Jason Foundation) and every day over 5000 young people in grades 7 to 12 attempt to end their lives (The Jason Foundation). That’s just the youth. The rate of suicide is highest in middle age.
What is just gut wrenching is that four out of five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs if we know how to listen. Self harm, weight loss or weight gain, loss of interest in pretty much everything, self isolation and withdrawal, sleeps too little or too much, self hatred, hopelessness. Oh I know, many of these sound like a typical teenager in hormonal crisis and secretiveness is the natural state of youth dealing with their parents.
But the funny thing is unless I missed something, I just didn’t see these warnings screaming from Hannah Baker on the Netflix screen. Maybe that’s the point. I wasn’t listening?
Of course turning a blind eye does not help. Depression, eating disorders, shoplifting, ritualistic substance abuse, self harm, hyper sexuality doesn’t just go away if you ignore it and it doesn’t go away if you try to discipline it either. A long term problem requires a long term solution, with professional help. Quick fixes are bandaids that will just fall off when you don’t want them to. You have to put in the hard work if you want significant life change and hard work is confronting which is why self compassion and kindness and empathy from those that support you is so important in healing.
It seems pithy just offering up some numbers in the hope you may use them one day in the same hope that you never need to. Here, take a number, call it, stand in line. But the human connection, understanding and acceptance from someone on the end of the phone line may help you or someone you know to stay alive, seek further support and eventually prosper.
If you live in Australia keep this phone number close 13 11 14. Know that someone will pick up 24/7.
If you live in the USA keep this phone number by your side 1 800 273 8255. It, too, is manned 24 hours a day.
In Canada, the Kids Helpline for youth is your friend 1 800 668 6868.
Phones can be used for good not just selfie evil and should come with numbers like these already pre programmed. A phone helped me, at nineteen, surrounded by chocolate wrappers and laxative boxes that had plagued my life for years, trapped in a horizontal malaise, unclear where to find the door. I found a number for a therapy centre in the front of a book about eating disorders.
I rang it. I was terrified. But I rang it. Then came the work. A lot of it and yet still a Netflix series called 13 Reasons Why can crawl under my skin and scrape at it from the inside and leave me off kilter for days.
I owe my life to that book, that phone and that work that always continues on a physical, mental, emotional and esoteric level. I am thankful I made it through my teenage years and twenties alive and that I chose to save myself by seeking out that book (Fat is a Feminist Issue) and then dialing that number.
I am sure I am not the only one who is thankful I made that call.