This week’s post is by Daryl Brown, who writes from South Africa. Early next year, he will begin his studies to become a psychologist, and he’s a member of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, which runs depression education programs in underprivileged schools across the country. “There is much ignorance about suicide and depression in South Africa, which has caused a perception that one should not talk openly about it,” he says.
Also, some news: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website in the U.S. should be launching a page today for attempt survivors and others who’ve been suicidal. Here’s Daryl:
I did not admit that I suffered from depression until after my suicide attempt. Depression seemed like an excuse other people made for getting attention or not being able to solve their own problems. I did not associate that with what I had. What I had was just a restless, uneasy, niggling sadness that I kept to myself. So last year, when that niggling sadness grew into a gaping black hole that swallowed my joy and enthusiasm and hope for the future, I quietly put my affairs in order and opted out of life. But life was not ready to let me go.
I grew up fairly sheltered in a Christian home in Cape Town, South Africa. My early childhood was happy; I loved dressing up and escaping into make-believe worlds. By the time I turned 12, I’d had a few crushes on girls, mostly because they had beautiful long hair, wore pretty clothes and because I had more in common with them than with boys who were obsessed with video games, sports and violence. It wasn’t until my adolescence that I realised there was a crucial element missing from my attraction to girls and that I liked boys in a completely different way.
Suddenly, my interest in drama, my ineptitude for sports and my timidity made me a target for bullies. Until then, I didn’t know what homosexuality was. I just knew that if it was as bad as my schoolmates made it out to be, I didn’t want to be gay. For much of my high school career, I was jeered at and shoved in the passages. I stopped using the toilet at school, as guys would instantly cover themselves up when I walked into the restrooms and yell to each other that I was trying to look at them.
Over this time, I became secretive with my thoughts and emotions, putting up walls against the bullying, a pattern that ultimately led to my suicide attempt.
After school, I became more involved at a local church, and for years I prayed that God would “heal” me and make me straight. All the while, I was trying one thing after another to cure the depression growing within me, but a new job, new hobbies and new qualifications didn’t help. I made new friends, but I couldn’t let down my walls and so I never felt like I fitted in.
Eventually I came out as being gay, thinking that would solve my depression, but of course it didn’t. By this point I was running out of options, so as a last resort, I moved to London to study and find a job. I had loved London when I had been there on holiday, and I thought that living there would satisfy me. I didn’t realise that the problem was not my circumstances, but my mind. My thoughts of self-criticism were so ingrained that my actions and surroundings couldn’t fix me, because my brain had been taught to make me feel worthless and hopeless.
After finishing my master’s degree, I told all my friends in London that I was moving back to South Africa, so that they wouldn’t notice when I suddenly disappeared. I packed my suitcase, dragged it down to the Underground station nearest my flat, and jumped in front of the oncoming train.
If I could do it all over again, I would attempt suicide by different means. Both my legs were severed by the train that hit me, and I am now a permanent wheelchair user.
As much as I want to be independent, the support of my family and friends is essential, not just for my disability but also my depression. And they really don’t mind being there for me, it’s just that I’d never asked before. You might feel like you can’t talk to anyone, or you don’t have close friendships the way other people seem to, but there is probably someone in your life who would gladly listen and encourage you if you just asked.
Relationships give you a vital sense of self-worth and responsibility. Many of my friends felt betrayed by my suicide attempt, as if I thought they weren’t worth hanging around for, but the truth is that I thought I wasn’t worth it.
In some ways, I am just relieved that my depression is “out” now. At least I know that I’m not crazy for lacking the drive that seems to come naturally to others. Now I know that I can do something to fix it. But it is hard work, and it takes perseverance to intentionally change my way of thinking and “speaking” to myself. My mind jumps to the same negative conclusions over and over again, because of certain assumptions I already hold true about the world and my place in it. With cognitive behavioural therapy, my psychiatrist has taught me to look at all situations objectively and consider the many different interpretations that could equally be true.
There are often days that I still struggle to see the point of going on, but I believe I should try again and not go down without a fight. I am passionate about breaking the stigma around depression and suicide. My aim is to improve education on depression and equip teenagers to deal with it.
I think that if you’ve attempted suicide once, it will always be one of the optional “solutions” you consider. But when I die, however that may be, I want to know that I have given life the best chance I could.
For more between posts, follow @AboutSuicide.