This week made a little history. A couple of weeks ago, we featured the #WayForward video featuring numerous “out” attempt survivors. This week, the Way Forward report itself emerged. It’s a groundbreaking document by a national attempt survivor task force, part of the Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, and it essentially says, “Hey, world, this is what we need.”
NPR did a good story on the report and its demands.
This week’s post is by Gareth Stubbs, who writes from Spain:
As I sit here and write, I still find it hard to believe that I have been given another chance at this game called life. Every time I look down at my arms and legs and see some of the scars that are still visible, I am filled with a mixture of emotion ranging from grief and anger to relief and gratitude.
And as the days turn into years, I thank my own personal God every morning I open my eyes to another day, because it hasn’t always been like that. In fact, there was a time when I used to open my eyes and cry because I had opened my eyes again.
For as long as I can remember, I have suffered from depression, but I learned from a young age to keep my emotions to myself and pretend that everything was OK. I never could quite understand why some people could be so happy all the time, so I just copied them. Deep down inside, though, nothing was what it seemed. One minute I was happy, the next I was overwhelmed with a deep sense of sadness, and this would happen all the time. I couldn’t understand what was going on, and I soon began to self-harm – my way of punishing myself for the “bad moods” that kept on making everyone upset.
When I cut myself, it took my mind off the depression for a few moments, but all the time, I just wanted to be away from everything. I tried talking to the doctor about it, and around 15 or 16 I was diagnosed with rapid cycling bipolar disorder. At least now I had a name for what was going on, but it still didn’t make the desire to die go away.
Just after my 18th birthday, I had arranged to meet my dad, who left when I was pretty young. Just before I was due to meet him, I was told that he had killed himself, and as I had not seen or heard from him for many years, I blamed myself – it was because I wanted to meet him that he did this. I never spoke about it to anyone, but it reinforced some of the crazy things I used to think – like maybe life would be better if I was not around.
A few months later, I had my first suicide attempt. I went out on my bike, drank as much as I could and took a bottle of painkillers. I don’t quite remember what happened, except that I woke up in the bushes on the side of the road, angry and confused. Why was I awake? What did I do wrong? Wasn’t this supposed to work?
So instead, I lied. I lied that I had eaten something that had made me sick. I lied that everything was OK. I was so unhappy and so tired of pretending, and that began my journey into the world of medication. Even though it took the edge off, I could never understand why I hated being alive.
Many years passed like this, just existing. I went through the motions, always there to support other people but never there to support myself – or even allow myself permission to ask for help. During this time, I got married and had children despite being warned not to have children due to family history. My mom’s father also committed suicide, so apparently the genes were quite strong.
We had our own home, two beautiful children who were my reason for fighting, a wife I loved and an amazing job. On the surface, I had the perfect life.
But inside, I hated myself. I hated the fact that I could not share what was going on, in case people thought I was crazy. I hated the fact that I had to hide where I cut myself. I hated the fact that I couldn’t sleep without drink or drugs. I simply hated being alive despite having so much to be thankful for.
Thanks to my depression, I became more and more withdrawn from everything and in the space of 18 months, I recall at least five hospital visits due to my health. I had stomach problems, kidney problems, continual headaches and even had a heart attack – all before the age of 30.
I had three suicide attempts during that period, and the last one left me in a coma with my family not knowing whether I would live. I had promised that I would never do “that” again, and on the surface, I had looked like everything was OK.
I remember waking up from that coma, hooked up to machines, tied to a hospital bed and just feeling so angry. In fact, not angry but pure hatred for myself.
After all the planning, I couldn’t even kill myself and even God didn’t want me anymore. It was then that I was forced to deal with things, and it was then that I lost everything – my home, my family, my children, my reason for living.
But I made a decision, and deep down inside I made a deal with the universe, whom I choose to call God. I promised that if I could get through the next couple of years and reach the age of 40, I would commit my life to sharing my message – partly because I probably thought I wouldn’t make it.
I can’t say it has been easy, and I have chosen not to live with medication since that day, despite being told I would never live without medication or 24-hour support. It was a hard choice but probably the best I have ever made. I woke up and started trying to really live.
I started writing, and this gave me the courage to start talking. I started recording all of my thoughts in a diary, writing down exactly what was going on in my head. It was like giving the “voices” a different place to live. Slowly, I began to realize that the “bad voices” just wanted to be heard, and it became easier to help them instead of trying to keep them quiet. When I was writing, I also realized that I was also allowed a voice, and it gave me courage to start asking for help when I was feeling low.
I allowed myself to start dreaming, too, about what would I do if I could do anything. It took me years to deal with the anger and guilt, but writing a book with my business partner and best friend, who I met a few years ago, about a few pieces of my journey in 2010 was a truly healing process.
Fast forward a decade, and I recently celebrated my 40th birthday. I was emotional for many reasons, and the people I cared about couldn’t quite understand. After all, I have never openly spoken about these things to my family. In the last 12 years I moved from Zimbabwe, where I was born and raised, and now live in Spain. I gave up my career, which was in construction, and recently, we opened our own health retreat where we now have the opportunity to share our experience with people.
I still have my bad days where I have to make a truly conscious effort to shift my thinking. But I know now that I can get through it. I know there are people out there who will support me and say it is OK to feel rough every now and then.
But more importantly, I now know that I have a choice, and every day I use that choice wisely.
As always, keep up between posts at @AboutSuicide.