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The S word

Warning this post refers to mental health issues, self harm and suicide. Please do not read any further if this is difficult for you in any way.

This week has been pretty weird. I’m not quite sure why I’m writing this all down really. Maybe it’s to rationalise some thoughts, maybe it’s to make them leave my brain and onto a virtual page of sorts, maybe it is in the hope that someone else might find this and relate to it as they stumble around the internet. Maybe it’s to find some form of outlet that isn’t retweeting people supportive of this way of thinking to deal with my outrage at this week and the people who form and define the opinions in our media. That does fuck all. Will this do anything? Who knows, but it might make me feel better.

What happened this week? Well, a famous woman confessed to having suicidal thoughts on TV, a male TV host then said he didn’t believe her and has since doubled down on that, even after being sacked. Numerous folk have backed that person including such nice people as a famous football pundit usually known for his nice guy image. My timeline on Twitter is now full of discussion around suicide (in a round about way) and someone’s ability to say this out-loud and be recognised for it and have their thoughts accepted as being valid. This is extraordinarily difficult for anyone who has had the slightest dealings with either suicidal feelings or losing anyone to suicide in their lifetime.

I guess you could say I have been triggered.

My experience with this subject matter goes back to when I was a child, 15, and couldn’t cope with the world and the emotions it was generating in me. This resulted in self harm and a poor attempt on my own life. I played this down for many years until confronting in in therapy a few years ago and recognising and accepting that situation for what it was. It was real. It was serious. And it ended up with me at the GP with my very worried mother. I’m still embarrassed to go to the GP as this is on my record.

Two years later, when I was 17, my next door neighbour took his own life that Christmas. He was 26 I think. His room was the mirror image of mine in the terrace house we lived in and next door to my room. There’s details of that experience which haunt me to this day and won’t share. I still blame myself for not stopping him.

When I was at University in my second year of architecture school my housemate made an attempt on her own life and was hospitalised for a week. She survived. None of the rest of us quite knew how to deal with it or engage with the pain she felt. I think I was 20.

I’m now in my 40s and have struggled with my own mental health in recent years. Firstly in 2018 with some pretty dark thoughts – what I now know is referred to as suicidal ideation. I got myself back to therapy and seemed to have dealt with that for a while. And then again in 2019 it all got bad again. I wouldn’t use the tube when feeling like this for instance. The thing for me is when headspace / hot baths / exercise don’t shift it you know you really have a problem. I tried to ‘solve’ or do something about this and tried to find a walk in mental health clinic where I could seek professional help. I live pretty close to The Maudsley (a mental health hopsital) in South London and stupidly thought I would find an emergency clinic to walk into. As I left the house to try and find it Google Maps told me it had closed in 2017. I tried my GP and couldn’t get an appointment for weeks on end and gave up. Those thoughts come and go still. It’s like your brain is eating you from the inside. But ultimately I don’t think this gets fixed, it gets managed and you live with it perhaps.

This isn’t all about me either. I know of plenty of close friends who have dealt with many similar situations to the above. It hurts them and changes them.

One situation in the media that really affected me was the death of Caroline Flack. I’d not heard of her until her death. But the more I read about it and the more in which people so casually talked about it and even made jokes about it really deeply affected me. I left that WhatsApp group for good and struggled to relate to those people for a while.

I guess everyone’s lived experiences are different and you can’t possibly ask people to recognise how hard that is if you’ve never experienced it. But you can ask people to not be dismissive. I remember Ben Goldacre on Twitter remarking once “If you find me dead from suicide, it was the CIA”… or words to that effect. Again that shocked me, but more from a personal confidence level and his sheer arrogance and dismissiveness.

To say S word out-loud and admit to those feelings of ideation is extraordinarily hard regardless if you’re on TV or talking one to one with a loved one, GP or mental health professional. To have these feelings dismissed is the most shocking thing I’ve seen in a long time and is beyond contempt. It’s really really got to me.

It feels like we have made huge progress on the discussion of mental health recently but I feel this has set us back by years and years. I genuinely fear for what this has done to anyone who is struggling right now.

Again, I’m not sure what the point of writing this was or if there is any real conclusion to it all. I just needed to write something.