When life is too much

A heads-up – a lot about suicidality in this post.

I followed the Sport Relief challenge of Zoe Ball recently as I’m sure a fair few of you reading this may have done. The documentary that came out of it was, I thought, a really important piece in terms of highlighting some of the issues around male depression and suicide but also the difficulty of how to support someone going through depression.

I’ve been thinking about how to explain how all the usual logic and reason goes out of the window when you are suicidal. When I’ve been at my lowest I’ve had plenty of thoughts about death. I presume this to be a given – or at least very common – with depression. There’s a whole range of thoughts that can be loosely termed ‘suicidal’ from vague ideas of wanting things to end to actively making plans and being a danger to yourself. Often when severely depressed I’ve had a very disconnected thoughts about not wanting to exist, anything to stop the feelings of misery. These involve no sense or desire to take things further. Usually at this point the accompanying cognitive dysfunction is such that actually making some kind of decision around taking my own life is pretty much impossible. I wonder whether this is an element of brain’s self-defence and self-survival. I can’t do anything but keep dragging myself forward as anything else would involve too much cognitive processing.

I thought Tom Hill’s piece in Singletrack was great. Suicidality and suicidal ideation can be one of the toughest things to talk about. It’s not something that one can casually drop into conversation! I guess the fear of how the listener is going to react is a biiiiig part of it. Tom described heading out on a ride with a pocket full of painkillers. I didn’t *quite* get to that point but it did start stockpiling paracetamol and was considering where and when I might take my own life. This was over twenty years ago and the first time I experienced depression. I didn’t know what it was, I didn’t seek help, I didn’t talk specifically to anyone about it – all the frustration, anger, desperation, and everything else was turned inward. I can’t remember every detail any more but the most significant element which allowed me to get through this time was the offer from my oldest friend to come and stay at her house for a couple of months. Being able to put distance between me and the physical centres of my problems made all the difference.

At the time I saw a grim humour when I, in the process of buying painkillers from different shops and unable to buy the same type in all, found myself wondering whether it was a good idea to mix them all. I think it even occured to me to think of whether it would cause issues for paramedics if I was found. Perhaps my anxiety got in the way of actually taking my own life. I remember debating about the site – somewhere where I wouldn’t be disturbed but also where I might not lie undiscovered for days and days. I even thought about who I would like to leave some of my belongings to.

I think became adept at shutting down conversations I didn’t want to have, but simultaneously being desperate for someone to put me on the spot and force the feelings out of me and respond to my silent screaming. I was sure that people must know that something wasn’t right with me but I have also come to realise how accomplished you can become at hiding your feelings. It can take a very aware person to read the signs. Twenty years ago I wouldn’t have know where to go for help and I don’t think those around me would have able to suggest anything either. It didn’t even occur to me that what I was going through was depression. Depression happened to other people. During the last twenty years it’s become so much easier to find help, find information, have conversations about mental health.

I’m very aware that it’s a bit easier for me to have these conversations than it is for many other people. It’s become normal since I started working in mental health. It’s still a bit of a step to talk about such extreme states of being though. I’ve only mentioned this to two or three people before and never written about it so I hope this all makes some kind of sense.

I’ve not reached this point since. The next time depression hit, around six years later, I actually went to my GP and had a difficult conversation about needing help. It felt like a breakthrough… and it was. It was a huge relief to verbally communicate the feelings I’d been having. Talking; seems like a most simple thing but is usually the hardest. There have been a few moments over the years that have been a few markers of forward movement such as this in turns of my personal dealings with depression. I dislike the word ‘journey’ in this context, it sounds too trite to me. Talking did and does make all the difference, but I know how hard it can be to get even to that point.

‘Discovering’ cycling in 2003 has changed my life. I wouldn’t ever say that cycling saved my life but it has, since then, been a major part of staving off and coping with low mood. More than this, it has brought me physical and emotional highs I never would have experienced otherwise. It’s given me a focus to my personal life, and an increased social circle, and a sense of comradery with other riders.

I was planning a last paragraph with added gravitas but I think I’ll just leave it there.


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