Since including content around mental health on this blog, I’ve revealed a lot about myself. My motivation is to be helpful, but of course there are things I’ve kept back and I’ll never tell absolutely everything. However, it’s with trepidation that I’m going to discuss my experience with suicidal ideation and what, in the end, gave me clarity.
I had a nervous breakdown in the summer of 2009. People sometimes ask me what a nervous breakdown actually is, and I’m sure it’s different for every individual, but the common feature is to cease to function. Simple tasks like getting out of bed, taking a shower and going to work become impossible. In the months before I fell apart, I had a couple of jobs back to back. I was focusing on getting acting work and I found myself unemployed after a play I was in finished. I’d been living a pretty wild, unhealthy lifestyle and I can’t remember any one precise moment when it began but the deepest, blackest depression crept in under the door. Attempting to numb myself with partying probably hastened the process as it muddled my brain chemistry and made me more vulnerable to emotional instability.
Although I’ve tried not to feel any shame about my mental illness, I’m still a little embarrassed to admit how dark my thoughts were. A friend gave me a beautiful, leather bound journal when I left the job we’d been on together. I still have that journal and I sometimes look through the pages I wrote at that time. I rambled on about how I had failed I was and how pointless my life was. In reality, I had everything to live for. I’d got engaged in the February of that year and I was planning our wedding for the following summer. My husband is the love of my life, I couldn’t wish for a better, kinder man to spend my days with. I also had a loving, supportive family, physical health and wonderful friends. Yes I was out of work, but I was a jobbing actor and I was used to the quiet periods. And yet, I’d lost all hope. I hated the skin I lived in and could never conceive of a time when that would change. The thought of my wedding made me even more desolate as I wasn’t sure I’d last that long. When I woke in the morning I would be disappointed that I hadn’t died in the night.
I eventually recovered from the breakdown with the help an intensive, residential therapy course. Although I still had a lot of work on myself to do when I came home, it helped me through that terrible time. It would be another 4 years before I was diagnosed with Bipolar, and I still had daily thoughts of suicide, even when relatively well and happy. I often thought how lovely it would be to not exist. I only really expressed these feelings to my husband and my therapist; I still feel guilty for putting my husband through this. I would apologise that I would be leaving soon, that although I loved him I couldn’t stay. I was convinced that although my loved ones would be upset if I died, they’d understand it was for the best and would be better off without me.
And then something happened which changed the way I thought about suicide forever. A close friend and artistic collaborator lost a very dear friend to suicide. The day he found out that Rose had died I turned up at his flat, not really knowing what to say, but wanting to offer comfort and support. I did my best to help him through that awful time. He blamed himself, insisting that he should of have seen the signs, that he could have saved her if he’d paid more attention. This is a very common response to suicide and I tried to assure him there was no way he could have prevented her death. She never told him that she was suicidal. I kept showing up at his flat, calling and texting, trying to be there as much as I could. In fact, I think he found me a bit of a nuisance, but at least he knew I cared.
Seeing the absolute devastation caused by Rose’s suicide helped me to understand what would happen if I decided to act on my secret desire to take my own life.
Being an artist can be helpful in times of extreme anguish, and my friend went some way to processing his feelings by writing 213 Things About Me, a play I’ll be performing at the Battersea Art Centre in May. The play tells the story of Rose’s extraordinary life, and is not about her suicide. However, I think knowing what it means to lose hope and long for death, helps me do the part justice.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, please tell someone. It may upset them, but it is important that someone you trust knows you are having suicidal ideation. Equally, if someone confides in you that they feel suicidal, take them seriously. Don’t shame them by telling them they have everything to live for – that will just make it worse.
Suicide is the ultimate irreversible decision and whatever you are going through right now is temporary. Life will inevitably change; it is one of the few things that can be counted on.
You can also call the Samaritans on 116 123.