Suicide – my lived experience!

Please note: this blog contains details of suicide that some may find triggering, upsetting or distressing. Please refer to our infoline page for organisations that can offer support and assistance.

Today, 10th September 2021, marks World Suicide Prevention Day.

I wanted to share another date with you.

The 26th September 1993, and in 16 days it will be the 28th anniversary of that day.

I was 20 years of age and it was the day that I attempted suicide.

I am lucky to be able to tell my story, and share some details with you as a survivor in the hope, as today is all about creating hope, that it will help at least one person that needs to read it today. The same thing I tell myself every time I speak openly about my mental health struggles – if this saves just one life then it’s a good thing to do.

Was I struggling at the time – most definitely. I’d been living with Bipolar for about four years, although I had no idea that this was what was happening. I had never talked to a GP or a mental health professional about my struggles, had no understanding of mental health conditions, depression or mood disorders. I was young, this was the 90s and no-one talked about any of this back then.

All I could think at the time was why did all these bad things keep happening to me, and what therefore was wrong with me. I’d lost or was estranged from everyone I had ever loved, and felt that there was no-one who cared about me or wanted me around. I didn’t matter and I felt worthless.

If I am honest I never considered that the thoughts that were running through my head over a period of days or weeks before were suicidal ones. They were distressing thoughts that were constantly in my head as a result of the trauma I had experienced. For me I believed that no-one cared where I was or what happened to me. But there was no red flag that these were suicidal thoughts and I needed to get some professional help as I had never actually thought that I wanted to die.

Then on the 26th September 1993, I was in my room alone, I’d not long arrived home from work in a local bar, and I had a very sudden and immediate urge that suicide was the only answer to my problems. It was quick and sudden, there were no warning thoughts or indicators in the lead to that evening that I would attempt to take my own life, in fact I’d been in quite a good mood that day.

So I went to the kitchen and found some tablets, they were Codeine, and I counted them out, 67 in total. It’s bizarre that I remember the exact number of tablets I took back then but there are some days I can’t even remember where I’ve put my phone.

The action of taking them seems almost like slow motion still now when I think back on it, one very slowly at a time, it seemed to take forever, crying the whole time, but almost immediately when I had finished and taken number 67, my brain snapped the other way and a natural survival instinct and reaction kicked in and I went into a panic “Helen what have you done? Get help now!”.

Luckily my housemate was in at the time as I banged on her door to call for help and an ambulance, as she swiftly carried me to the bathroom to help me be sick and get rid of as many tablets from my system as possible. Despite this and mainly because of the strength of the tablets I had swallowed, I still passed in and out of consciousness and by the time the ambulance had arrived I had become completely unconscious.

I had to be resuscitated in the ambulance before they took me to the hospital, and then my stomach pumped and be resuscitated twice again in A&E before they were able to stabilise me, and ultimately save my life, and I am so incredibly grateful to the NHS team who did save my life that night.

I don’t remember anything about the A&E, no recollection of that part at all, and only a very vague awareness of the ambulance. I remember waking on a ward, on my own, no-one around at all or at least no awareness of anyone around me, until a nurse came to explain what had happened and how lucky I was. I was in a lot of pain, my head was hurting, as well as my stomach, which felt like I’d been punched by Thor, and my throat burnt and really hurt from the stomach pump. I generally felt very unwell, and still very sick.

I remember the nurse asking me if I could remember why I had attempted to take my own life and me replying that a boyfriend had dumped me simply to get her to leave me alone. There was no boyfriend, and I certainly didn’t want to talk about the real things that had happened and the thoughts that had been going around my head.

I spent another two days in the hospital until I was discharged and allowed to leave, with a referral appointment made to psychiatry. I got the bus home alone that day, there was no-one to collect me.

And it was an appointment that I never followed up on. Even after what had happened no-one sat with me to explain about mental health and what may be happening, no-one rang me to chase the appointment, and there was no-one around to escort me there. If honest even though I was incredibly grateful for the fact they had saved me, I always got the impression that there was slight resentment that I was taking up a hospital bed that could be used by a ‘real sick person’.

That’s the 90s for you! Mental health care and stigma back then – what a joy to behold! Thankfully things are very different now.

In reality though I was also never going to go to that appointment. It was 1993, I was 20 years of age, times and beliefs around mental health were different. I didn’t want anyone to think that I was ‘mental’ as it was commonly referred to then. So I got on with my life and struggles with my mental health for another 16 years, until I heard someone else’s story and lived experience, and finally asked for help and got the Bipolar diagnosis that changed my life completely.

Now I embrace my mental health and do all I can to take care good of it, take care of me, and help to vanquish the demons that had taken a hold of me and my mindset and thoughts for so long. Do I still have struggles – yes, would I be lying if I said I have never had suicidal thoughts again – yes, but I am aware of them now and know what I need to do to manage them if and when it happens.

We need to create environments where people feel safe to talk openly about mental health, and especially suicide, so that more people understand exactly what suicidal thoughts can be and are, and that there is help available.

We need to change and tackle the stigma that prevents people from reaching out for help, so that they get pushed into believing that suicide is their only option. No-one should have to go through the pain of losing a loved one to suicide, no-one should have to face the pain of putting themselves through it.

Suicide was outlawed and considered a crime for many, many years which is the main reason so much damaging stigma surrounds it. If you attempted it and survived then you would be arrested and imprisoned afterwards, and if you didn’t survive you would be refused burial on consecrated ground. It is were the phrase “commit suicide” comes from, as if you have commited a crime, and we should never use it now.

Thankfully these punishments are now outlawed, but we still need to do all we can as a society to change and tackle the stigma they created – “create hope through action”.

I truly believe that no-one who attempts suicide actually wants to die. The reality as it was for me is that they are faced with such crippling depression and struggles that they feel they have no other choice. They don’t want to end their own lives, they just want to end the pain and make it go away.

If the event of 28 years ago had gone a different way, I would never have the joy of waking up every day with my beautiful daughter and amazing husband. The joy of my friends and family, and just knowing that I am loved and people do care about me and want me to stick around.

The life I have lived so far and the things that I have achieved, all these make me proud to be alive every single day, and I only hope that I do go on to live a very long and healthy life. I am grateful for my life to date and to be alive.

It took me a good 26 years to be able to talk about my lived experience of suicide. I mentioned my suicide attempt openly for the first time 2 years ago during event wellbeing week in 2019. I still find it very painful, I am chocking and fighting back to tears as I write this now, and as I do every time I talk about it, and I don’t think the experience will ever not carry this pain for not only me, but also for the people who love and care about me.

The most important thing is being able to move forward, and I share my lived experience to create hope for others.

If you do anything today after reading this, then please check in on a loved one and simply ask them how they are? And if it’s you then even if you are not having what you may think are suicidal thoughts, but you are finding things hard or distressing, then please reach out to a friend or family member, or talk to a mental health professional or GP confidentially.

You have so much to give, you are loved, you are not alone, and YOU DO MATTER!

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