What goes through your mind before you jump in front of a moving train?

Recently some friends of mine lost another close friend to suicide. By all accounts, he was a warm, smart, handsome guy with many friends who loved him. Although he had been through very rough times recently, no one had any idea that he had been feeling that low. His friends struggled to understand what he had been thinking and how he had reached that point without anyone knowing. I know that many of my friends and family had the same questions after my suicide attempt, so I’m going to try to explain my state of mind when I jumped in front of that train. Hopefully it will give you some insight into the minds of the people in your life who struggle with depression. Here goes.

Done. By the time you start planning your suicide, you are just done with the seemingly continuous upward battle towards a happiness that feels more and more elusive the longer you chase it. I felt that I had done everything I could think of to fix the constant ache inside myself and nothing was working. I had run out of options and could not think of anything more to do except to just end it once and for all.

The struggle every single day just to survive and not be discovered a fraud or not to lose a grip on everything was exhausting. I couldn’t face the prospect of going through this for the rest of my life, endlessly hoping for that one day when everything would fall into place and I could live – not fight, just live – a day that might or might not ever come. I couldn’t keep wearing the mask of being “fine, thanks”. I was weary and drained. I just wanted to go to sleep and never wake up – to have some relief, some rest, and to no longer worry that at any moment I was going to screw up.

Over the years, I had never reached out for help, because I thought it was my own problem, that no one else – friend or therapist – would be able to say something that would fix it all. People often confided in me and I enjoyed listening to and supporting them. Every time I thought of revealing my own struggle to anyone, however, I decided against it, because I knew that they had problems of their own and I didn’t want to burden them with mine as well – especially if there was nothing that they could about it. It was my responsibility to figure it out myself. I never considered that if I had given anyone the choice, they would have been honoured and pleased to support me.

What-goes-through-your-mind-before-you-jump-in-front-of-a-train

By the time I was planning my suicide, I had reached the conclusion that removing myself would be better for everyone – my parents wouldn’t have to take care of me if I returned to Cape Town from London without a job, my friends wouldn’t have to keep making the effort of trying to connect with me through my impervious walls that deflected any attempts at sincere and meaningful conversation.

Towards the end, just before my suicide attempt, whenever I considered talking to a friend or asking for help, I also wondered how I could justify to them that I had never come to them with this before. How could I have let it get this bad before trusting them to support me? Would they even believe that it was so bad that I was genuinely contemplating suicide, given that I had never spoken of my depression to anyone before? I didn’t want to seem like a drama queen who was only looking for attention.

None of these thoughts may seem rational to you, but that does not mean that they are not completely reasonable to someone with depression. Such mental illnesses distort your view of yourself and your relation to the world.

I remember a few months before my suicide attempt, a close friend of mine actually opened up to me about a breakdown that he’d had a few years earlier. He had even been on medication for depression for a while. Listening to him in that moment, I thought, “Yes! That is how I feel. I get it!” I wanted to confess all to him, but then decided not to, because I thought to myself that if I spoke to him then, just after he had bared his soul to me, he would not believe me. He would think that I was making light of his struggle by turning the attention on to myself and being patronising about something I actually knew nothing about. That made it difficult to talk to him then – but it was much harder trying to explain it to him a few months later, when he came to see me after I had lost both my legs in my suicide attempt and he asked me, “I told you my story; why didn’t you tell me yours?

Now that my depression has been diagnosed, I have been on medication and had monthly therapy sessions for two years. I still have some of the anxiety and self-esteem issues that I did before and they still affect the way I live my life to some extent, if I don’t remind myself that worrying about things beyond my control is futile. These issues no longer overwhelm me, however, and I feel capable of living a good life. Perhaps the biggest advantage to me is being able to acknowledge my depression as a real illness that I can control. It is not my own failure, flaw or weakness, just a condition that I must manage. I can recognise which of my fears and insecurities are unfounded and so disable them.

Humbling and scary as it is to admit my mental disorder, it is also liberating and rewarding to live an honest and frank reality with the people in my life. That I got this chance to start again makes me one of the blessed few. Suicide is not a choice, it is the conclusion to an illness that is left untreated. We need to make it okay for anyone to ask for help before that chance is taken away from them.

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5 experiences I would have missed if I had died as planned

Today marks the first anniversary of my suicide attempt. My emotions regarding this milestone differ by the hour, but mostly it feels like any of the other things one suddenly remembers, such as, “Oh yeah, I’ve been living in this house for five years now,” or “Huh, can’t believe it’s been nine years since I graduated.” It changed my life, but it doesn’t define me. What a relief to realise that.

Looking back, I can only relate to that day in terms of all that has happened since. Now, I can’t imagine my life without the people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had over the past year. Here are five of them:

1) Feeling proud of my body for the first time in my life

And not because of how it looks, but because for the first time, I have taken charge of my body and know what it is capable of. I used to take my body for granted and treated it as a functional tool for getting around and expressing myself. The rest of my body has had to compensate for the loss of my legs. I have pushed it and challenged it. My body has risen above my expectations in ways I would not have thought possible. Body, you rock.

2) Playing volleyball with some of the coolest people I’ve ever met

I have never been a sporty person or an adrenaline-junkie. My hand-eye coordination sucks. But learning to play paravolley (sitting volleyball) has been a liberating experience for me. I have learnt that you can do anything if you practise long enough (despite my hand-eye setbacks, my volleyball skills are improving). I have also gotten to know several other people with disabilities (including a Paralympian!), who just happen to be awesome. We are all learning from each other and encouraging each other. Most of all we get each other when it comes to the challenges posed by our disabilities.

ParaVolley South Africa | Facebook Page

3) Acknowledging and understanding my depression (and myself)

It wasn’t until after my suicide attempt that I spoke to anyone about my feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness and failure. When I finally understood that there was a medical cause for them and that treatment was possible, a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t crazy, I could be easier on myself and life could get better.

No matter what scary thing you’re going through, sharing the load with someone will always make it easier. Yes, sometimes they won’t be able to fix it or solve it, but they can hold your hand and go through it with you. There will always be someone willing to help. If you don’t want to make a loved one responsible for coping with your struggle, talk to a professional or call a helpline. The people on the other end of the line really do want to help and they’re usually experienced. Wouldn’t you rather learn to drive from a seasoned driver than from your brother who takes the bus?

4) Finding a new passion and purpose

For a long time it felt as though I had pursued my dreams and failed at all of them. It took a disability to help me realise what I had in me and how I could use my experiences to make a difference. Always have faith in yourself, because there is no one else exactly like you and somewhere out there is a need and a gap the perfect size for you.

5) Making new friends and reconnecting with old ones

Over the past year, my depression, disability and rehabilitation have introduced me to a number of kind, intelligent, talented people that I would never have known otherwise. The road to recovery has also been smoothed by the constant, unfailing love and support of old friends and family. Near-death, life-altering experiences seem to erase the social barriers between people. We say the things we almost didn’t get a chance to say and reassess the content of our lives. The wonderful people in my life have taught me how great and diverse the world is, and shown me how bright the future can be if we nurture the good in it.

What happens now?

A few weeks ago, Cara from the “What happens now?” project invited me to share my story with their community of suicide attempt survivors, and my post was published on Monday.

As a volunteer initiative, “What happens now?” aims to support survivors of suicide attempts and anyone with suicidal thoughts, by sharing first-hand accounts of life before and after a suicide attempt. Survivors can encourage each other by simply putting our struggles into words. We can show each other that no one is alone, that we understand the thoughts and feelings that seem to be so isolating.

You can read the post about my depression, suicide attempt and life as a survivor over at “What happens now?” And if you like it, share it – there might be someone in your circles who needs to know they’re not alone.