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.

Having a physical disability vs having depression

At a media summit last year, a journalist asked me a question that, on the surface, I anticipated would be difficult to answer. After a few moments’ thought, however, I realised the answer was shockingly simple (and rather troubling). The question was, “Which do you find more difficult to deal with – your double amputations and life in a wheelchair, or your depression?” This is what I told her:

Disability on Muscle Beach

And how could I complain about my disability when it allows me to hang out with studs like this?

Every day I am forced to confront and overcome the physical limitations that my disability places on me. I have to figure out how to get in and out of the car, or up and down the stairs, or how to reach a mug on a high shelf. They say time waits for no man and I am no exception to that rule. Unless I allow life to leave me behind and go on without me, I must face these everyday obstacles, and so I do. I hardly have a choice.

Confronting my depression, however, is far more difficult. For years I tried to push it to the back of my mind, but ignoring it only made it worse. Like a wound that goes untreated, it became a festering toxin that tainted all my thoughts and attitudes. That habit of masking my depression and distracting myself with external interests and activities is now a barrier to overcoming it. I must make a concerted effort to acknowledge my incorrect assumptions about the world, evaluate my motives, and construct new patterns for my thoughts and behaviours. It is very easy to neglect these mental processes and “just get on with life”.

Someone who has always placed more emphasis on physical activities, like sport and exercise, may find coming to terms with a new disability more difficult than I have, as my focus has always been on intellectual and creative pursuits. I nevertheless believe that we should all take special care with the way we treat our minds and psyches, because it is much more difficult to fix the unseen than the physical, once it has been damaged.

How regularly do you floss your mind?

How regularly do you floss your mind?

Image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

No one questions the need to brush our teeth each day, but how much care do we take to regularly floss our minds?

Whenever we eat, little pieces of food get stuck between our teeth. If we didn’t brush, they would build up and cause rot. Similarly, we consume vast amounts of information throughout the day, processing thoughts without paying any attention to them. These thoughts can be good or bad, healthy or destructive.

Whatever their nature, our thoughts also leave behind little fragments that build up over time and tinge our subsequent thoughts with their flavour, changing our ability to digest information and interpret the world.

If we are to protect ourselves from psychological cavities that poison our perceptions and cause us pain, we must take care to debrief regularly before an abscess develops and the rotting path needs to be extracted at the root.