Stephen Fry (who I hope is feeling better now) has opened up in a podcast with Richard Herring and spoken of a suicide attempt he made last year. I won’t link to the text as it’s a rather hardcore description and, as much as I could be, I felt triggered by it as I had a similar physical reaction (convulsions and a seizure) during my own suicide attempt and I get flashbacks which aren’t nice. Here’s the podcast, though.
I have the utmost respect for him for speaking out on this. I have sometimes, as many others have, attributed the oft-glamourisation of manic depression to Stephen Fry. But none of that was ever his fault. Our mental health is ours, so intensely personal yet so common, that when someone talks, publicly, about their experiences, we feel aggrieved that they are not exactly describing our own. We bear different pasts but the same diagnosis. If we are struggling, unwell, lost, I think there’s a sense of feeling cheated that someone else isn’t. Especially with celebrities who may speak out but not have to suffer through the NHS, money problems, social services and all the insidious intrusions you have to live with when you have a mental illness. But pain is pain. It may be dimmed by money or fame, and it may not.
The recovery narrative of mental health can forget that people die because of their mental health problems. Not solely, of course. Sometimes it’s everything else that can kill; the mangle of the benefits system, the guilt and shame of knowing you’re being judged when you’re buying groceries, the isolation from those who no longer know what to say to you, whom you might have hurt, or whom may have hurt you. And this is getting worse and worse, with the benefits system crueller than ever, seemingly trying to make people kill themselves, the stigma becoming more and more, and harder and harder to live with. And not much is being done to help. All that can kill you, too.
All that, or nothing. Stephen Fry said,
“‘Fortunately the producer – I was filming at the time – came into the hotel room and I was found in an unconscious state and taken back and looked after. ‘You may say, “How can anybody who’s got it all be so stupid as to want to end it all?”
“That’s the point, there is no “why?” That’s not the right question. There is no reason. If there was reason for it, you could reason someone out of it.”
This, for me, is the most uniquely horrible thing about living with a mental health problem. Sometimes, there is no reason. Last year, just after my wedding, I started to become depressed. The depression continued, strangling me, slowing every movement down to indecision whether I woke up or not, got dressed or not, moved or not, stayed or went or lived or died and I couldn’t decide. I locked myself in bathrooms, I was mute or repetitive, going over and over on the same tiny details to avoid the huge one in front of me. That there is no reason to live, and I wanted to die. The closest I came was one night in November where I stood at the side of road then just walked out in front of a car, which stopped, the driver swearing at me. I fantasised, selfishly, about an, “accident”, so I could leave and not be blamed, no notes, no reasons. I would be tragic and frozen and immortal as a bride and not as the mess I was. I was a newlywed and I felt I was standing outside my own body screaming, “THERE IS NO REASON FOR THIS. CHEER UP, CHEER UP, STOP” and it made me feel lower and lower and lower. My husband wasn’t supportive as it looked like the wedding had caused my depression. It hadn’t. The sense that I had let him down, let everyone down, killed me.
I become depressed, like clockwork, at the same time every year. All my forays with hospitals, suicide attempts or the crisis team have been almost at the same date. It’s so predictable and yet, every single time, I forget. I think something will save me; a wedding, love, anything. It doesn’t- it never will. And it will come again and I find it terrifying. It is what in periods like this, where I am otherwise mentally fine but having panic attacks, makes me want to step into the road again. To take control. To end the cycle, once and for all. It is so frightening to see your life mapped out like that. To be happy and to know that you might be returned to that horrible place, and you might not return from it.
And because there is no reason, it is hard to get help. It took me a few months to actually admit to myself that I was so depressed I was dangerous. I blog, and talk, and tweet, but getting me to actually visit a doctor and say, “I WANT TO KILL MYSELF” is hard. Somehow, those words take on a terrible, solid form in that room. It becomes real and vivid and the doctor has to argue with the person inside of you that wants to kill the host.
This isn’t to be self-pitying. It’s a plain fact. For whatever reason, whether it’s biological, psychological, social or all, people with mood disorders will have mood swings and they almost always will happen again and again. Some people rumble on for years and are fine, some people, like me, have a seasonal pattern to their moods and tend to become unwell around the same time every year. I do much better than I ever did, as I used to have good old fashioned rapid cycling and became unwell quite regularly. Now, my high moods are pretty much under control as long as I take medication and sleep enough, but I still get depressed. I don’t expect to- like I said, I forget I do- but there is it. HOORAY! I feel I am as lucky as I can be in my life, in many ways, and that makes it more frustrated.
Recovery from mental illness is real. People live with it, every day, and although 10-20% may die from suicide, the rest are out there, like you and me, still living their often difficult, sometimes wonderful lives.
I think that, me included, we all thought that when you let the genie out of the bottle, it lost its hideous power. But we were wrong.
Filed under: Bipolar Disorder