Isolation, Judgement and Suicide by Suzanne Keenan

If you are affected by this story you can call the Samaritans for free on 116123 or for children and young people and anyone concerned about them, the Professional Suicide Prevention Service Hopeline (PAPYRUS) on 0800 068 41 41

TV presenter Caroline Flack died this month.  It triggered something very deep within me. It resurrected old pains and was a reminder that I survived the deep rooted thoughts that so many others like Caroline don’t when they are put into action. I shudder to think how easily I could have had a different outcome, if the circumstances were different, if the alignment of a few significant factors had taken place at the right time for them and the wrong time for me.

She fought something most people will never understand.

Suicide is not something someone comes to thinking about all of a sudden before acting upon. It’s the result (and symptom) of long-term suffering and long-term endurance of things you find impossible to overcome.  An isolation, a removal of the normality that once existed before it.

It’s not that you don’t feel loved by those around you, or feel that no one will ever love you; and it’s not a belief that you aren’t as strong the next person. It’s a whole host of feelings and emotions – feeling forever trapped within certain circumstances (whatever they are); an inability to see a way out; relate to anyone around you or them you; of being too strong for too long, often too self-sufficient in navigating your pain; or feeling that you don’t want to be propped up on a temporary basis only to fall down again; or become any kind of burden to others. It’s also a paralysis in effectively communicating your suffering – a protraction of thoughts that go way beyond your capability of articulation…

And in most cases – made worse by the absence of willing or compassionate support – often replaced by the digging-in and passing of judgement on you and your circumstances in your lowest ebb of life.  The passing of negative comment behind the scenes or publicly; contributing to the isolation that someone is already overwhelmed by.  “S/he should be doing this”, “s/he shouldn’t have done that”, “oh my god did you hear?”… All feeding the already spiralling cycle that someone can’t spin out of. Why do we do that? Why does this make us feel so much better about ourselves? Judgement! It is in itself its own sick commodity that holds so much value in the everyday lives of the people we call “you and me”.

Over several years of facing mental health struggles, rooted in a physical illness that landed uninvited at my door, I’ve lived in the world – present but passive; in it but outside of it; in touch but removed; a perceived participant but really an observer. Over time this is what can eventually lead to suicidal feelings. It doesn’t matter the cause or causes that can lead to this new reality …it is the fact that this reality has culminated into existence and that you need to get out of it.

If I counted on one hand how many times I’ve thought, and I mean really thought about suicide, I’d be able to do it. But if I counted how many times I felt all of the aforementioned feelings that came to make me feel that resulting way, I wouldn’t be able to. Statistically speaking, it’s a miracle suicide wasn’t contemplated more often.

Visualisation can play a role in suicidal thoughts.  Lots of questions mount in your head – logistical, clinical ones, emotion tends to fall away from it. It’s a plan and execute type process. What are the neat and tidy ways to do this? What are the quick and efficient ways – the most likely to result in a successful outcome of your objective and the least traumatic for your family to deal with when confronted with the aftermath. It’s a strange dynamic you create with these thoughts, a compartmentalisation – a detachment of the consequences from the person of ‘you’.

We may assume that our health care services are becoming more in-tune with the rising crisis in people’s mental health; hat those services are accessible and that if you ask for help you will be prioritised without hesitation. My experiences were so different to what I expected when I reached my moment of crisis. A conversation with a GP a few years ago led to being directed to web links where I could read about how to help myself. In addition, I was advised that I could “Google search” for relevant charities that may be able to help me.

There was an assumption made that as I was an intelligent and logical individual who had already navigated some intensely complicated and challenging hurdles in life and as I had done so with composure (for the most part) and had demonstrated sound decision making in mapping myself out of a pretty impossible health dilemma, that I could and would be able to do the same for my mental health – applying those same principles and practices. But I had reached a glass ceiling and had become over-saturated with coping, with surviving.

Making back-to-back phone calls asking where I could turn, led me to being unable to catch my breath one day. I sobbed to my husband and pleaded with him that I couldn’t keep spinning, we were navigating this in the dark. We were both overwhelmed and under resourced in energy to fix things, having already battled my illness together for years. We rang a crisis helpline. It was harrowing, gut-wrenching and a moment in time I know my husband and I will have emblazoned in our memories forever. But it was where I, we, were brought to.

I was referred to the right service and scheduled in for counselling that reflected the severity of my needs.  I finally got to open up about all of the things that had been building and I got the right support.

What I have found most insightful in exploration of my own struggle with mental health, is that most of it was about the social isolation I have felt – those feelings of not being part of the world; of being extracted from everything I once knew; and how the world seemed to go on at such a fierce rate without me. My illness had meant that my passions, my hopes and my dreams (personal, career, health/fitness or otherwise) had been put in the nearest bin and I had to walk away from them with composure and dignity and quickly adapt, just deal with it – so as not to fall behind even further.

In addition to the personal losses that had to be consolidated within me – it was the ‘people’ aspect that proved to be the next most painful. I myself had been put in the bin by some people I knew; I was damaged goods cut loose. Our society, our culture, expects that you keep-up irrespective of circumstance.  A societal slowing down, slinging you over the collective shoulder to carry you for a time is not an option presented to you.

There had been judgement of my health battle, of the new tainted me. The lines between compassion and pity have been so blurred at times, and for every genuine compassionate person who sympathised and acknowledged my strength of character to face what I was facing, there were nine more showing pity as a form of judgement for not being in the ‘mainstream’ with them any longer. It was an odd dynamic for me when I was suddenly perceived as broken. I was always a fit and healthy individual, athletic and sporty, always on the go, biting off more than I could chew and then biting off some more. I thrived under pressure and rarely could be still. Yet here I was, because of circumstances beyond my control, having an identity crisis brought about by illness – made worse by how I was now seen through the eyes of others.

Having delved deep into all aspects of what I have felt and experienced has helped me more than I never knew it could. Having the space to be able to process the multi-faceted and interconnected layers of trauma and grief from illness, that I had stifled for too long, was a burden removed and a weight lifted. It enabled me to redirect my focus to those times when genuine compassion, and more importantly a lack of judgement, illuminated my darkened world. When select friends or colleagues took my cues of distance as a sign of needing more support than the rest of the crowd chose to see I needed. It was immensely comforting and incredibly liberating.  Imagine if I had never had the opportunity to reflect in this way, to seek counsel and be counselled to wade through and past the poor examples of human nature; step over them instead of being buried under them? …Again I shudder.

When people are in need, society can be cruel. It can choose judgement over empathy; blame over compassion; distance through convenience (life is busy don’t ya know people?!) – convincing themselves the distance has intentionally been created by you, your own fate of choosing, because I mean… you just aren’t handling the card you have been dealt very well. The adoption of an arrogant assumption that they would have pulled themselves together if facing the same problems. All ways to easily opt out of the turmoil they can’t and don’t want to understand is being faced.

Sadly, as much as the subject of mental health (and the wide spectrum it charts) becomes less of a social taboo and stigma, the more we see an increase in superficial proclamations of support and rallying via social media platforms with their impersonal circular merry-go-rounds of ‘sharing’ this and ‘liking’ that; adding a short comment to a thread – all in the name of expressing our support of those we supposedly care so much about. Platitude after platitude.

And the irony of the fact that often the same platforms that can cause distress to so many young people these days are also used to try and superficially undo that same damage, is just too outrageous to ignore. Key-board warriors causing pain with two hands and remedying their conscience with one thumb – pressing down on a ‘like’ or ‘share’, convincing themselves they are good people as a result of the causes they support and not the opinions they dole out.

Irrespective of how the parasitic machines that are the media and social media have contributed to a systemic infestation of our collective moral compass, normalising the dehumanisation of those who are suffering, WE have the ability to intervene. To stand up to it. To reverse the trend. It all starts with the individual, with our own communities and with our own family, friends and colleagues.

Yes, ‘sharing’ and ‘liking’ and ‘hash tagging’ DO raise awareness of an issue, they DO make people sad and sympathetic, they DO help to break down the misconceptions around mental health issues and in particular suicide, and they DO start the conversation. But WHAT do they do for the reality of those sitting at home in crisis; on the verge of the verge of the verge?

So stop JUST sharing your social media awareness campaigns! Add to them… SHOW UP! STOP creating circulars from the exercising of your thumb over your screen and put your physical presence in the presence of those you KNOW need it. You know! Yes, you know!!  Help them to get the right support – it is more elusive to access than you might think.

What you might never appreciate is how much showing up can help stop the thoughts that nearly form a permanent irreversible reality for someone close.  Wouldn’t you rather take the chance that someone needs you over not?! Wouldn’t you rather show them that their well-being and their LIFE is more precious than how precious you feel your time is?

For me, a few school friends individually pulling up outside my house uninvited to shake me into sharing my pain; another friend, a drive from so many miles away just weeks after giving birth to demonstrate her love; a group of my husband’s school friends rallying to support us in the most public of ways; a crazy friend dragging me out of the house against my will when I wanted to tell them to go away; a compassionate group of bosses giving me all the support I could have ever needed; the friends who STILL intrude on my life; my beautiful, beautiful family (near and far) being there over and over – easing burdens, lessening pain, LISTENING …those, yes those are the actions of the people who actually stop suicide!

So go be there for all the Carolines that are alone, maligned, defeated, exhausted, isolated, misunderstood or otherwise – listen, comfort and help. We are all human and no one is exempt from a buildup of significant events that can tip the scale of balance in your life. From taking you from right up there to way down there in a heartbeat.

Practice restraint when witnessing overnight experts discuss the problems of another soul they know, giving opinion when not qualified in THEIR problems – it is less dangerous. But most importantly of all STOP THE JUDGEMENT, circumstances are NOT WEAKNESS, SHOW COMPASSION and remember “There but for the grace of God go I”.

#showup #noexcuseisgoodenough #stopjudging #bekind

If you are affected by this story you can call the Samaritans for free on 116123 or for children and young people and anyone concerned about them, the Professional Suicide Prevention Service Hopeline (PAPYRUS) on 0800 068 41 41