This is not a suicide note.
There’s an altogether too large part of me that wishes it could be, but there’s an even larger part of me that’s too much a coward, too much committed to promises made, not quite unwell enough. I’ve thought, considered, planned, and started to act but have always been dissuaded by the thought of agonizing physical pain, fear of an unknown eternal punishment, or a foolhardy determination not to let down those who depend on me, or who, for reasons I can’t understand, love me.
I have, from the outside, a great life. I’m in a loving, long-term relationship, have a rewarding and well-paid job, and I spend my time with people whose company I greatly enjoy. I watch movies, read books, and watch sports. I take vacations and spend time with my family. None of this means that I don’t wish for a painless, guiltless, and consequence-free death. I have what one shrink called “suicidal ideations.” I spend my days hopeful that I’ll be struck by a runaway bus or a rogue meteor, killing me instantly and bringing no cosmic punishment. And often, before I go to sleep, I ask a deity whose existence I doubt for a favor: If I can die painlessly tonight without going to hell or something like it, please let that happen.
I was a kid, maybe eleven or so, when I remember first wanting to end my own life. My mother told me that if I ever voiced such a thought again, she would send me to an institution and that the experience would not be a pleasant one. The message was clear: I was a freak, and rather than deserving or receiving help, I would be punished if I did not stop being a freak. Since then, I’ve been largely quiet about my suicidal feelings and the host of other horrible thoughts that occupy my head most of the time. Some close friends and an endless procession of psychiatrists know about them, but I’ve been instilled with a fear of sharing this terrible part of myself.
Mental illness is marginalized enough already. “Crazy” holds largely the same unfortunate place in politically incorrect vocabulary as “gay”; it’s a catchall pejorative, ignorant of the harm the word causes to people it accurately describes. It’s bad enough that we treat mental illness as insincere or as weakness. It’s bad enough that this attitude is so pervasive that many of us who suffer from severe mental illness consider ourselves weak and unworthy of help.
It started with the disgust I saw from my mother, with the fear she instilled in me. But it has grown, through my adolescence, as I was taught, time and time again, that people who have good lives act and feel a certain way. I was taught that seeking help for an invisible illness was ridiculous, and I watched others get mocked for doing so.
The worst part is that while I know that this is all horseshit, some more basic part of me believes it. There’s an untouchable part of me that insisted that I submit this article anonymously, because some part of me will never relinquish the idea that I should be ashamed of these feelings, ashamed of my sickness. I believe, and will always believe, that I am nothing more than a fucked-up failure, and that I should just get over it.
I’ve lied to bosses about why I was out of the office when I went to see psychiatrists. I’ve refused to participate in group sessions out of shame and fear that I might see someone I know. And I’ve always remained afraid to share my struggles with my family and friends.
And that’s unacceptable.
The result is that I largely fight this fight alone. I’m afraid, or ashamed, or unwilling to seek the help I need to beat or better control my illness. As a result, I live in unnecessary pain, and the few people who know how sick I am are constantly worried about my happiness. They fear for my physical safety. I only recently learned that my girlfriend has deliberately formulated plans for dealing with various contingencies where I try (or succeed) to kill myself.
Even as I write this, there’s a glass of liquor next to me. Clichés about being able to stop whenever I want aside, I’m not an alcoholic. But I treat drinking like medication, because alcohol helps to replace some of the constant anguish with a little bit of emotional numbness, combined with some nausea and dizziness. Considering the circumstances, it’s a nice tradeoff, and whenever things get particularly bleak, I reach for the bottle. I suspect, though, that there are actual pharmaceuticals that would help me more and would do so without the problems that come with drinking too much. But getting that kind of help is something “crazy people” do.
It has to change. We need to stop teaching people that they’re “crazy” or “fucked up” because they have mental illnesses. We need to start teaching people that they’re sick, the same as if they had the flu or a broken leg, and help them to get the medical treatment and support they need to get better, or at least to cope with their illnesses in a healthy manner. Until those around you know that you care, that you understand, and that you want to help without judgment or criticism, you’re not doing enough to help people fight these fights. It’s exhausting enough to actually function without having to put on a happy face and worry about who knows about your challenges. It shouldn’t matter who knows.
Stop thinking about mentally ill people as “nutcases,” and start viewing their illnesses as genuine illnesses. Make sure that those around you know that you will support them if they’re struggling with mental illness or if they’re contemplating suicide.
You have no idea which people in your life resist ending their own lives. All you can do—all you MUST do—is be open to help anyone who needs it.