There will be many who will admonish me for admitting to having had suicidal thoughts and even going so far as to consider my own funeral; to have thought about the sadness that would be experienced by my loved ones at the loss of my life but perceiving this sadness would be short-lived and they would then go on to lead full lives without the burden posed by the daily impact of my suffering.
To experience a major mental illness that takes a prolonged course, resistant to any form of treatment, and witness the grief and frustration of those around you, and to feel an immense sense of hopelessness, brings the undeniable occurrence of dark thoughts which conclude that ending one’s life is an answer for the suffering experienced not only by oneself but the current suffering experienced by those in one’s world.
Over one million people die by suicide across the world each year. On average, a person takes their own life every 40 seconds somewhere in the world. At a global rate, suicide has increased by 60% in the past 45 years. (Ref: http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-statistics.html)
My experience of major mental illness prescribed absolutely excruciating and unrelenting emotional pain. A clinical psychologist by training, I tried every psychological strategy ‘in the book’ to combat insomnia that appeared to come out of the blue, though in retrospect was the outcome of trying to manage too much for too long, ultimately triggered by jet lag and became chronic with an inability to be relieved by any medical intervention including the strongest of psychiatric drugs. Natural interventions were also included in my desperate attempts to find a cure to get me back on track, to enable me to function in my paid and unpaid roles — as a professional and a mother to three young children.
As night after night the agony of not sleeping at all with a racing mind searching for an answer to fixing this state of agitation, the minutes of each day became something to survive. With each night failing to bring peace and the subsequent day meant trying to function when my professional role was no longer a possibility, this itself inciting guilt, and even mundane domestic tasks were so taxing, each minute of my life became an enormous hurdle to get over. This pain which has no clear ending is something you would not wish on anyone. It is a pain that is deep inside you, that you cannot turn away from, no matter how hard you try to escape the increasing sense of futility and hopelessness that your life as you took for granted, one with a sense of control over yourself and your world, will ever return.
Hospitalised, the irony of listening to the busy traffic on a main road that promised potential peace if I was to jump in front of a car against the soothing experience the hospital was there to offer. Prescription medications monitored in the lead-up to my hospitalisation to ensure I would not act on the increasing thoughts that led me in the direction of absolving my pain and the pain I was causing my significant others by no longer existing. Abhorrent thoughts you may think — how selfish you may label me. To take your own life when you are surrounded by so many loved ones including three beautiful children.
Two years on with the wonderful world that now encompasses me through my recovery from an episode of major mental illness, the suicidal thoughts can also seem abhorrent to me. But I know they are the reality of mental illness and humanity’s capacity to feel hopeless. To deny their existence seems to me to create some type of fairyland where we also deny that we are every second of the day losing people to suicide. These are our loved ones, the people who could take no more and could not see at that second in time or the during the period of making such a decision, that life could promise any relief.
But I know that life can bring relief. That life can bring joy. That there is always hope and that if someone like me who was one of the sickest people you would find, even in a psychiatric hospital, can recover, so can others whose lives are darkened by the depths of agonizing emotional pain.
The right medical treatment gave me another chance. To have the encouragement by my medical specialist to hold on, to have hope, and to know that this wasn’t as good as it would ever get again, got me through. I did begin to heal. The total fracture in my brain and soul started to mend. I began to feel relief. Oh relief — such a simple word but when you are tied down into the agony of mental illness relief is such a lost cause it feels.
I am here. I am here forever. Until God decides that my life is done. I will not make this decision. I will embrace the pain of life that will surely come my way again — through loss, through disappointment, through being alive. And I will rejoice in the challenges that come with raising a family and the momentous significant occasions such as school performances, dance concerts, graduations, weddings, the birth of my children’s children; and the not so momentous occasions such as sitting outside with a warm cup of tea feeling the sun on my cheek or watching a favourite television series with a loved one; and truly experience the wisdom that comes with increasing age whilst embracing a wealth of opportunities to learn new skills, meet new friends, and contribute to those less fortunate in my world including those who suffer the agony of mental illness that does not appear to subside at all.
The following quote resonated with me as I finally started to ‘turn the corner’ and recover from my episode of major mental illness. I hope it will offer some hope for those still burdened by immense emotional pain when simply living seems too high a cost of battling mental illness:
“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you until it seems that you cannot hold on for a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time when the tide will turn.”
Originally published at medium.com