SENSITIVITY WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS CONTENT AROUND SUICIDE. ONLY READ ON IF YOU ARE COMFORTABLE WITH THIS TOPIC. THANK YOU.
Written by Mhairi McNeil
I had a conversation with my mental health adviser here at Stirling recently, and it went a little like this:
“So what has changed in a year?”
“I don’t want to kill myself anymore. Most of the time.”
I should highlight that (like many others) my mentor is fantastic in all she does and is aware of the layers of sarcasm and deeper meaning that exist behind the words I actually say. So here are some words. I’ve tried my best not to hide behind them, but I’m only human.
I’ve written about my anxiety before and how it interferes with my productivity and uni. work, but is clichéd as it sounds: that’s just the half of it.
I have Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which means a lot of things, but basically I suffer from many of the symptoms and side effects associated with both severe anxiety and depression. I care too much until I don’t care at all. Banter. This is not just about coursework or jobs or the common stresses of life, but about anything and everything, from the mundane to the extreme. Beginning with the smallest thoughts of “do they think I’m boring?” to “wouldn’t it be easier if I was dead”, my brain never stops and it spins relentlessly like an old film reel until it eventually catches fire. Glorious, dramatic fire.
Often it’s just a lil lick of flames that can be extinguished with my trusty tools (a positive product of the years I spent keeping my illness a secret). If that fails, I can count on the immense support I receive from my mentor, my counsellor, my close friends, and my partner. I’m grateful to all that stand by me in the smoke of these episodes – even if I worry about their asthma.
But on some occasions the flames of this illness engulf my mind. I can’t see through the smog, and I’m a danger to myself. Suicidal ideation isn’t a new feeling for me, but the act of suicide itself is something that’s been on my mind a lot in the past year, especially after losing two young friends in this complex way.
I first lost a friend to suicide last summer. She was 21, a beautiful soul, and an illustration of human bipolarity. We’d been estranged for the last months of her life and while this is something I’ll struggle to accept, it also means I’ll never know why she did it – I’ll never know what it was that sparked the final match. For some reason that’s what seems to matter to me the most.
For me, the unanswered questions are what haunts the most after a suicide, and the grief never seems to go away. But I’ve come to realise that the search for these impossible answers is also damaging, as it seems to prevent you from emotionally connecting to the loss. My beautiful friend is dead and I’m still not ready to process that.
So I jumped head first into Uni. This was my fresh start after having to leave my last degree when my illness first truly reared its ugly head, making my life unbearable. I made friends, I pretended to be 18 again, I geek-ed through my classes and I joined the football team (#bleedgreen). I gave myself the teen experience I’d missed out on the first time around. Although that semester wasn’t as plain sailing as I would have hoped, I somehow passed with an unexpected First Class and vowed the age old promise that next semester I wouldn’t let my illness interfere so much. But life had other plans. In February this year a brilliant young man (and student of this University) took his life. Barely an hour after seeing friends and not appearing to be at risk.
This is where suicide scares people, this is why so many avoid the discussion. Because anyone, anywhere, can fall victim to it. I don’t mean to give “it” a sense of power and identity but we must appreciate that everything aside, suicide creates its own manifestations and becomes practically sentient. The victims of suicide are exactly that; victims and not perpetrators.
Bullshit, right? Because to take your life you are deemed “actively” suicidal. But they are still the victims because while they can never answer the question, I will always be haunted be the possibility of their last moments alive being mingled with regret.
Grieving over a friend is hard. And despite my own bizarre assumption, it didn’t get any easier the second time. I’m not going to pretend there’s a simple solution to preventing suicide, but ideally, there should be an increased awareness of the mental health crisis which exists in British Universities. At the beginning of this academic year, YouGov reported that 1 in 4 students are suffering from a mental health disorder of some form. Whilst, the Office for National Statistic (ONS) has reported that in 2014, 130 individuals recognised as full-time students committed suicide. So many of whom were suffering in silence.
So let’s not be silent, let’s be vocal about how we feel. Like I said, I (mostly) don’t want to die anymore, but while I fireproof myself, I am mindful that there are many layers and levels to suicidal ideation. I’m aware that while I know I’ve experienced each of these, I’m fortunate enough be in the better place I currently am. To anyone who, for even a moment, considers taking their life, I want you to know that you’re not alone, life is worth living and basically, you can’t find out if the season finale is shit if you cancel your Netflix subscription early.
Anyone that ever needs to talk about their struggles, I’m here, I don’t judge (how could I?) and I offer privacy and confidence. Otherwise please talk to friends, student services, Samaritans, your GP, or even friendly strangers online. I promise that we will always find something to stay alive for – even if for now that’s just Season 3 of Rick and Morty. (Wubba Lubba Dub Dub!)
To Sophie Reilly and Tallis Stephenson, I wish a peaceful rest. I won’t ever have all the answers but I’ll power on with the knowledge that in this world of infinite possibilities (aww geez, Rick), I was lucky enough to share even a fraction of your short lives. Knowing you, in life and in death, has helped me to become a better version of myself. I don’t want to die anymore because I have some extra living to do and to dedicate to you both. I’m ready for the next inferno.
Useful contacts and friendly voices:
Stirling University, Student Services Hub: 01786 466022 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH): 0141 881 4411 / email@example.com
Samaritans: 116 123
MIND, the mental health charity: 0300 123 3393