What’s the Western world’s biggest killer of men aged under fifty?
It may come as a shock to know that it’s suicide; the most taboo of subjects and a guaranteed conversation-killer at any dinner party.
My closer friends will know I’ve struggled this past year with chronic depression. What they don’t know is how close I have come to being another ‘Under 50’ statistic on the Home Office chalkboards.
I cannot tell you what actual suicide is like, though I can share what it is like to stand on the edge of reason: a soul-shattering mix of pain, anger, fear, and helplessness.
This I know from experience: I’ve stood at the end of Brighton Pier with bricks in my pockets, propelled to end it all and escape from a relationship littered with infidelity and at times extreme violence towards me. I can still smell the sea and feel the wind in my face as I stared in to the black water all those years ago.
It’s a thought and feeling that has haunted me many times, perhaps an imprint of when I was very young and a family member contemplated the same sad way to end things. They, however, also showed me courage and how to live and love life, despite all of their own troubles, of which there many. For that I am truly thankful.
I have come very close at times to putting my feelings in to action. But I have been blessed by a mixture of luck, the Samaritans and some very good friends that I’ve been able to talk to openly and saved myself from losing my will to live.
We all live on a knife-edge more than we might like to admit. Loves, marriages, hopes and dreams fail us and it’s a miracle that any of us struggle through, usually feeling alone, no matter how much love we actually have around us. This, sadly, is the cursed blessing of life. A life where our doubts can too easily crowd us and block the view of the sunlit path we are meant to tread.
To quote from a well-known song, “the sword of time will pierce our skin, it doesn’t hurt when it begins, but as it works its way in the pain begins and it grins…”
One myth I can dispel immediately is that suicide is a coward’s way out. In my own experiences it takes a strange sort of extraordinary courage to contemplate and plan. As much strength is required to end one’s life as it is to live in this beautiful, troubled life.
Nor is suicide painless, or at least as I can tell from researching all the popular methods. There are not many deaths that are pain free. There’s no free ride in ending it all.
To plan a suicide takes preparation, a strange coldness and calm. It’s not something to be rushed and likely botched.
After my research on the subject, you don’t want to get it wrong. Remarkably, even a gunshot point blank to the head is only ninety percent effective; poisoning by overdose is a distant runner in the league tables with the odds of 42:1 against you actually meeting your maker. Drowning is meant to be the least painful way to go, though is equally as unreliable statistically. Jumping is popular, but far from guaranteed. If you do jump, make sure it’s from a very great height and you hit the ground head-first. The results otherwise will lead to a very messy clean up and you still being alive…
Failure leads to all sorts of horrific and life-debilitating conditions. Even the best-planned suicide has odds one would be silly to take. And yet, in the dark nights and days that follow we can still be drawn to making the ultimate gesture of failure, as though in a silent movie where our mouths move, but no words are heard.
There are many factors that will bring one to the edge of life. It’s a horrifically horrible place to be, on that point I will be frank. There is no quick suicide. The feelings that lead one to that dark place are like a slow torturous death in itself.
One’s spirit, our sense of living, slowly fades and it’s a death of a thousand cuts. Each tiny cut of hurt, pain, anger, hopelessness and the wrongs done to one in one’s life bite viciously over and over. Each one igniting neurons in the brain that curse one with only the one door marked exit from our anguish.
At this point I must say if you are considering suicide, then get help. Ring the Samaritans, a friend or even talk to a stranger. Any kind of help. The subject is such a taboo that it’s hard to know how many of us have ever considered taking our lives. I suspect many more than we might expect. If you have considered ending it all, then take all my praise and love that you are still here with us. You have my deepest heartfelt admiration for making it through.
Until recently, even in psychiatric circles the word ‘suicide’ was never used. Even now the doctors will refer to it as ‘self-harm’ or how to ‘keep oneself safe’. This blanket refusal to mutter the word feels like superstition, as though not mentioning the act will somehow prevent it.
Centuries of our Christian roots has counted suicide as a mortal sin, grieving God’s heart and spurning the blessing of life that we have been given. The contradiction of this and how appallingly humans treat each other is not lost on me.
Whatever one’s religious beliefs, I am torn with accepting on one part that if I killed myself I would be discarding the great blessing of being alive. And my life is filled with very many great blessings. On the other I have seen how thin the veil is between life and death.
My spiritual insights and beliefs perversely can urge me onwards to the hope of stopping the ride and reconnecting with the universe, free of my own human pain.
Not being afraid of death, indeed welcoming it in, changes how one experiences the life that comes from knowing one can walk away from life’s troubles: everything feels more immediate. I now value each moment, each blessing, no matter how insignificant it might once have seemed.
Through my facing suicide square on and staring it out, sometimes so close to death I can feel its breath, comes my escape from the torments, and a chance to be able choose live on.
Significantly and unexpectedly, at the moment when I am about to accept death’s sweet kiss, is when love has come to me: an overwhelming and searing love for my family, my friends and those who have touched my life in some, any, small way.
Yes, love: a deep and powerful sense of immediate connectedness to everything and everyone whilst feeling utterly alone; a moment when the universe stands still and silent; on the edge of everything with wavering feet and unable to jump in to the unknown.
Whilst I must admit to not having the courage at times to carry on living for myself, I have found a remarkable courage to care enough for others to remain here with you. Though I cannot always love myself, I have huge love for my family and friends. This has been my saviour on more than a few occasions.
I count my experiences as a blessing beyond measure. I am still here and if in my darkest moments I can feel even the slightest breeze of love upon my face, then there is hope.
Perhaps with more discussion about our fears, our closeness to death we will all feel a little more love, a little more connected, less alone and suicide will no longer be the silent killer.
For myself I cannot tell what the future will bring; I suspect I will be haunted by the closeness of death for some time yet. But where there is life there is hope and where there is hope there is faith in the future.
And that is a very marvellous feeling indeed.
Footnote: some data references from http://lostallhope.com/suicide-statistics – conservatively over 20 million people worldwide attempt suicide each year.