*Editor’s Note: If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please reach out now. There are some additional links at the bottom of the article. You are not alone.
Also, there will be swearing below.
If you’ve been asked, “Have you ever had thoughts about hurting yourself, or others?” then chances are you’ve been in therapy.
When I was asked the question during my first counselling session, I lied.
Generally speaking, admitting to having mental health problems, and discussing them openly, are two significant leaps forward. It had taken me 39 years to get to this point, but I still wasn’t ready to admit everything to this complete stranger (Michael) who would eventually help change the direction of my life forever.
In fact, I never told Michael about the morbid plans rotating like a carousel in my broken mind. For a long time, I never told anyone about how close I came to killing myself; and when shared my story with friends quite recently, they were distraught by my admission. They had no idea things had got that bad for me, and were adamant they would’ve done everything within their power to help, had I just opened up to someone.
For me, depression and suicidal tendencies were counterintuitive to the warrior-comedian persona I worked so hard to present to the world. I wanted everyone to be impressed with my resilience and ability to laugh at harsh lessons. Despite regularly fantasising about suicide, putting on a “brave face” had become one of my best life skills. Plus, on the rare occasions I did open that door, more often that not, people would say “Pick yourself up and dust yourself off,” or, “Don’t worry! You always land on your feet, Martin…”
Fuck me. I always landed on my feet because I was always in fight-or-flight mode and running away from shit. Sprinting fast and far away from problems was my modus operandi, and I simply did not have the skills to observe or address the anguish and worthless feelings I held deep inside.
A plateful of cocreated suffering
I’d ruined an amazing business partnership by lying to my partner over an affair I had with an employee. I mistreated and lied to a wonderfully pure soul whom I married, cheated on, and divorced—all in less than six months.
My mother had recently died and my girlfriend (the affair) subsequently left me after my alcohol and cocaine issues went too far. Plus she caught me red-handed providing digital orgasms to a busty stranger via Twitter DMs in a misguided attempt to seek intimacy. All the while, I was under criminal investigation for tax evasion, money laundering, and fraud. I had a bucketful of cocreated drama, the foul contents of which spilled uncontrollably onto the shoes of those around me.
I’d already hurt myself during this time. I’d got blind drunk and slashed my arm with a kitchen knife, which I bizarrely sharpened for the act. Not content with that, I put my head through a thick glass window pane in the back door of my cottage, attempting to replace emotional pain with that of physical.
I self-harmed regularly during my adolescence and early adulthood, but it had been a long time since I hurt myself like this. Unbeknownst to my addiction-addled and broken mind, I was drifting into dangerous waters.
The problem with depression is that the person with the broken mind is attempting to therapise themselves. This is literally impossible, as our minds are like washing machines, stuffed with regret, self-loathing, and myriad fractal worries of “what if,” “how can,” and “I wish.” So it got to the point for me when one night I couldn’t pick myself up. I couldn’t dust myself off. Nor did I have the strength to run or fight anymore.
I drove home from my local bar a little high and a lot drunk, and in a lull of deep despair I drank a whole lot more. My unhappy dog watched helplessly as I sat in my kitchen and hammered a bottle of neat gin—crying and incoherently moaning at an empty space.
Then it occurred to me to go and clean my shotgun. Then it occurred to me to load my shotgun.
I convinced myself I’d fucked over and screwed every beautiful soul I ever came in contact with, and that my miserable life was now beyond repair. I was all alone in the dark—right where I deserved to be. For me, the light was too far away to get back to in this lifetime.
It’s difficult to write about my mental state then without conveying melodrama. The thing is, when you’re in this place, you really do pile the self-loathing on like a tower of over-sweetened pancakes. There’s a whole other voice inside your head who’s not you, and he’s not stopping until he’s worked you into the ground. Thus the voice had his way, and I decided it was time to do everyone a favour and blow my brains out right there and then on the sofa. All I wanted to do at that point was shut down the constant noise and chatter of my monkey mind; the incessant whirring vortex of anguish.
The gun butt sat proud on an oil-covered newspaper and the barrel was pointed squarely at my forehead. Darkness and silence crept around me like an insidious influence. Then just as my trembling finger tickled the trigger, hinges creaked and light entered the room as the lounge door slowly opened. My little baguette-nosed mate came ambling in. Macy the beagle had watched me skulk off with a bottle and a gun. Clearly disapproving of my plan, she plodded right into the centre of the room, plonked herself right next to the gun, and looked up at me.
The moment I looked down at that little sandwich-nose, I immediately moved the gun from my face and safely unloaded it. “Oh mate…” I whispered, as I chuckled through my snot and tears. Then Macy snuffled, and shuffled her front paws, prepping for a much-needed sofa hug.
So like that, my mind was changed by the unconditional love of a beagle. That was all it took for me. If she wasn’t there, I wouldn’t be here. And you wouldn’t be reading this.
Doing the work
So I kept on with my long journey of self-awareness and personal development. I worked hard with my therapist and I reached out for help. “Seek care,” he said. I said goodbye to my warrior-comedian persona, in favour of being open and honest; doing away with the many facades I’d created for myself.
I’ll never forget that time of my life, as it was a time of great realisation and awakening for me. That night a beagle saved my life, for which I will be eternally grateful.
According to Google, this January, 201,000 people in the U.S. researched “suicide” online, with 40,500 in the U.K., 33,100 in France, 20,200 in Indonesia, 40,500 in Germany, and 60,500 in India [according to SEM Rush software]. Over 92,000 used the specific term “how to commit suicide,” and a list including “how to commit suicide painlessly” goes on—increasing in volume the world over. Hundreds of thousands of people across the globe researched specific areas of suicide from January 1st through January 23rd, 2020.
I wonder…do you or I know any of these people?
This problem is not going away. It’s getting worse. We’re encouraged to be in debt; to work 60-hour weeks; to binge drink on Fridays, and max out our credit cards on Saturdays. We live in the Matrix, where the Work-Consume-Fuck-Sleep-Pay Tax-Repeat model is stuffed down our throats as standard. We’re all being conditioned to be perfect, to be successful, and to live our best lives. Whatever the fuck that means. And as the layers of narcissistic fakery are piled onto our frail and utterly confused, yet screen-addicted psyches, we proactively advertise our alleged happiness via a vast and turgid ocean of social networks.
We doggedly continue to chase the utterly pointless wonder of materialism, or simply numb the pain with banal distractions. We focus less on being mindful and kind to ourselves, whilst turning an apathetic and blind eye to what’s happening to those around us.
Society is as sick as a Japanese game show, and what’s more, our own internal and external programming continues to stigmatise and marginalise mental health issues.
Sure, I’m painting a bleak and general picture but still, this is not okay. We are not okay.
According to the World Health Organisation, around 800,000 people take their own lives every year.
That’s one suicide every 40 seconds.
In addition, there’s hard evidence to suggest that for every person who succeeded in killing themselves, another 20 tried and failed. The ripple-effect is vast. Perhaps you were involved or affected? Perhaps a family member or a close friend or colleague? Or someone you went to school with? Or perhaps just a total stranger you passed in the street—your eyes meeting for a nanosecond and then they were gone.
“Then they were gone.” Four poignant words.
Picking up the baton: it really is okay to not be okay, and to share how broken we truly are with each other. It’s okay that none of us are bulletproof, and it’s okay to freely admit that this business of life often breaks us in so many unspeakable ways.
What’s not okay is that we don’t openly talk about this enough, and that “putting on a brave face” has bizarrely become the norm. All too often we simply fail to see people’s notable behaviour as a sign of mental illness. The “damage” is a stigma or flaw, which is to be dismissed or marginalised as an attitudinal dysfunction. This needs to stop.
We need to start recognising mental illness as a depressingly (shit pun, sorry) common aspect of today’s society. It is all too prolific to be anything else. We need to crawl out of our bubbles of individuality and start caring more keenly about those around us.
I read this somewhere: “know that the depth of your pain is an indication of the height of your future.” I agree, but that doesn’t mean we all have the same capacity and strength to effectively manage that pain. Nor do the majority of us have a life-saving beagle in the next room (more’s the pity).
One of the only ways for us to counter the epidemic of suicide is for us all to be less focused on individuality and more on community. For us to listen more to what our intuition says about what’s really going on with those around us—looking past the brave faces we see every day.
Ever since “shotgun night,” I’ve worked hard to heal my trauma and to be better. It wasn’t a walk in the park, nor is it over. I’m a work in progress. We’re all a work in progress and should be actively encouraged to forgive ourselves, and to openly share the things that damaged us. Only then can we help ourselves. Only then can we heal.
Our trauma is a part of our history. Part of what makes us unique. Part of what makes us beautiful.
POSTSCRIPT: if you are currently having suicidal thoughts or notions in any way, shape, or form, please just stop and breathe. Then contact one of the organisations below:
You are not alone.
It’s not as bad as you currently think and feel it is.
You are loved.
You are cherished.
You are life.
You will be missed.