YOUR STORIES: The Hidden Year

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, over the next few days we will be sharing some stories from some brave individuals about living with mental illness or ill mental health. This story comes from someone who has suffered depression throughout their life. They speak about a particular year of their life that they have kept hidden.

Warning: This piece contains references to suicide attempts and self harm.

I started writing this months ago and wrote the bulk of it when I felt numb to my experiences. As such I consider it incomplete as it is currently too painful to continue to talk about this. Needless to say, massive trigger warnings for self-harm and suicide.

Following a conversation where I revealed far more than I probably should to a close friend, I have decided now is the time to provide a complete account of what happened in a year where I was suffering and kept it hidden from everybody. I have not told a counsellor the bulk of this and I likely never will. Should I choose to share it will be archived anonymously on the internet somewhere.

Here is, to the best of my recollection, what happened:

In 2017, I had just started a new job as a supervisor in a small charity shop. The pay was not great and the hours were not ideal but coming from a bout of severe depression that left me unable to function it was a positive move. I was offered the role when I was a volunteer because I showed that I genuinely cared about the shop, and was spending most of my time there. If the shop was open, I was likely there. Naturally I was very happy with myself.

My confidence had largely been eradicated by depression and bad experiences in virtually every facet of my life. Until the end of the year I was happy in my new role, finally glad that something depended on me. My self-worth was sky-rocketing. With this new outlook on life, I started socialising more and actually started to regain hope that someone might love me someday. It was a lofty time. I can’t actually ever remember being that proud of myself and really there is no reason why I should have crashed so badly.

In February the following year it happened. I can’t remember the cause but it was likely a freak occurrence. Maybe the chemicals in my brain became unbalanced or perhaps there was some minor thing like an argument. Regardless, I cannot remember the cause and it is likely unimportant. My brain has a tendency to malfunction at the slightest thing.

When it first set in, I knew it was going to be terrible but I did not expect the extent to which it was. Despite my past experiences, I remained silent as much as possible. I had my antidepressants upped and sought counselling.

As your brain reacts to a change in medication, it can cause severe changes in your mood to the point where every medication warns against an increased risk of suicide within the first couple of weeks. This is common and largely as long as you’re aware of it you can fight off the ideation. It’s not a fun time, but it is a necessary evil to be on the way to mending your mental health.

This didn’t last a couple of weeks. It lasted the rest of the year. I didn’t speak up, I didn’t want to worry anyone. I knew that people cared and I knew that my suffering hurt them. I thought by hiding it I was helping them, and I think I did. I also now know in retrospect that I was gambling with my life. If it had not worked itself out, I would not be here and their suffering would be even greater.

I became unable to cope with the most basic things. I was waking up, and having shots of whisky before going to work because I couldn’t face the day sober. I was sleeping to avoid the day. When I was awake, I was socialising because I had to and putting on a brave face while I did it. When asked how I was, I simply replied “Not so bad”, nobody ever noticed that my answer didn’t change. Regardless of what happened I was “Not so bad”. I didn’t want to speak out, I didn’t want to make their lives worse by saying “Actually guys, I’m really struggling”.

On some level it was more than that. I just couldn’t say those words. I couldn’t say words to that effect. I was trapped.

I tried to commit suicide six times that year. Nobody ever knew. I couldn’t let anyone know.
I would sit at 3am writing mock wills and suicide notes that I never showed anyone. I told my counsellor this and they treated me like I was an attention seeking child, so I just closed up further. Even then, they never knew about the attempts.

My self-harming got to new levels. I sat at work hacking away at myself, not even shutting myself in the bathroom. Just sitting at the office desk. I had a brief conversation with my boss about my mental health, I knew she suspected something, but she didn’t know the full extent. We discussed taking some time off work to recover but work was the only thing keeping me grounded at that point so I politely refused and carried on. I attended work, I met my responsibilities to the best of my ability and said nothing.

It was at this point the ritual of putting a belt around my neck started. Just waiting for the urge to build to take the jump. It rarely did. Rarely.

My first full attempt was in May, I’d taken some bottles of drink and a sharp knife and disappeared. I went to a local park and sat on the bench in a wooded clearing. It was largely pitch-black save for the moonlight. I drank a full bottle and pressed the blade against my wrist, I made a line from left to right and drew blood. It wasn’t deep, if anything it was embarrassingly shallow. It was the kind of cut you get from rose bush as you walk by it. Which is how I explained most of the cuts. Clumsy me. I tried again but couldn’t cut further. The knife wasn’t sharp enough, I was so inept I couldn’t even die properly.

I sat there in the cold and dark for a few hours. My phone rang with people wondering where I was and I just let it go to the answerphone.  I eventually went home. I wiped the blood off with my shirt, had a brief discussion and went to bed.

It wasn’t mentioned the next day.

The second was sometime later. It was pretty similar; I think the only differences are where I went and the fact that I sharpened the knife this time. It was sharp enough to shave with. Yet, I could not cut deep enough. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t take that life ending action. There was still a bit of me that was scared of the possibility I might succeed. It’s a funny thing a failed suicide attempt. I wasn’t sure how to feel about it. Somehow, I got even lower into my depression, overcome with the feeling of failure but also relief that my mother wouldn’t have to plan a funeral. I thought about how my father and brother would react. I decided my dad would get over it pretty quickly and my brother would likely be angry and turn the blame to someone other than me.

There was a break for a month or two, I began to fear that I’d suffered some manner of mental break. I started referring to my depression using my middle name. I became convinced that I had outlived my allotted time on this earth and I have not really been able to shake that feeling since.

The next three attempts were in relatively quick succession. First was hanging. I woke up and started to get ready for work. I’d tied my hair back, put on a clean shirt and trousers and paused dead. I didn’t have to be at work for another 45 minutes. I attached my belt in a door frame and let myself just hang there for a moment. Beyond the panic I can remember my eyes closing and then I woke with a start. I’d only been unconscious a few moments, I had one half of my belt wrapped around my neck and the rest was still attached to the frame. In a way, I was slightly concerned that manufacturers are putting out worse products and that I’d been foolish enough to buy a belt that cheap. I don’t know why this bothered me so much, perhaps it’s because the fact of it had prevented my one near successful attempt. I wasn’t angry, the act was purely mechanical at that point. I had a goal, the means to achieve it and the time needed to go through with it. It was at that moment I looked at the time. If I left the house now, I’d be on time.

I went to work, and did what was expected. I remember being slightly unnerved that if I had tried to commit suicide this morning and no one was the wiser, who else had tried? There was no way to tell. I began to worry that people I was close to were trying like I was. This empathetic moment was too much. I locked myself in the bathroom and cried for half an hour or so. I dried my eyes and just carried on. The one other person was so busy in another room that I don’t think they noticed.

The next was paracetamol. I’d built up a stockpile and went and bought a few extra packets from the various shops around town. I waited before I attempted this. I’d been planning it for a couple of weeks when I had an argument that made me feel as though what minute of hope and happiness, I had left had been taken away from me again in a way that mirrored events earlier in my life. The house was empty and one by one I removed the tablets from its packaging and swallowed them in groups of eight. I think I consumed 54 tablets that evening. I had no note, I had no intention of explaining to anyone. I simply didn’t care at that point. I felt as though I had lost everything. I sat on the side of my bed wondering when the pills were going to take effect, after a few minutes I felt horrendously sick, I knew what had happened. I’d overdosed but it wasn’t enough to make me unconscious. I went to the toilet and spent the next two hours being sick. When I was sure there was no more in my system I went to bed. I spent the next day feeling terrible. It was mentioned by someone that I looked awful, I simply said I didn’t feel good and that it was probably just a bug that will pass. It passed. I was still depressed but no-one suspected a thing. I disposed of the empty packets in a bin in town.

On one occasion, I took myself to a local fast food place and sat there with a notebook and just wrote this:

It’s not that late. It’s quarter past eight as I type this on my phone. I’m sat in a McDonald’s in this shit hole town. I don’t know why I came here, the lighting hurts my eyes and I don’t really like the food but it is cheap and it’s reliably awful plus the staff are just busy enough that they’re still friendly while not really being able to interact with you. I don’t have anything against them I’m sure they’re nice people but I can’t handle unnecessary interactions at the moment. I’m supposed to be writing album reviews or an article on body dysmorphia in the metal scene but I can’t bring myself to consider anything other than my current misery. Funny that. I’ve obligations and things I need to do but everything seems so irrelevant in my mental state. But what can I do?

I’m still not OK, if anything I’ve gone from passively suicidal to actively. My boss has been told that I’m struggling at the moment, she asked if I’ve seen a doctor and I told her that I’ll make an appointment in the next few days. I don’t intend to do anything but I probably should. It’ll be at least two weeks before I see anyone and even if I do? Talking or antidepressants which have kept me in a purgatorial state for years. I had the extreme lows but none of the highs.

My life is stagnating, any attempt I make to move on seems to fail after just long enough to give me some hope that things might get better and they never do. They never do. I’ve started cutting myself again, not even on my thigh, where I can hide it, but on my arm. There’s marks up and down my left arm but I it’s fine. I deserve to suffer. No idea why, I don’t think I’ve ever known why but that’s just how my life is going.

I’ve been walking around with a suicide note on me for the last few days. It has come to work with me and even came with me when I was supposed to be socialising. It’ll come to work with me tomorrow too. Hell, I plan to off myself before the end of the week anyway and tomorrow might be the catalyst that makes it happen. Something to be cheerful about, I guess.

Anyway. I’ll probably post more later. This life has been an experience. And that’s shit in itself. The most I can say looking back on my quarter-century of life is not, it’s been the worst life ever, or that it has had its fun moments just that it was an experience.

The suicide attempt counter is now at 6. Christ, I’m such a failure.

I don’t know why I kept that note, perhaps I just forgot it existed until I found it again a year later. It’s a snapshot I’d like to forget, but maybe it helps to remember it.

There’s no happy ending to this, as quickly as it hit, it left again. Sometimes all you can do is wait. I urge anyone reading this to seek help. Don’t deal with it like I did, it could have very easily gone wrong and I wouldn’t be here to enjoy the happier moments. Samaritans and other helplines exist for a reason please, use them.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, self harm and suicidal thoughts, here are some helplines you can call or websites you can visit for information, help and support:

MIND The Mental Health Charity – 0300 123 3393

C.A.L.M (Campaign Against Living Miserably) – 0800 58 58 58

Samaritans – 116 123

Survivors Of Bereavement By Suicide – 0300 111 5065

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