“It’s not a mental illness. Well, fine, if you’re going to be all objective about it. It’s a mental illness. But it’s also part of who I am.
Do I wish I could change it? Sometimes, sure! I mean, it’s not great when it rears up and I have to wonder if I’m going to do something stupid, something final. But then, other times I seem to cope perfectly well. It’s pretty hard to ask for help, and the people who say it’s not a stigma aren’t the same people who assess my insurance premiums.
I mean, the rage can be hard to deal with, but that’s hardly the worst of it. Vivid flashes of anger, boiling up inside, until the steam finds an outlet and you just get immersed in the red mist, that can be draining, can help you to make a stupid choice or two. I might argue with a friend, cut someone off in traffic, yell at a waiter or start a fight. But stupid is better than dead, and the numbness is far, far worse.
I sometimes cut myself, not in an attempt to “feel something,” as the cliché goes, but simply to take action against the numbness.
I can think, when it comes. Sometimes, I can even think logically. I can hear and understand an argument, even an argument about my mental state. What I can’t do, is care about it. I don’t know why people seem to get off on nihilism these days, or pretend to, at least: it sucks.
When I’m numb, my mind can think, but gets stuck in loops. I sit in a friend’s seventh-floor apartment, and wonder how long it would take to hit the ground, over and over again. I wonder in the abstract, about the chances of survival, the technicalities of life as a paraplegic, the costs and repercussions. I wonder, in the abstract, about the people walking below, about the impact of my impact on their lives. I wonder, in the abstract, about how crazy this all seems, and watch myself as an observer, detached in every sense, as I walk towards the window. Locked, this time, and my friend is back in the room.
Half of my brain seems devoted to carrying on some semblance of normality, even on the worst of days. I’m aware that I’m chatting, smiling, pausing and laughing about a book, a movie or some friendly gossip. The smiles never reach my eyes.
A benefit of my state is an ability to do damn near anything. Fear is a symptom of health, and it’s eaten away bloody quickly by the numbness. I used to be terrified of heights. Now I find that hilarious. Abseiling? Skydiving? Count me in; I’m just one of the boys.
Each time I use a power tool, I detachedly speculate on worst-case scenarios. The skill-saw could easily lop off a finger or three. Would it hurt immediately, or would it be too much of a shock for my brain to process? I once had a nail-gun fire a tack through a rotted piece of ply, into my foot. The pain was instantaneous – a stepped-up version of a primary-school student stapling a finger for the first time. But was that immediacy caused by the wrongness of the foreign object trying to coexist with my foot, or the pain signals themselves? Would the removal of digits take longer for the brain to process than the addition of steel?
These thoughts can be distracting, and I’ve nearly lost a finger or two thinking them.
Shaving is a tiny pleasure each morning. Some fear must remain in me yet, because I daily achieve a sense of relief when I fail to over-reach with my safety razor, to let its tethered blades glide over the moist surface of my cornea, and watch curiously as a thin sliver lifts away in a delicate, translucent plane of tissue.
There are other, more positive pleasures, too.
Sex is one, whether alone or with a partner. Not any partner, but someone meaningful, a friend and confidante. Someone you can talk to, and who you don’t have to talk to. Sometimes, I think that’s what keeps me here – the knowledge that I’m loved by so damn many people, even in my most fucked up state. Other times, even that doesn’t matter.
Friends, family and partners have pulled me back from the brink far more times than they will ever know. On occasion, it’s been a random stranger. I recall waiting on a train platform, calculating the “best” time to step off the edge, when a middle-aged, blue-collar man smiled and said “good morning” to me.
The human safety net is amazing, when I consider it. Dozens of times I would have been gone, sending ripples through the lives of those around me, but for those same people and the bonds between us.
Like any safety net, though, I know it will eventually fail. No watchman can be eternally vigilant, and mine do not even know their role. It’s not something you can talk about. Not really. I’ve heard friends, caring and thoughtful people, talk about suicide. It’s selfish, seems to be consensus. It’s greedy and cowardly and fearful and wrong. And sometimes, I’d agree. Of course it ruins lives, how could anyone fail to see that? Of course it hurts everyone else.
And yes, it is the easy way out – I’ll never deny that. It’s an end to the endless spirals of happiness and sadness and loss and regret and pain and peace and pleasure and love. But it’s also an end to the numbness.
And the numbness is not easy to escape. You can cut yourself and elude it for a time, hiding in severed nerves and the grinding pulse of blood over their endings. You can fuck it away for a while, if you can somehow summon the drive. But whatever you do, it waits, timeless and consistent, and will get you in the end.
Suicide is an intensely personal thing, and I won’t claim to know anyone else’s mind. But, for me, it comes down to this: on a bad day, given the instantaneous opportunity, I would trade the world and all its beauty for an end to the numbness, without a thought.”
I wrote that some time ago, in my head, at least. For all its disjointed ideas and inconsistencies, or in them, I see the essence of an illness that I overcame the hard way, an illness that too many do not overcome at all.
I know the if only game can never be won, I know it all too keenly, so I won’t indulge in it now. Time was my healer, and love and luck: but luck, perhaps, most of all. While I struggled to overcome my own illness, the stereotypical bloke’s way – without drugs or formal help – I fell many times.
I was so fucking lucky that my safety net was there, ignorant as they were, and the only solution I can see is to make our safety nets ubiquitous, so nobody else has to die like she did.
So smile, damn you, at those strangers on the bus. Tip to your waitress – she puts up with all sorts of shit you don’t see, so you can have a decent lunch. Chat to the checkout operator, and answer honestly when someone asks how you are. Listen.
Talk. Talk, and talk openly. Tell your friends about your problems. No, not about the bloody jammed printer, the bad instant coffee or the aggressive boss: Tell them about your fears, your desires. Talk about mortality, about intimacy. Talk about your sadness, your dreams, your cynicism. Talk about your joy, but talk honestly and fully. Talk about loneliness. Talk about loss, and cry without shame on their shoulders.
And if you feel the brush of numbness, or despair, or memory, or whatever else your personal nemesis is, talk about that, too. Paint it in the most vivid colours possible. Highlight that motherfucker for everyone to see, to recognise. To overcome.
The above text was located in “D:\Documents\Personal\Journal” on the deceased’s private computer. The file location provides sufficient evidence of its autobiographical nature, and offers initial grounds to argue for an undisclosed mental illness.
Suspension of the life policy is warranted, pending review of the evidence by a psychologist.