I have never really been asked what drove me to want to end my life. After much soul searching, I have decided to write this article. Primarily to explain the warning signs, I now try to look out for in myself that will indicate I am descending into that out-of-control spiral again. As a veteran, in a climate where veteran suicides are sadly a topical, I want to share my experience. But also, there may be signs that help stop others from ending up the same way. Or maybe even warnings you can see in someone close. But it must be noted I am talking about my personal circumstance, it may not be the same in others, but may be useful.
This was hard to write and for some may be upsetting to read. My intention is not to shock, or upset, it is simply to try an convey my feelings and reasons I believe I got to my lowest point. That took me beyond thinking or planning to end my life but to the actually doing. Placing everything together needed for the task and going on my last one way walk never to return home. But the thing is I did return, so I hope that by writing this it may help others reverse their decisions and come home as well.
I believe for me there were five things that aligned and got into my lowest state. I now take these as warning signs, or potential triggers that I should pay attention.
Not Looking After Myself
The first thing is fairly simple and when I take myself back to that time when suicide seemed like the obvious option. This point makes me think how stupid I was not to spot it.
I was not looking after myself. For me the basics of food, physical activity and sleep are critical. I have to get the balance right; it is so basic and yet it is a foundation on which I can build. If these are in balance your body is at least not physically stressed by being hungry, thirsty and tired. Just because this is simple or obvious does not make it easy. On all the occasions I have attempted suicide or come close to, through the tears and frustration I seem to forget just how tired I am. If I am tired, I obviously need sleep. When I am mentally unwell my brain wants to sleep as it has been working harder, just like when your body when it is fighting and illness.
Every time I get into a low mood I just want to curl into a ball and sleep. I have also probably not eaten, even though I have been burning through calories with stress and activity. If I do eat it is probably junk food, chocolate, mainly nothing good for me. That quick high will drop and probably bring down lower than before. So, at this stage, in my out-of-control spiral, two of my three critical basics are being forgotten. Which probably means physical activity has been ignored as well. But what do I do? Ignore it. I wake up in the morning feeling a deep down tired, but I just carry on. I have a task to complete, a job to do, an objective set for the day – I must just get it done regardless of the cost. The adage that the military taught me is being followed through, my priorities are my mission, my men, my kit, myself. I have placed myself at the bottom of the list, but the most crucial part, those other three are relying on me to be fully functioning. But I put my needs last, this is fine some of the time, but there has to come a point where I look after myself and get the balance right. I have to replenish that bank account.
At the time when suicide was an option… actually if I face it suicide is always an option, a way out. It might be a fleeting thought in a day that I don’t even notice. Or it might be an overwhelming thought resulting with me crying my eyes out begging those close to me to kill me or help me die. In that time when suicide is more than a passing thought my mind is full of dark thoughts, the run up to this point inevitably is that I have not looked after myself. I was not worth the effort to eat well, or rest and I didn’t have the energy to do a ‘proper run’ so it wasn’t worth getting out just for a short jog, because putting my trainers on is mentally too exhausting, even though I know that would help.
We say to people ‘look after yourself’, but what does that mean to you and are you doing it? For me it is eating the right food, doing regular physical activity and getting a sensible amount of sleep. I need to work at the basics…..
Cutting Myself Off – Not Paying Attention to what was Around Me
The next thing feeds in nicely from not looking after myself. This generally happens if I am busy. I start to cut myself off from the world around me. It starts off slow, maybe missing that meet up with mates – I am busy I can do it some other time. I even do this in these Covid times with online get togethers. Then people ring and I ignore their calls. Again, this all mounts up. I start isolating myself, as I get too busy, I won’t stop for a hug from my partner and deep down that upsets me. I work harder and harder trying to complete everything so I can rest. But I make this unachievable after a while, when I hit the evitable low from working too hard, I get angry as no one seems to be getting in touch. This makes me angry and I start thinking why do I need people anyway? I came into this world by myself I will go out by myself. But it is not just people I am isolating myself from its everything, nature, things that I would normally enjoy I don’t notice and I don’t want to see. Everything starts to slip out of my life. My life becomes meaningless because all the things that mean something to me, give me joy, make me smile, make me happy, I have taken away. I am a hollow shell, empty, what’s the point? I have stopped paying attention to what was around me. The out-of-control spiral is getting worse.
Anger – Make People Suffer
This leads to anger. I start to hate everything, friends, things frustrate me more easily, the news makes me more angry than normal. I feel no one wants to help. Of course, at this point I am not thinking clearly, as I have cut off my friends and stopped answering the phone calls in the first place, but I don’t think that way. My mind has clearly taken me into threat mode. I am defensive about things, people at work will annoy me, I have probably become a line manager’s nightmare, that difficult employee.
I start to see the negative side to things. Someone could say ‘there was overwhelming support for something you proposed at work’ and I would think well overwhelming is not everyone, it’s not unanimous, who went against me? Or I mis-read an email and see a negative side or a threat to me and that would result in an overly wordy, long email reply with veiled threats hidden within it. I am pretty much on a path to self-destruction by this stage. That leads to me thinking ‘well if I did kill myself it would teach everyone a lesson’, then ‘F**k you all’. If I kill myself you will all have to live with it and hopefully it will hurt you all as well. I want you to feel the pain I am suffering. But that hurt would only be a fraction of what I was feeling. That anger and hurt inside me is so intense, it is burning me. A deep intensity that saps everything else away. I may even realise I needed to do something to get out of how I am feeling and need to make a plan to improve things. But I would feel barriers were being put up everywhere I turn when I propose a plan, responses like, ‘you can’t do that because…’ would only fuel my anger. I now have an absolute hatred of life, I hate people, but I hate myself more.
This would lead to only one thing……..
Suicide was the Easy Option
Suicide was the easy option – everything was too difficult. Plans or proposals to fix my life have been met with negativity. I felt I had tried everything and it had all failed. In truth I hadn’t, the barriers I had put up in my mind had told me I had failed. Everything was useless and I was useless….. Totally and utterly useless. What was the point???? Who would notice when I am gone anyway?
I certainly know that with the in the run up to the suicide attempt I had taken time off work. When I returned, they had coped without me and I started to think if my absence has not bothered them, then my presence never mattered in the first place. I didn’t feel appreciated, not just in work but in life. Again, l was working under threat mode only seeing a small part of what was really happening and taking that small part and being negative about it. That would then cloud my judgement and stop me seeing the bigger picture.
Loosing Pride and Confidence
I feel that pride has played a bit part in making me feel suicide was the only option. If I may explain by giving further detail of my life journey. From 8 years old I always wanted to join the army. Just after university I went to Sandhurst and eventually commissioned. I was so proud! The world was ahead of me and I felt I could take on anything and I had the confidence to match. By the time I had passed out at Sandhurst I had never failed anything. Yes, I had to take the odd retake at university, but nothing major.
But over time that pride got eroded, I started to fail at things. My first failure came on a military course in 1997, a tough course I had volunteered for, I didn’t have to do it. I have always pushed myself and I’ve never really taken the easy option. But up until that moment of failing, I had thought doing your best would lead to success. The sad fact is that sometimes your best may not be good enough. I know now that is probably because my skills were suited elsewhere. But at the time that failure took a small chunk out of my confidence and I started to lose pride in myself.
Then I failed at something again, and I remembered the first failure, and the chunk got bigger. Eventually I started to notice that my friends were succeeding and doing much better than myself, they were all promoting and I wasn’t. This was laughed off, but over time deep down that pride, and that confidence it gives, was becoming just a hollow shell. By the time I was hitting my 40s I was felt I was really behind the curve, not just in work but life. I still hadn’t found the right partner; I didn’t own anything I could call a home and I never had not enough money. Looking back, it is no wonder that males in their 40s are more liable to suicide. I had not measured up to the expectations I had in my 20s, in my eyes I was failing. For me it wasn’t a mid-life crisis it was a mid-life disaster. The slow train crash moving towards what I felt was an investable conclusion. Suicide was the only option. But a brave option. Having been at the edge I know suicide is not the route of cowards. To actually do that act takes a lot of strength. I was simply not brave enough, or strong enough. You see with absolutely irony was my confidence had been so depleted, I didn’t even have the strength to finish that final act and rid the world of my pathetic existence.
But I am Still Here – What Have I Learnt?
But I am still here and as result I feel stronger. Strong enough to talk about it. Strong enough to analyse it and work out why I ended up that way. I can’t think of a worse feeling than that moment of sitting there ready to end my life. I knew when I moved away from that point my life would change, but there was a small part of me that knew it was only going to get better, as I simply could not get lower.
The only source of knowledge is experience. A clever person solves a problem, but a wise person avoids it. My experience means I can hopefully avoid going down that same route in the future. I do this by an awareness of some simple guidelines I now try to follow:
Food/ Physical Activity/ Sleep
The first is look after yourself. I start with the basics of Food, Physical Activity and Sleep. I try to eat the right foods, avoid the junk and the sweets. I have a daily routine where physical activity is a key daily occurrence. I work on my sleep and monitor how much I am getting, if it seems low that could be a warning that I need to do something to correct it.
Threat/ Drive/ Soothe
Next, I look out for signs of whether I feel I am responding to threat. Or if I am driving myself too hard and if I am how am I countering that. How am I soothing myself, or giving myself a break? Normally if I find I am firing off overly wordy, angry emails. I stop and look to see what has triggered that, is it something, which maybe minor, but made me feel threatened. Am I in this mood because I have not been looking after myself? Conversely am I pushing myself too hard because I am striving for something I want? Have I overcommitted and am doing too many tasks across my life and just want to get them all done? If I am working in threat and drive, what can I do to calm myself down and take that moment to recharge. How am I soothing myself?
Think/ Feel/ Do
If I think I am rubbish all the time, how is that manifesting across my life? Am I doing things that confirm my feeling of rubbish? Am I setting myself unrealistic goals that I am bound to fail and hence compound that feeling of failure? If I think or feel I am rubbish, I will normally do things to confirm that, it is cyclic issue that will eventually lead to my own destruction. So, I need to do something that makes me feel more positive, I need break the cycle. Normally I do something I know I am good at or makes me feel better, for me it is normally running.
Positivity breeds Positivity
It goes without saying if you are in a negative environment it will have an effect on your mood. If you are a depressive being in negative environment is just going to your amplify issues. Some environments are difficult to change or leave. But just be cognisant of how much effect being in negative environment can have on your wellbeing. If you can be around positive people and environments that will help lift your mood then do so.
What Others Can Do
I am often asked ‘what can I do to help someone who is unwell’? I am now lucky enough to have found a partner who helps me, this might be something as little as making me a tea or making lunch. Especially when they realise, I have not been eating or drinking and it is mid-afternoon. It might be pointing out things in nature, helping my mind open up when it’s starting to close down. It might be trying to encourage me to rest and soothe the brain that I am beating up because it won’t work as I hard I feel it should. It might be just talking through that email or conversation which made me feel really negative. Boiling it down to the facts and seeing what is actually being said rather than what I thought was being said. Or when I say how I failed to achieve anything in the day, reminding me of what I have achieved, even if it just everyday things. For those helping, partner or friend, it can be ever so hard, the thing that worked before might not help the next time, it is about trial and error. Just remember you are doing the best job you can, there are no right or wrong things. At some level I always see that someone is trying to help, even if on the surface I may not want them to.
To overcome a suicide attempt is hard. To overcome a suicide attempt and turn it to something positive that has guided my life has been a difficult and delicate route. Our lives are complex, cluttered and congested. It is quite easy to fall by the roadside and feel like we are being left behind. But with understanding we can adapt and respond, and overcome these difficulties. It helps if we can talk to others about our difficulties to help that understanding develop, grow and overcome.