I admit that I really had to think a long time about writing this blog before I could put words on the page. Suicide is a very serious and incredibly important subject and I honestly wondered if you might question how I have any right to speak about it. However, I also know that that opening dialogues on suicide and chipping away at the stigma is something I feel very personally. While I have never put my plans into actual actions, when I was ill I often thought about killing myself. I know that every individual has their own experience and I can only speak from my own perspective when it comes to what I can only describe as the most desperate times in my life.
I have often heard that death by suicide is an act of pure selfishness. You have so much to live for. You are a mother; how could you leave your children in such a deliberate act? I can tell you in those times when I was considering killing myself, I knew without question that my life was without meaning or value and that all I had to look forward to was unending pain for me and everyone around me. I knew that my death would spare the people I loved from the utter burden of having me in their lives. The depression had consumed anything and everything that was ever good in me. My hope was gone. When I look back, I can see how irrational these thoughts were, but in the moment, they were very real and very much something I was going to do in part because I loved my children. I knew they would miss me for a little while, but that they would soon get over it and live better, happier lives without me.
I am forever thankful that I was never able to develop a plan where I was sure my boys would be properly cared for when I was gone. When the depression was beaten back and I made my way out of these debilitating episodes, my certainty gave way to the horror of what I might have done. I’ve heard that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. The difficult part is convincing anyone in the depths of their illness that the suffering is anything but forever.
My more recent experience with suicidal thoughts has not been my own: my 21 year-old son who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder has also struggled with depressive episodes and suicidal ideation. He has woken me in the middle of the night on more than one occasion, knife in hand, to tell me it is all too much, to say good-bye. And on these occasions, I talk to my beautiful boy about how much I would miss him, forever. I tell him how important he is, how loved. I talk about my experiences and that, while I couldn’t know how he felt, I understood desperation and I was living proof that it could get better. We talked until he agreed to go to the doctor, to get more help, to live another day. Today he has hope and gets a little better each day. The world is a richer place having him in it.
Death by suicide is not the shameful act of a selfish person. It is the action of a person consumed by illness who can find no way out in that moment. The more it’s hidden, the more it’s talked about in whispers (or not at all), the greater the strength the illness continues to have over people we love and the more people we will continue to lose. I hope that by talking about my own experiences and as a mother of a young adult living with mental illness, a little bit of the fear and stigma can be broken down.
As Leonard Cohen wrote, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
About Susan Mifsud
Susan Mifsud is a 49 year old mother of two adult sons who has worked in university administration for the last 25 years. She is an active volunteer and advocate in support of the elimination of stigma and shame related to mental illness and addiction. Follow Susan’s story on HMC’s Supportive Minds blog or additionally follow Susan on Twitter.