Content warning for discussion of suicide.
A year ago, Kieran told me he was leaving me.
That was the worst day, until 48 days later, three weeks after he’d moved back home, he drunkenly scratched at his arm with a knife, and the next day went missing for several hours. I filed a missing person report from my kitchen, in a dressing gown that smelled of fear sweat, and waited.
That was the worst day until the last day, three weeks after that, when everything stopped.
I have thought on and off over the past year about writing this. There is a small handful of people who knew what was happening while it was going on, but for most people Kieran’s death came as a great shock out of the blue. For me it was a terrible shock, but it did not come out of nowhere: it was the end of seventy days of pretty unrelenting pain. More than that for him, I suspect. Quite how much more I will probably never know.
Why am I writing about this now? I have been reticent to do so before this because I know Kieran would have hated it. He was a private person, despite his gregariousness. He was also an extremely proud person, in a way I understood more than most was a manifestation of deep insecurities about his worth. But he is gone, and if I am responsible for his legacy, it is not for making sure his memory is preserved like a fly in amber. Instead I want people to understand the good, brilliant man he was: and how that was pulverised by his disease.
Major depression is not feeling very sad all the time. It has that part, but it has other, less palatable parts. Parts which can make you erratic, aggressive, even cruel. If you are being tortured by your own brain there is very little you won’t do to try to relieve it. In the suicide bereavement groups I’ve joined, I’ve found person after person whose spouse in the days and months running up to their deaths gambled, drank, took drugs, had sexual affairs, spent wildly to the point of bankruptcy. Virtually none of these people had shared more widely what their spouse had done – some of them had shared with no one at all.
Suicide bereavement is filled with secrets. That is part of its poison. I haven’t yet decided what, exactly, I’m comfortable with sharing about Kieran’s last weeks; what I owe him, what I owe myself, and what is best for my family are different strands knotted too tight together still for me to make that decision. What I will say is that in March I called him a monster, and I bitterly regret it; but on that particular night he was behaving monstrously. Major depression is a monster. It will grind up a person until there is almost nothing left, until even the best parts of them can be turned into a weapon. Major depression is a bomb going off and it is a cancer. Major depression, without radical, compassionate, available treatment, is waiting for death.
After Kieran went missing and came home, we spoke to the crisis team. In the time leading up to the inquest I was able to access their notes. They said his wife and child were a safety net, that he said he had no immediate plans to end his life. It shocks me that still so many mental health professionals think having a family is enough, particularly when you have a prior history of suicidal ideation. I know too many people now who have found their spouse – worse than that, whose children have found their spouse hanging or overdosed. The truth is, in the depths of despair people are self-absorbed. Not selfish, I won’t say that. But their pain is so entire that they often can’t think of others any more, or not in a way that isn’t about hurting themselves. Why should that surprise us? If someone has terminal cancer, we can understand how the pain can be so great they want nothing but an end, however it comes.
Major depression is the same, but there is no palliative care, no Macmillan nurses. There is virtually no inpatient care. Involuntary or voluntary section is often in a ward so horrible that people I know have said their spouse preferred to risk death than to go back to it. And they are not especially safe – one person I know’s husband took his own life in a supposedly secure ward. Staff are overworked, overstretched, and they miss things. Terrible things.
There will always be suicide. But so much of it could be prevented if suicidal ideation were better understood, if appropriate resources were poured into mental health care, if our collective societal response wasn’t a bunch of press campaigns about it being “good to talk”. Instead of a life ring by the side of the water there’s a photo of a life ring and a helpline to call to discuss how you feel about drowning. Enough.
Suicidal ideation is an emergency. Dial 999. There is unfortunately a good chance no one will come for you or your loved one due to the current strain on NHS ambulance resources. Take yourself to A&E if you must. I’m sorry.
Suicide prevention helplines in the UK are listed here.
If you are a survivor of bereavement by suicide, you can call this helpline 365 days a year.
If you want to support my writing, you can do so here. Thank you.