So. Gary Speed. While nothing official has been announced, the general view seems to be that he killed himself. Suddenly there are people talking about how he’d suffered depression for years. There are few details around – and my god, I don’t want there to be – but what has actually caught my eye is something about depression from another footballer, Stan Collymore, written just a day earlier.
Collymore is also in the grip of a bout of depression at the moment. And in a terrible parallel, he mentions suicidal thoughts and how they are a “practical reality”. A lot of people recoil at this; I’ve seen a lot of guides today for the media and social media on how to report suicide, I think all of them have had ‘suicide is a tragedy’ as their first point.
Having had suicidal thoughts myself, several years ago – incidentally, I hate the phrase ‘suicidal thoughts’. It’s the one doctors use and it’s ended up sounding pretentious and hollow to me, usually accompanied by a sympathetic cocked head. I much prefer ‘wanting to die’ – I know that death can be seen not as a terrible, terrible, thing, but as a welcoming release. You have to be in a pretty bloody dark place to even consider death as an alternative, but that’s kind of the point of depression. It’s not exactly a piñata party. When you’re in the middle of something that horrific, that miserable, when your brain doesn’t work and maybe your body is conking out too, and you have no idea if it’s going to get better or, if you do, if it will come back… You’ll do anything to make it stop. I saw death as a blankness, a peace. It was very appealing.
Fortunately my depression took a lethargic turn and I spent most of the time sleeping. Actively go and kill myself? Are you kidding? I could barely pick up the TV remote to change channel. Also, there’s just no way I could have done that to my parents – in suicide, as far as I’m concerned the tragedy is not for the person who died, it’s for the people who are left. The person who died got what they wanted. Depression usually does lift – often right after the point where you have just been considering offing yourself – but I can completely understand anyone who decides they’ve had enough. You might say they should carry on for their family, that suicide is selfish. But also consider asking a family member to live through weeks, months, years of anguish and pain, often recurring. We talk about quality of life with reference to physical illness. I believe we should also be able to understand if someone decides their mental quality of life has declined beyond the point of endurance.
I’m not suggesting severely depressed people should head off to Dignitas after a chat with their doctor. Terminal illness has a definite end in its future; mental illness just feels like it. What I am suggesting, is that if someone does feel driven to such an extreme, don’t necessarily immediately wail about the ‘waste of life’ before considering just what the life that has been wasted might have been like. For me, I get writer’s block. Badly. All the words that constantly ricochet around my head vanish. But when depressed – nothing. The prospect of a life where I couldn’t write anything, where I could barely string together a coherent sentence, is no life at all. I think everyone has some kind of similar line in the sand. (Added to, you know, the constant feelings of misery and feeling isolated and self-hate. Gosh, those were fun times.)
I was lucky: I got help. If I died now I’d be properly pissed off. And all the exhortations on Twitter to call a friend who’s feeling low, to be kind, are important. (Also remember that you might have no idea if one of your friends is considering killing themselves. None of mine did. I think I’m suggesting you should just be generally awesome to everyone, all the time.) But if it doesn’t make a difference, don’t feel bad. (If you didn’t even try, feel very bad.) Most people are scared of death, aren’t ready, go out terrified and unwilling. I have real difficulty viewing a death that has been chosen, prepared for and accepted, as a tragedy. Needless, quite probably. Sad, definitely. For the family, beyond imagining. But not necessarily tragic.
Incidentally, if you’ve found this post because you’re feeling suicidal, call the Samaritans or whatever equivalent is in your country. Now. I mean it. You only get sympathy from me if you’ve explored all other options and you really don’t think there are any.