This is part of my "After" series. For the series introduction, you can look here. As with every piece in the series, there will not be graphic details. In keeping with best journalistic practice, I won't discuss any methods of suicide. However, this is an honest and open piece and may cover a number of difficult topics, including suicide, self-harm, abuse, death, criminal offences, and the sexual abuse of children.
It's not really a piece in very distinct sections like the last video. But I've bolded sort of the main theme of each section at the start of each of them. Hope that helps a little with navigating.
The first time I imagined Chris killing himself was not long after I met him. Actually, it was sort of before. See, I'd read Men in the Cities the night before I was due to have a morning workshop with him for my MA course at RCSSD. We didn't have many "playwrights" on the course. I put my dinner in the microwave around 9:45 PM, I think. Maybe a bit after 10. It was a jacket potato with leftover cooked minced beef, barbecue sauce, and shredded cheese.
I began reading. I fell in love. I didn't stop until the end. I ate a half-reheated dinner and fell asleep sometime around 1 AM and made it into the workshop I think exactly 90 seconds late.
If you're not familiar with the piece, it is about male mental health, suicide, and sexual violence. The opening of the play script begins with a quote from a 2014 press release on statistics about suicide in the UK.
If you are familiar with the piece, you'll understand why I imagined the author dying every way that was implied in all of the characters in that text and every which way in between. And then I met Chris. And then after I began to work with him, I began to see how deeply he meant everything. So as soon as he let me love him, I knew he had the capacity to die, and sometimes it was a pretty real threat. And I imagined that every day until he did.
Not every day. That's dramatic.
But. Most of the time. It became like breathing or a heartbeat; you notice is, listen to it and then must let it go - ignore it or you go mad. But you also are very aware of it several times a week, at the least.
And. And and and. The promise was always that the world is so very dark and if you hang in, if we both hang in, we will discover things together. We shall overcome. (As he liked to quote Pete Seeger.)
So. A year into our relationship, when Chris would not leave me alone because I'd been properly, completely suicidal for weeks. When my GP was desperate and could not get me bumped up on the mental health services waitlist and so assigned two colleagues to call me 1-2 times a day when she wasn't in...
It might not surprise you that I was calm. I have the video I made several days before I tried to die. I met Dennis Cooper the night before I tried to kill myself. He was a hero to me - of queer, anarchist, free expression. Living in the face of it all.
And it didn't matter. The next morning, I looked Chris in the eye when he said he wanted to go out to pick up a prescription. I told him I was ok. I suppose that was a lie. I never lied to him; I always told him that. It didn't feel like a lie. It felt like the truth - I knew what had to be done so the world was more ok; so even I, in absence, would be more ok than I currently was.
If someone you love dies of suicide, there will always be deeply cutting, haunting questions. I think, if you've tried to kill yourself, you may have a few less of those questions, but you have more empathy for the person who died, and a more specific -and also complicated- hope of how they might have kept living.
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When someone dies by suicide, they go to the hospital or coroner. At the hospital, there might be rescucitaion attempts made. If you are close to them, you have a certain set of visiting rights; the kind that apply to intensive care or dying patients. If the ambulance service declares a person dead at the scene, the coroner takes over.
The police may have little discretion over who they tell first and when. They may have excellent discretion. It depends only on the care, prejudices, and training of the specific officers who discovered the recently deceased person and what they learn about them while filing a report.
You should be told by police first. You may be told by a coroner first. Perhaps even a friend, if the police aren't being careful.
Suicide was decriminalised in 1961 in England. The phrase "committed suicide" is still fairly common, but it's not a phrase police or medical professionals should ever use with you. "Died by suicide," "ended their life," etc acknowledge the ways in which the dead person was also a victim and helps destigmatise suicide by using language that doesn't invoke criminal offence.
It won't surprise you that if the person who died was involved in crime, a complicated tragedy or large financial loss, some people (including the police) will have a lot less care, may appear to miss them less. And, it may surprise just you who will offer immense sympathy. The same thing goes for the reactions of friends & professionals if you survive a suicide attempt.
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Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. 10 September every year. I've always struggled with this day, how to mark it. There is no simple solution or even a quick list of tips that is going to stop someone who is set on killing themselves.
Talking about mental health and suicide to destigmatise it is a start, and is the main point of days like this one. Working to fight against all forms of oppression that marginalised groups experience also does massive work - we know suicide rates are far higher against LGBTQ+ people and those who experience racism, for example.
Putting in place safeguarding, support workers, and clear signposts to resources like the Samaritans and other crisis centres at any job/venue helps. Anything to make sure those resources are known and useful to anyone who might consider giving them a chance.
Setting clear boundaries and self care. This one is especially important if you know someone who is currently suicidal (/or has any suicidal ideation). It can be a long and draining road as a supportive friend, while someone you care about tries to work on their mental health. It may feel cyclical. And it's easy to become very stressed, drained, even numb, and to feel responsible. Make sure you aren't the only person talking to someone who is feeling suicidal. If you become worried about them, it's ok to insist they seek out a professional or go to a hospital.
Suicide, like many mental health issues, is contagious. Not, of course, like a cold - one person's struggles won't rub off on you because you talk with them or are close to them. But if someone isn't able to manage their mental health well and they continue to rely on you, it can be fairly easy to begin to fall into your own tricky patterns, especially if you are carrying the weight of supporting them all on your own.
And it's long-term, supporting someone. Only take on what you can. But it doesn't help to only check in around a crisis. For most people, it doesn't go away. Especially after a failed attempt. Suicidal thoughts and plans can pop up again days, weeks, years after, at any time, really.
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I was in an psych outpatient group (in the US), three years after my first attempt. We had to say what we wanted on our headstones. I said, "Nothing. I'm going to be a tree."
The nurse said, "Can you elaborate on that?"
And I said, "Yeah. Like, there is natural burial in the UK. So, I've written instructions. When I die, my body will go in a shroud, it will be put in the ground, a tree will be planted on top of it."
Two wealthy cishet men then spent ten minutes developing (shit) ideas about how spots could be geotagged with obituaries, poems, videos, photos, etc.
And I said, "Ok. Yeah, go make that. The question was, 'What do I want when I die?' " I don't want any of that. That --- none of that will be my life. I want to be gone. Do you hear me? I want to be gone. Completely. Eaten by worms in a few years. Just bones. And some of the rest gone into a tree. So people can just see the tree. That's what I want. Gone. And now there is something growing and visible and comprehensible. A tree. I'm going to be a tree."
If you want to be erased, how do those left behind remember who you were? If you loved the person, it is a paradoxical ask.
The only way to move forward is to be selfish. And that is not how we love. Sometimes, actually, being selfish is completely necessary to love at our best. We're taught that it isn't.
Or. You can imagine a version of the person who didn't want to die and create those memories and those ceremonies. And that -- if you know how much pain and work it takes to try to die -- that is far, far worse. Far more hateful towards who they were, especially at their strongest (if not their best).
- - -
Grief in suicide is different. Of course there is the stigma around it - perceived or expressed. But much, much more than that, there is a completely different set of responses. Especially if you understand what it feels like to decide to kill yourself.
Meet people. Meet people who have lost someone by suicide. If you've tried to die by suicide and you find yourself still alive, try to find people who have done the same. It is not easy. I hope those networks exist someday, exist soon. Some of my work the last few years has been towards that.
Take a long time.
Whoever left destabilised part of the foundations of your life in the leaving. And I am sure they thought it would still be better than them staying. And also, it is devastating and they are not there to understand that. To answer you, to answer for themselves.
So, take your time.
Do not argue when parts of you call out to them. Expect them to be there. Are furious they left.
Do not hate yourself if you are sad. If sometimes, you sort of want to kill yourself too.
If you cry for more than an hour straight, call someone. Someone you know. It's better to cry with someone there than all alone.
If you feel free or happy; that's going to feel strange. Most likely, your happiness is actually something the person wanted. Of course it will still feel wrong and weird. But let yourself enjoy things when you can. And laugh.
Ending our lives is the one right we always have. You don't have to respect someone for making that choice. You don't have to be angry they made it. There isn't a magical thing you could have done to stop them. It's as gruesome and huge and scary and vibrant and loud as being born.
That won't stop the grief. Much the way that parents/family members don't give up on the specific, often impossible hopes they felt the moment someone entered the world. The hopes and the grief surround us while we live and die.
But a life isn't ours to wait for or bargain against or have to hold vigil for. It just belongs to one person. So we watch, and we grieve, and it's fucking lonely. We can keep our love and our memories - they are all so very real. And we never have to. We can work to help people we care about going through a difficult time. We can work to help strangers. But we don't have to. And we can re-write the narratives again and again and again if that's what we must do to stay okay.
I don't have any concrete answers for how to prevent suicide. But I know it mostly comes down to a fairly simple thing. We can be less afraid of the darkness, of the most painful parts of ourselves and others. And then we can do whatever it takes for life to feel less impossible - for ourselves, for others. I don't know. But I think that's the beginning of hope.
In grief and love,
For more info on World Suicide Prevention Day, or if you need to speak to someone, visit the Samaritan's page here. Their number is 116 123, 24/7. They are accessible by that number in the UK, Northern Ireland, and Ireland.
You can find a good list of resources, support groups, and hotline information for those who have had a loved one die by suicide at the Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide page here.