Trigger warning: This article contains graphic depictions of self-harm and discusses suicide, suicidal ideation, and depression. If you, or someone you know, is experiencing difficulties with depression or suicidal thoughts, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
I first considered killing myself when I was eleven years old.
Back then, it wasn’t about melancholy, but a visceral desire to stop struggling. To stop pretending that life was something I wanted to keep labouring through. Even at that age, I knew I lacked whatever it was that gave others the capacity to feel something, to desire vitality. Living, with routines and family members and school and eating, felt like a bad choice someone made for me that I was stuck with.
I’d spent the night, New Year’s Eve, with a friend’s family who lived on the twentieth storey of an apartment building. After the fireworks, when everyone retreated from the balcony to the living room, I stayed behind, revelling in the sudden calm.
I became fixated with the drop to the foot of the apartment building, into a dark yard housing a children’s swing set. The balcony’s railing was low, and I could have easily climbed over. In that instant, it was about bringing forward the time of my death from the distant future and bypassing all of the motions and waiting and emptiness. The drop seemed just high enough to kill me, rather than badly injure me. I wanted to know what else there was, because there had to be something. Like any self-obsessed child, I thought of my parents, and newspaper headlines, and the coroner dissecting my pale, tomboyish body on a slab. I hated myself for wanting it.
There’s a difference between actively wanting to kill yourself and hoping, simply, to stop existing. My desire between the two things fluctuated. I withdrew from my friendship group and eventually started to skip most of my classes. I left school campus for every free period I had to avoid seeing anyone I knew. I would eat my lunch alone, watching the rowers and yachts on the bay, wondering how people could go about their lives day in, day out, able to find meaning.
In winter of 2007, when I was 16, I became obsessed with the idea that somehow I would stop existing before the year’s end. It felt like the natural trajectory. It was the longest year of my life, and I did not want to see the end of it. My grades dropped and I considered leaving school – why spend these final years doing such an unfulfilling task? Classmates came and went in a hum of white noise, laughing and joking with one another and teachers, as I stared in blank apathy.
In the past ten years, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about killing myself, wondering which method would be the most accessible and least brutal to whoever eventually found me. Sometimes it feels legitimate – some people want to stay alive and others want to die. Is it not implicit in the act of staying alive that you are doing so because it’s a choice? There is a misconception that a person who does not want to live seeks to actively end their life. But thinking frequently about death is not the same as being suicidal. It also doesn’t mean you want to be dead all of the time. When I have bad days, I simply want to stop existing.
I stopped considering suicide two years ago. A personal trauma pushed me over the edge, and after weeks of waking up in tears, eating half a meal a day and spending nights crying on the kitchen floor, I cracked. One night, on the brink of a panic attack, I ran to the back of the house in tears. I found a stack of spare tiles and began to throw them, one by one, to the ground. I hurled square after square at the concrete floor, more worried that the neighbours would see me crying than they would wonder what I was doing. I wanted to carve my arms and legs and chest open with the edges, letting myself bleed out in the garden, to disintegrate right then and there and be sucked into the earth forever. If my mother hadn’t found me, shivering in the dark, whimpering into a pot plant, I don’t know what would have happened.
It’s okay if the pot plant thing made you laugh. I’m laughing a little about it too, on the inside. Sometimes rock bottom is what it takes for you to realise what you want. (This is a truncated version of my rock bottom because the rest of it is much more ugly, but you get the idea).
In the months and years that have followed that period, I have realised that outside of those peaks of depressive dissociation, the more insidious, truer symptom of my chronic depression is a fluctuating desire to not live a jaded and apathetic life with routine and bathing and the future and eating meals and getting on a bus or watching it go by for no reason. This doesn’t mean I’ll always consider death as an option if ‘things get really bad’, but fighting against the slow-burning desire to not have to exist is probably going to be the hardest battle of my life. Because discussions of suicide are rarely frank and nuanced, the fact that this feeling is very different to actively seeking suicide tends not to be considered.
Like most taboo things, various aspects of depression and wanting to be dead need to be spoken about more. Having talked to two people about this recently was one of the most therapeutic things I have ever done. I want people to talk more openly about the insidious ways that suicidal ideation eats away at people over years, because sometimes it can save a life.