National Suicide Prevention Week
Posted by PurpleMoonbeam
10th Sep 2013

As it’s National Suicide Prevention Week, I have debated whether or not to write something, or just bury my head and swallow hard. But, after reading an article in the Guardian ( about the changes being made in railway stations, in a bid to cut rail suicides, I felt compelled to write about my experience.

There were 238 suicides on the railways last year. I really believe it was meant to be 239, but for circumstance, rather than intent, I walked away, still alive.

So, this article caught my attention and brought back some difficult memories. Having read and re-read the Guardian article, I am shocked, and moved by both the effort, and the massive cost that has gone into cutting suicide on the railways. In addition, some 5000 railway staff have been on courses and trained by the Samaritans, to help people who are suicidal at the railway station. That is humbling. There are also a variety of different and expensive measures being put in place in some stations, including Reading, which is the main railway station in my area.

As I read through the article, I realised all of the measures are being put in place in the stations and the platforms. This left me wondering if I should say something or not, as I had sat on a railway bridge waiting for a train to come. It never dawned on me to go to a railway platform. But, that’s because I was not making a conscious decision to choose to die, and to use the railway in which to do so. There was never a thought of ‘shall I do this, or shall I do that’ on that night. It was impulse, not thought, that led me to the railway bridge.

As I am writing this, I can hear the now infamous comments of Jeremy Clarkson, branding ‘people who throw themselves under trains as selfish’, rattling around in my head. And, I am sure many people agree with him.

Comments such as ‘think what it's like for the poor train driver’ and ‘think about the poor people on the train’ and ‘think about all the people who get held up and have their day messed up, because of you jumping in front of their train’ echo in my head. These are familiar comments, and sadly I may even have uttered these same words in a selfish moment, through ignorance.

It’s very easy to utter these comments, because people tend to believe them to be true. It’s easy to point the finger at ‘Johnny Suicide’, as named by Clarkson, and say something like …. hey you selfish bastard, what the hell do you think you are doing …. The KEY word in that sentence is THINK.

A person on the brink of suicide is experiencing extreme mental distress, internal trauma, and is likely, as I was, terrified. ‘Thinking’ is the very last thing that is happening. In fact, as I have learned from psychotherapy, it is not possible to actually ‘think’ when you are in that state. The mind becomes disassociated from cognitive function and many of the key brain processes shut down, including the important ones that facilitate reasoning, logic, decision-making, planning, and basically – thinking. The reptilian brain takes over and the internal self-destruct button is activated.

So, when I was sat on the railway bridge, waiting for the train, it was simply not possible for me to think logical thoughts such as ‘what if’ or ‘what about the poor people’, or ‘what about the loved ones and the people left behind’. I wasn’t being selfish. I just wasn’t ‘there’ anymore – ‘me’ had been switched off. I was not present enough to be conscious of the bigger picture. I just wasn’t capable of normal thought by the time I was sat on the bridge.

Being bipolar, I am aware the mortality rate is high. I am prone to suicidal thoughts when in dark depressive episodes, and am at risk of spontaneous suicidal impulse when in a mixed episode or psychosis. It is reported that suicide rates among people with bipolar disorder are 20 times higher than that of the general public. One in three people with bipolar disorder will have attempted, or have completed suicide in any one year. I am now very aware of the real risk of death that I will face throughout life with this illness. I am lucky to have regular psychotherapy to help me with lifestyle management and strategies keep me safe in those times of risk.

So, back to the railway bridge - how did I end up there that night? I have no bloody idea, other than I obviously got in the car and drove there. I wasn’t even consciously aware there was a railway bridge there, so I don’t know how I knew to go there. My life had ended earlier that day, when my selfish bitch of a boss called me at home and abruptly ended my nine and three quarter years computing career - over the phone, despite knowing I had just been given the devastating diagnosis and started on a new and dangerous treatment regime at the time, not to mention the fact that I lived on my own.

My heart was wedded to my job, and my job was my life, so the information just caused a complete melt-down. From the point I put the phone down, my brain was literally unwiring itself and my rational thought process was diminishing; disordered thinking started taking over. At that point, she had given me definitive proof that I was not worthy of living, that I was no longer needed in this world, and that everyone would be better off without me in their lives. Those were the distorted, disordered thoughts, not my own rational thoughts. Those words were rattling around in my head and the emotional trauma resulted in hallucinations and voices screaming at me how worthless I was, and telling me to die. I was terrified and also completely out of my mind. I wasn't capable of thinking about what my loved ones would think or feel, as my disordered brain was telling me that everyone would be better off without me in the world. That wasn’t a thought that I could reason with or change.

I subsequently had months of psychiatric treatment to try and recover from the devastating psychological damage that was done by that phone call, and the augmented emotions it unleashed. It had triggered a psychotic mixed episode and took my bipolar illness to a whole new level, as well as put my life at risk.

So, how did I walk away, still alive that night? That is a question I ask nearly every week. It was obviously not my time to go, but I don’t know why, or what I still have to achieve in this life; or even what my place in life is anymore. But, it turns out that I had sat on the bridge for hours on that cold March night, wearing only jogging bottoms and a t-shirt (and slippers). My psychologist suggested the prolonged cold could have registered with my senses and played a part in bringing my brain back to the present situation. I remember being frozen-cold and shaking as I climbed down, just at the moment when the police turned up. They could have detained me under a section of the mental health act there and then, but I became hysterical about getting back home to feed my cat. At that moment in time, he was all I had in the world. I was shocked at the situation I was discovering myself in, and was insistent I would go home. I also remembered I had an appointment in the morning with my psychologist, so they seemed happy to let me go home at this point. As I turned to walk to my car, one of the policemen said he didn’t know what the point of me sitting there was, as the last train was hours ago. The other one suggested that maybe it was fate. So, it turns out that, that is why I walked away, still alive that night – I had missed the last train.

So, please don’t call me, or anyone in a similar situation, ‘Johnny Suicide’, or any other derogatory name, because it is just not possible when on the brink of suicide, to actually think of others and their needs at that moment in time. Please use this awareness and prevention week to inquire about, and talk openly about suicide. In doing so, you can help reduce the stigma that invariably leads to misunderstanding and the intolerance of the people who attempt suicide every day. There is no need for shame or embarrassment. Learning that someone feeling suicidal is being torn apart by a disordered mind, might help people to understand the suffering better, and perhaps be more tolerant and forgiving, rather than judging.

I must thank Network Rail for the great lengths they are going to; not just to prevent someone from attempting suicide at the station, but to have staff trained to help the suicidal person.

I have gotten by for a long time now, with this simple promise to myself: ‘Just for today, I promise to continue living. Tomorrow is another day’. Repeating that mantra when the dark depression starts messing with my mind, really helps me stay focussed on the fact that I am meant to continue living. Basically, my previous coping skills and capabilities are diminished now, not just because of unstable rapid cycling bipolar disorder, but also the side effects of the drugs I have to take. I can only really live a day at a time. I don’t know what the day after tomorrow will be like, but I have fantastic medical support and care in the community, to help me get there. I am very lucky that I can still write, paint and create noise with the drums and guitar, so I appear to still be in touch with my creative faculties! I live in hope that some form of remission is around the corner and I can start working again. But, until then, I have come to learn that one day at a time, is good enough for me!

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