It's just over a month since I read the news that fashion designer Kate Spade and chef Anthony Bourdain had taken their own lives. I wrote this blog at the time but am only just sharing it.
Because I've felt suicidal too.
For anyone who knows me it may come as a surprise that I've wanted my life to end. I mean, I'm the girl in the tea room who chats to everyone. I'm the chick who smiles at people in the street and as one friend put it "could have a deep conversation with someone I just met at a bus stop."
I like talking to people, finding out who they are, what makes them tick. I tend to go from "Ooh you put the milk in first to, wow, your mum passed away this time last year, that must still ring in your ears like a bell that will never stop."
As were Kate and Anthony, I identify with being a creative. I'm not just creative, I'm A Creative. Ask anyone who's forged a career out of the arts (of any kind) and you'll find we're a highly emotive bunch who wholeheartedly identify with our preferred expression, be it words, images, film, dance, whatever.
Not that people who work in other areas aren't creative, but by the very nature of our work and the fact we've often forefeited higher paying jobs for a career in the arts (and the fact that most of us would rather die than work for a bank – albeit not literally) we feel things deeply. More deeply than others? Possibly not, but I would definitely say that I, like most creative types am ruled by my heart not my head.
I recall saying to a friend who'd mentioned she was once diagnosed as being bipolar that in my opinion, anyone who lives by the creative laws – i.e. couldn't possibly live, breathe or work unless they were being expressive through their art, are all bipolar to some degree. Maybe not in the clinical sense, but certainly in the way we tend to swing from high degrees of passion to deep feelings of hurt, and for some, depression, when … that layout, brief, article or project wasn't quite would it could or should be.
Being an "artist" comes at a price.
For me it means I absolutely cannot and will not abide by any rule other than the one from my heart. So when my heart lost its mojo and needed some Time Out I was completely at a loss.
And that's when I began to see life very differently.
For 40-something years I have defined myself as positive, happy, optimistic, able to see a silver lining around literally anything. I've experienced sexual abuse, domestic violence, I survived a fatal car crash that took my friend's life when we were just 18, moved to the other side of the world aged 26 away from everyone I knew with nothing but a backpack and £500, and through all of it I remained steadfastly positive.
Life is for living, right?
Naturally I have also grieved, felt sadness, hurt, pain and worry, but overriding all of it was a belief that things would be OK. That life was my most precious commodity and that no matter what happens, I could get through it.
Not because I'm resilient, although I am also that, but because I believed in the power of Love. The kind of Love that makes the world go round. The life force that has its own destiny and that we are merely part of. You might call it God but I prefer to call it The Universe, or that magical mystery tour that is Life.
So hopefully that paints a picture that tells you I consider myself a survivor. At least, I did.
Because last year, things changed. Last year was the first time in my life that I no longer wanted to be here.
It didn't happen suddenly. I'd say my apathy towards Life was a slow burn. I didn't really notice it coming, I just started feeling less and less happy. Did something trigger it? Yes, probably the demise of a relationship but I wouldn't say that was the cause, simply that it was a catalyst that lifted the lid on something that has potentially been brewing for a long time.
I say brewing because it wasn't like I woke up one day and decided, That's it, I've had enough. No. Over a period of about two years, certain areas of my life became "exposed"– as in, I began to see where I was lacking wisdom (around money and intimate relationships) and those areas became both highlighted and ruptured at about the same time. And in equal measure.
I went from earning the most money I've ever earned (what I had previously earned in a day I was earning in an hour) and fell in love the most deeply I'd ever fallen. I fell in love with The One. You know, The One That Got Away.
Contrasts are a grand and wondrous thing. If it weren't for winter, summer wouldn't look so good. And what about those backpacking trips where your only bathing option is a bucket of cold, communal water and travelling on buses that precariously hurtle around knife edged bends (with spectacular views) and more passengers than an A380 airbus. The recognition of how luxurious it is to turn on a hot tap and hop into your car when you return from somewhere like that is precious indeed.
So maybe my 40-odd years of positivity was always going to herald a downward spiral at some point. I mean, isn't that the law of nature?
Who knows, but when you're on (or in) one of those dizzying spirals you don't care. And actually, my downward track wasn't dizzying at all. It was more slow. And steady. And tedious. And very, very, lonely.
I'd felt heartache from grief before but up until last year I had never experienced the gut-wrenching, heart-wracking pain of loneliness that felt like my chest would actually crack open. It was so physically debilitating that it would stop me in my tracks sometimes. I would literally clutch my chest as the pain ripped through me. It was coupled with a desperate feeling of being alone, disconnected and hopeless.
I called that feeling the Loneliness Birds.
Those Loneliness Birds had little to do with how many people were around. This wasn't about friends not being there. I had plenty of people I could have called. This wasn't about being alone in the physical sense, it was a spiritual breakdown. A sense of feeling separated from Life.
Life was over there being lived and I was trapped in a cage with a flock of Loneliness Birds who were ripping my heart out.
Fortunately for me I've learned enough about grief and pain to have a veritable toolbox of emotional and spiritual resources. And I used them all. Mostly the ability to Be With It. When the feelings hit I would make room for them. It wasn't easy but I knew it was the only way. If I had any hope of "recovering" from the pain I had to deal with it and that meant staying.
And crying. A lot.
So I did.
As for the Loneliness Birds, they hung around daily for about 5 months but for now, they appear to have journeyed on.
After the loneliness I entered another new state: despair and hopelessness. My life felt utterly joyless. Even things that would normally provide me with a lift – a walk on the beach, a cup of chai tea, listening to a podcast – did little more than make the grey shades slightly less dull. I was 50 shades of grey alright but not in that way.
My life had always been a technicolour, surround sound, 5D IMAX experience. Now, it was a b-grade movie with the sound turned down.
I felt like all the colour had left not only my cheeks but also my heart. I was no longer connected to my heart and I felt really flat. And really alone. I no longer had the wracking physical pain of the Loneliness Birds but what was left was equally as cheerless. Life felt so dull.
I was at the peak of what I would call a depression. I wasn't labelling it depression, and neither was my therapist, but as I write this blog it's as clear as day that that's where I was. I'd never really experienced depression before. Sadness yes, but I'd never stayed there for long. It always just lifted.
But this was different. For me at least.
And of course, the biggest struggle when you're feeling low is that Life still requires you to function. So I was still going to work, socialising (although not much), and was still having some happy, smiley chats with people wherever I went. Like I say, I wasn't fully identifying as being depressed. I was just in it. Hindsight, if you're lucky enough to pass through the pain, can be a wonderful thing.
Towards the end of last year I booked a trip to Bali for Christmas. I wanted to get away and enjoy the simplicity of island life for a couple of weeks. But rather than supply me with a ray of emotional sunshine, it was on the island that I had my first "suicidal" thought.
I had just broken up with a guy I had fallen for in a big way. The wrong guy for sure, but I was still attached to the idea there could be an "us" despite him telling me otherwise.
After going our separate ways I still had another week before I was due to return home so I vowed I would make the best of the holiday and just rest. Part of my downtime was spent reconnecting with old friends on Facebook. I had taken myself off about a year earlier but felt ready to go back online. And frankly, I wanted some cyber company to take my mind off my recent break-up.
The first thing I saw was that an acquaintance had just died.
She was the second person I knew who had died within the space of 6 months and I was shocked. Both women were in their early 50s. Not young, but definitely not old.
I lay back on my bed overlooking the ocean and scrolled through all the messages in disbelief. She was deeply loved and had left behind a devoted husband and two sons.
My next thought was one that surprised me.
I wish it was me.
I genuinely felt like she and the other woman I had known were the lucky ones. Because they no longer had to endure life. They were free from the suffering. Free from the struggles. Free from the worries. Free from work, relationships, loneliness, hopelessness.
They were free from all that and I wished it was me.
Right then I made a call to the Universe. I felt I was making a pact with Life. That if this was it, if this was what my life was all about then I didn't want to live much longer. I was by no means about to take my life but I silently prayed that if things didn't take a positive turn soon I didn't think I would be able to endure it. So I begged for God to end my life at the age of 54 as that was all I could withstand.
Why I chose 8 years in the future I have no idea, probably because that was the age of my friend who had just died, and partly because I maybe somehow believed there was a chance things could turn around and get better?
Which I'm happy to say they have.
But it didn't happen immediately. And actually, writing this has been part of the catalyst for that change, because only a couple of months ago I was empathising with a friend about how tough "middle age" can be. How it can feel so relentless, how there seems to be so much less fun, and how joy can appear to be a commodity that nobody really talks about any more. Once you hit your 40s it's all mortgages, hospitals, death of parents and the price of health insurance.
And that sucks.
I'm aware there's positive thinking and meditation and gratitude that can steer us towards a more joyful state. But I was using all those techniques before, during (and now), and they didn't do much more than possibly keep me stable enough to not require medication.
Life was not joyful for me and not living seemed like a better option.
So many of us are going through so much right now and it's not always possible to "fix" or help or even make a dent in that. Life can be challenging and if there's one thing I've learned (am learning…) it's that our inner world is our only world. Whatever and however we're feeling is our reality. And sometimes, for all the hope in the world, those feelings can be dark and lonely and hopeless, and nothing anyone does or says makes much of a difference.
It's a sad and lonely world for many. I'm lucky enough to have passed through those grim feelings of despair, and like I said, writing this is really helping. Putting my thoughts down on paper has always helped me to process what's inside. It's like therapy for me.
I'm in no way trivialising suicide and I am absolutely not saying writing things down solves all the world's problems. And I'm definitely not judging anyone who takes their own life. What I'm saying is I get it. We're all subject to Life and none of us really has any (or much) control of what happens. The only thing we have is how we feel.
So, how do you feel? Are you OK? Do you have someone you can relate to, share your true feelings with?
Life can feel pretty joyless. The contrast is always there – if there's sorrow there is also joy – but it doesn't mean it's necessarily available to you, so if you're feeling like Life is too much, please know you are not alone. There are so many of us navigating our place in the world and it can feel really isolating and hard.
I can't take away your pain but I hope that by sharing my story, maybe someone – and even if it's only one person – will know they matter. Even when it doesn't feel that way.