(CW: Suicide, suicidal ideation)

I nearly didn’t make it to 2018. I say this not out of exaggeration or to shock, but to remind myself that things can change. To look back at it now it seems quite hard to believe (though definitely not impossible). I nearly didn’t make it to 2018.

Three times I walked to the edge of the platform as a train was coming, listening to the voice in my head telling me that I just need to take one step and all the pain, the insufferable agony of existing would disappear and I would be at peace. I teetered on the edge, literally.

Innumerable times I considered taking all the pills we had in the house. I thought about stabbing myself with the kitchen knife. Anything to stop the incessant spinning of thoughts that told me it was the only way out.

Some people take their own life in a methodical way, planning in advance and perhaps leaving a note. This was not how I experienced—and still sometimes experience—the will to un-live. I am sure it is because my main mental illness is Panic Disorder along with severe depression/BiPolar 2, rather than mainly being depression. It means that I have sudden bursts of energy, which can evolve into panic attacks. In 2017 I was having around five panic attacks a day with several of them being at work. I would also get them while commuting by train, which with the general depressed state of mind I had meant that I would be agitated, intense feelings of dread and despair pushing me to take that walk off the platform edge. This is how suicidal ideation was for me, not carefully planned but incredibly strong, intrusive thoughts that were filled with energy and that seemed to control me.

2017 was the worst of it and fortunately I found a psychiatrist and counselor who began treating me. But I still struggled in 2018 and 2019 and still sometimes (though far less frequently) I have thoughts of taking my own life now in 2020.

These thoughts, a sort of agitated state of mind with flashing images of methods are how I experienced ‘being suicidal’. I can’t answer why I didn’t follow through other than to say that having a supportive partner and finally when I ‘confessed’, supportive friends and a doctor, meant an invisible hand would pull me back from the edge. My partner, at my request, hid the pills from me. I would queue for the train with my back up against the wall far away from the front of the queue. I would take the special little packet of ‘emergency pills’ that my psychiatrist had prescribed, an antipsychotic and a benzodiazepine. But it was close. Very close. And I am sure that if I hadn’t found treatment then, I wouldn’t be here now.

To colleagues and students I’m sure they were unaware. I would laugh and joke with them in my job but consider suicide on my way home. I would teach a class and then retreat back to my office, lock the door and keep the lights off just in case someone would disturb me, and sob. I would get home and spiral into a frenzied state of sobbing, only able to say ‘死にたい…’

Why am I writing this? To let people know (and as I said, to remind myself) that things can get better. That with treatment, whether professional or even in the form of self-help books, your will to die can transform into a will, or at least a resignation, to stay alive. You can find yourself having experiences that are joyful. At the very least pleasurable.

Because suicide can be unplanned, those barriers they install along the platform edge can be very useful. I didn’t really consider it before I experienced it myself. And telling someone who can remove objects that are a danger to you (pills, knives, other means) is incredibly helpful. And, I think, being open about your feelings if you are in an environment where it is safe to do so, is invaluable.

When I was at my worst, I somehow came across Matt Haig’s book, Reasons to Stay Alive, and I can’t recommend it enough. It describes so well the thoughts and feelings you may be experiencing and each chapter is a bite-sized chunk so it’s not overwhelming (like the rest of life may be). And therapy of some sort can be invaluable if you can afford it. And yes, I’m not ashamed (and neither should you be) to say that medication can be a life-saver. And, contrary to what you may think, talking to someone about your suicidal thoughts can and probably will help. Even though you may think it will make them worse, I found it was like a burden being lifted to talk to someone who would understand. I was fortunate to have someone in my life like that, but if you don’t (heck, even if you do), then the helplines provided by different organizations in each country are there for you. Speak to someone you trust. Call the helplines. It can and will get better.

I am still on the journey. I may never be fully free of occasional thoughts, but, as a friend reminded me, “they are only thoughts. You don’t have to act on them.”

If you are in Japan and are experiencing suicidal thoughts, you can call the TELL Lifeline in English: https://telljp.com/lifeline/

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