Trigger Warning: Some of the themes relating to suicide in this article may be triggering

When I started writing these blogs for Bipolar UK it didn’t cross my mind that I would go anywhere near the topic of suicide. It’s too delicate a subject I thought. I haven't spoken about this for a long time. Now I feel the need to write about it. In the process of looking back I thought it was something I had dealt with a long time ago. I hadn’t. I hope this will be my final catharsis.

In my darkest moments

Bipolar disorder is a rollercoaster ride of extreme highs and lows. When I'm at my worst I feel like I'm being dragged down into a black hole. In my darkest moments, when I crash completely, that is when the whole box of tricks goes flying out the window. It scares the hell out of me. I've been there before. I know my default position. I don’t want to live.

I was seventeen and had already been diagnosed with manic depression (now more appropriately named bipolar). My life was a living hell. Intolerable. It didn’t matter how often I was told I would get well I just didn’t believe it. I was convinced it was forever. I needed a way out and there was only one that my original mind could think of. Had I had any faith in anything at all I was being told I am almost certain what happened next would never have happened. But depressed ears are deaf to anything remotely positive. The suicidal thoughts that invaded my mind are not exactly known for their patience.

What I did could have been fatal had I not been found by someone. That someone was my brother. I have wished to this day it was an experience I had never put him through. Did I know he was coming home?  Consciously I think not, but maybe somewhere in my subconscious. That’s another matter. I was rushed  to hospital in an ambulance.  A horrendous experience in itself. Was it a cry for help from an emotionally beat up kid who felt he couldn’t face life anymore?  In retrospect I think it was. Did I mean it at that split second in time it took to make the decision? Undoubtedly I did. However, as determined as I thought I was, it seems I wasn’t determined enough. Cries for help can sometimes go horribly wrong though.

Demons that take over

I know on a very intimate basis the feelings that drove me to those extremes. Even now when I'm enveloped in depression I can still hear the voices telling me I am completely worthless and I agree. Demons that take over my soul pretending to be my friends in order to gain entrance just to make me feel worse. All of those negative feelings queuing up behind me baying in unison that my life is not worth living. For a near fatal moment I believe them. Depression can be a very lonely house to live in.

I can see now what a terrible waste of a life it would have been. I have indeed experienced some terrible episodes of mania that rendered me out of control. Some periods of deep depression that were so torturous I thought the end of the world had arrived. But they have been in the minority. In the main I've sustained a trajectory that has allowed me to function in a normal way. In spite of my mood swings, or maybe because of them, I have become a very successful songwriter. I've had an exciting, very productive and rewarding life. The bipolar episodes are what they are. Extremely difficult, at times almost impossible to endure. But nothing is impossible. The disorder is part of me. I have learned to live with bipolar and it has certainly learned to live with me. It has made me who I am. I'm OK with that.

Having so nearly taken my life I often think of the people who have. No one will ever know what potential they left unfulfilled. What they might have achieved. What drove them to it. Whatever it was it turned out to be the saddest and most heartbreaking of endings. There are always so many unanswered questions.

In my case no one saw it coming. Not even me! It wasn’t planned. It was spontaneous despair. I shudder when I think I could have done that to my family and friends. Would they ever have recovered? Would they ever have forgiven me? I have a great deal of compassion for the families and friends who are left behind wondering what they did wrong. How they could have missed the signs. Maybe there were no signs. There often are not. People who are fully intent on taking their own lives are usually the masters of disguise.

At the time I heard people say I was selfish. A word often used to refer to suicide. Back then it made me very angry, it still does and it always will. The illness didn’t allow me to think of anyone else. It would have been too big a diversion. I was locked inside a bubble with only myself for company and only one way to go. My depression is blind to any reality. The dos and don’ts of survival completely disappear. Everyone completely disappears. An act of this nature needs total single-mindedness. There is no easy route out of hell.

Talk about it

More recently however I did discover an alternative route that works for me. It’s called ‘talk about it’. Not just to anyone but to those I trust implicitly. I went into therapy and group therapy. I had reached the point when I understood I had to tell someone how and what I was feeling. I couldn’t carry the burden on my own any longer. Now I don’t have to.

After all these years I can  finally trust myself not to tear apart the hearts of the ones I love the most in this world. My desire to end my life long gone. My anger has dissipated, my bitterness has lost its bite, my sense of abandonment largely a thing of the past. I find I value myself a great deal more than I used to. Things can and do change for the better.

Everyday I thank whoever is up there I survived. It really would have been a waste of a bloody life.

The Bee Gees got it right

Many times I have enjoyed the euphoria of hypomania but all too often it has been followed by the chaos of a full blown manic state. From there inevitably I would encounter the agony of depression by entering the gates of hell without knowing where the exit sign was. Throughout all of this adversity there is one thing that has remained constant. I survived.

Survival requires a great deal of endurance and no small amount of courage. I needed all of that courage just to stay alive. That was hard to do when all of my instincts were telling me to do the opposite.

an all-encompassing obsession that is driven by total despair

In 2015 I had such a ferocious depressive episode that it became necessary for me to see my psychiatrist Judith, at least once a week and to talk to her most days.  One question was always top of the agenda, 'Do you think you are safe?' She was referring to my suicidal thoughts which dominated every conversation. The same question always elicited the same answer. I wouldn't do it to my wife, I wouldn't do it to my brother. That response was a great relief to her. She knew that if I was planning to take my own life I would certainly not be considering the feelings of others. It just doesn't work that way. 

Others don’t come into the equation of the hopelessness that is suicide. Contrary to common opinion it is not a selfish act. It is an all-encompassing obsession that is driven by total despair.  It’s not something I would talk about either. It would be my secret.  Suicide is a silent killer and comes well camouflaged. It is like a thief in the night.  It never advertises itself.  It manipulates and it seduces, and when it seems there is no other way out of the darkness it is no longer a last resort. It can become the only resort. It can be, and too often is, irresistible.

The darkness is never ending

The tragedy of suicide in bipolar is that the people who take their own lives during depression would undoubtedly have, by the very nature of the illness, recovered.  But they find themselves unable to wait for what they see as a myth because they don’t believe it will ever happen. The darkness is never ending. Nothing can convince them there is a light at the end of the tunnel that isn’t the light of an oncoming train. Living becomes untenable. That is when it’s over. I know because that’s what I went through.

I refused to believe my psychiatrist, my therapist, in fact anybody who had anything positive to say. I was playing by my rules. Rules that were deliberately self-destructive.  That's the illness at its worst. At its most aggressive. When every shred of hope has disappeared. When everything, as the renowned American playwright Eugene O'Neil wrote, 'seems like a long day's journey into night'. If only they could have hung on. Valuable, productive lives would not have been prematurely ended. Family and friends would not be going through the most terrible grieving process of them all. I was fortunate.

Against all odds I had won

The times I was convinced I would  never get well again were amongst the darkest I have ever experienced. There are few things as painful and debilitating as a complete lack of hope and an overpowering sense of helplessness. I doubted I had the mental resources to even remotely function. Every shred of confidence I had ever possessed had disappeared. 

I did hang on and I did recover and during that recovery I had a revelation. Suffocated by the confines of depression, what I had conveniently pushed to one side and selectively forgotten, was there had never been a time when I hadn’t beaten it.

Seduced by negativity I had decided to ignore that and disregard there was a future worth fighting for, a life worth cherishing. That is what depression does. Over time it had been a battle, but to my eternal surprise somehow I was still here. Against all odds I had won. Against all odds I had survived. But was it against all odds? Or was it that innate desire I have to live? I suspect it was the latter.

through all the suffering and all the mayhem I have survived

Over a period of many years certain songs have become lodged in the memory bank of my life. They often have some significant meaning for me. It might be a time, a place, a person. This happens to a lot of us. Music is the backdrop to our lives and it certainly is to mine. I'm a songwriter.

For a number of reasons the Bee Gees ‘Stayin Alive’,  as soon as I heard it, became one of those songs. It has  been on my playlist ever since. It is a great song by anybody’s standards and as with any really great song it has no weaknesses. Lyrics and melody are a perfect marriage. The performance is flawless.

For me, being a songwriter and living with bipolar, it’s all in the title. The words that, after all those years of doubt, I finally believe. Through all the suffering and all the mayhem I have survived and by doing so I have very much stayed alive. The Bee Gees got it right.