Now that Christmas and New Years are over I am relieved. It can be an excruciatingly difficult time for many people, including myself, since the essence of Christmas is about togetherness, family and joy. Some don't have a warm family to spend time with, others will have no one to celebrate with and instead their only company will be disturbing and incessant suicidal thoughts that seem to intensify at this time of year. It is small wonder then that help lines go into overdrive to prepare themselves for the deluge of callers who are really in dire need of talking to someone. After dealing with Christmas, New Year's day is imminent and inevitably people tend to reflect on their lives. Maybe some will feel despondent as the negative narratives intensify; and rather than face the year and all the expectation that is heaped upon it some tragically succumb to the suicidal ideation and attempt to or/and end their lives.
This is why there is no shame in admitting that you feel suicidal because it could save your life. You might not have an empathetic friend, family or therapist to confide in, but there is always the help line, it's anonymous and 24/7 manned by volunteers who give up their time and want to listen. You can always hang up and keep on trying until you hear that kind soothing voice you crave inside; and now the Samaritans is free, which makes it accessible to everyone in the UK. It doesn't matter where you are in the world either, if you have access to the internet calling the landline help line number costs a few pence. No one has to go through such crippling and disturbing mental torment alone.
Self portrait (pencil on A3 paper, date unknown)
Since 2013, six months after my second son was born, I decided to tackle my mental issues alone even though I was recovering from postpartum psychosis. Currently I have no psychiatrist, no mental health social worker and I do not talk to my GP about anything mentally related either. This is because I have lost faith in the mental health services, the care that I seek doesn't exist, and where I am currently based there is little by way of mental health care provision. I am also not on medication. After 23 years of knowing my husband I have stopped talking to him about my mental woes because he doesn't know what to say anymore. And if I talk to my parents they either get upset are become reticent and laconic. I don't blame anyone, I'm isolated and sometimes I need help when the torrent of negativity starts coming at me like an angry tide with sharp teeth.
Untitled (Acrylic ink on canvas paper, size A4, date unknown)
As the festive season commenced I resisted calling the help line, even though I knew I had to talk to someone. This inexplicably dark and heavy period in my life has been protracted although punctuated with tiny shards of light.
Self Portrait (pencil on paper, size A3, 1999)
It was the day after Christmas, in the early hours, that I finally called the Samaritans. I wasn't sure why I called at that precise moment, my voice was strained because I had been bottling things up for weeks thinking it was better to be stoic and struggle on like everyone else does. The longer I spoke the more emotional I became and very soon I was sobbing and the snot was dripping from my nose. I kept on apologising but the man, who was called David, was kind and patient. And that's all I needed to know that someone in the universe, albeit a stranger, cared. Talking helped to flush out the mental debris that was clogging up my mind and skewing my perspective. The memories that haunted and loomed, but served no purpose, and all the other stuff that stalks you, I wanted to be rid of it all.
The following day, I felt better, less encumbered, I took the children out to a butterfly park and was able to face the world and complete small tasks because at the moment that's all I can manage; and that's ok - it won't always be like this. It's the holidays, I am alone with the children in a strange country far from friends and family and all that is familiar, missing London, trying to work, to write, to make art, bogged down with domestic chores and mental health issues that temporarily dissipate but eventually return.
The Samaritans always ask me at some point during the call: 'Do you feel suicidal?' And I usually reply, 'Yes', because often I feel I cannot go on; want to run away; believe that none of the work I do makes a difference and that the children are better off without me. The asking of this question is so important, delivered in a non-judgmental tone. As you try to answer by the end of the conversation you realise that you actually want to live and face tomorrow. This is why there is no shame in feeling suicidal or talking about it either, for people like me it's habitual, but society makes us feel ashamed by an urge that has become the norm. I believe suicidal ideation is our brain's way of saying: 'I am not coping, I can't see a way out.' Suppressing such thoughts makes them more horrifyingly real. The urge will pass if you allow it too, like an angry storm it does not last forever - the sun eventually does come out.
And I do think it's worth sticking around to see fluffy clouds drifting across a clear blue sky, the warmth of summer, the crimson of autumn, the crisp cold of winter, and the first buds of spring.It's worth sticking around because life matters - everyone's does.