One of the thoughts I sometimes attempt to comfort myself with when I’m in terrible, unbearable pain is that I can kill myself when the children are older and have left home. Because then it won’t matter. I remember a fellow student at university whose mother killed herself when we were in the second year, shortly after my brother died I seem to recall. It was, I seem to remember, greeted with a certain amount of relief. She had been ill for years and made previous attempts. The family’s attitude seemed to be that she was at peace after a long struggle with a terrible illness which brought her immeasurable pain and had, no doubt, been a ‘mare for everyone else to live with.
Fresca’s mother, as you will have gathered if you watched the video above, shot herself. At an advanced age. An event which did not leave her daughter unmoved. And gave me considerable pause for thought.
Recently, partly I think in response to pictures of M on the beach, Fresca posted about a film, UmbertoD, in which a man was prevented from killing himself by the action of his terrier.
I do wonder whether this had any influence on the particular ideation of my subsequent bout of suicidality which involved making elaborate plans to rehome M on the grounds that nobody would look after her after I was dead and it would be better to ensure she had a good home to go to myself. M is of course an extremely potent symbol for me existing as she does entirely to provide me with the unconditional love and affection I’ve lacked from adult humans. However I now wonder whether there was also a sense in which I wished to get rid of her in case she somehow stopped me from dying, like Flike did his owner in the film.
Now even though I know that, inevitably, I’m fucking them up anyway, it mostly seems the case that having a mother that offs herself when you’re still living at home is probably worse than living with one that’s depressed.
But this of course is very unfair. It makes me angry. I am trapped. How long, how far, must I endure this terrible pain? I am sure that there comes a point when it is too much. When there is no bearing it any longer. I was interested to read recent research which shows emotional and physical pain are processed in the same part of the brain. I’ve had a couple of babies, double pneumonia, walked round on a broken leg, knocked my front tooth out, all without so much as an aspirin. None of this is even in the same town, let alone the same ball-park, as the pain of depression.
So there is a delicate equation. Given that I love my children and want what’s best for them I have to try my best to stay alive. But how far is it reasonable, practical, to expect that to go on? If there was a visible, physical co-relative of the pain – if I was on a hospital bed with intolerable untreatable burns, for instance – it might be easier for others to accept the decision that death would be a gift. But there is no visible commensurability.
Thus it was that I found myself, children despatched to bed, holding a blade over my upper arm ready to etch the words “I want to die” in my flesh. Because the physical pain would distract from the emotional pain. Because it would be, in some small sense, that visual co-relative even if seen only by me. I have, it probably won’t be much of a surprise, self-harmed in the past but not to the extent I was then contemplating.
I didn’t do it. Thanks, M, for pushing your face into mine, for licking my cheeks, for refusing to go away. A terrier is perhaps a self-harmer’s best friend as well as provider of answers to central existential questions. I feel better now. I wouldn’t be mentioning it if I was still suicidal.
I know people are supportive and loving and empathetic and helpful, I know I am not alone, I know my children love and need me. However were I on the hospital bed with the burns this would be seen in a different context.
“Your life may not always be like this” says the shrink. Of course. Never say never. But it is, and it has been. And so I claim the right to end it. And I claim it for everyone whose pain, visible or invisible, is too great to bear.