To mark the occasion every year, I share some of my own personal experiences with suicide. This year, my message is a message of hope. It’s a message of survival, coping and recovery.
When considering suicide, it's hard to find any trace of hope. But I assure you, it is there, hiding in plain sight. And when you find it, it sparks you back to life.
My experience of depression was debilitating. I stopped eating, sleeping, showering, attending classes. I walked from point A to point B in a trance. I paid no attention to traffic lights, assignments, deadlines, my health. I just didn't care.
My depression brought with it thoughts of self-harm and suicide. For years I had punished myself for signs of weakness and failure internally. By the time I was 18 I needed to externalise that self-hatred. I turned to hurting myself as a way of coping with the internal pain.
Shortly before my 19th birthday I began treatment for my illness. But while some of my symptoms became regulated, my sense of self remained critical to the point of punishment. I continued to harm myself secretly, not telling my psychiatrist, counsellor or my family.
This is where it starts to turnaround. This is where I find hope. This is where I learn what I needed to survive.
As my long, slow road to recovery continued through counselling, psychiatry services and medication, I began to realise that I needed to self-motivate if I was to reconstruct my life. I needed to find hope.
Hope came from finding a way to celebrate life.
As I was sorting through boxes of old mementos - letters, photos, leaflets, tickets, postcards - I decided to make use of it all, and also give myself a hobby. I decided to start a scrapbook.
Scrapbooking would be a way to detail my life, show me what I had achieved, what I had to be thankful for, that I was loved and cared for, even when I couldn't see it.
Rather than hurting myself, I had another way to channel those feelings. Instead of scratching or cutting, I could cut up old magazines, stick them into place and make a collage. I could glue and stick my life back together.
The time I spent working away at my little life scrapbook was time where my head was clear and calm. It felt rewarding to finish a page, take a step back and admire that I had made my life - something I considered so banal - look pretty.
By 2013 cutting and sticking wasn’t enough for me. I had spent the year struggling with my mental health. I had lost friendships, relationships, my sense of place in the world. I needed something new to free my mind from consuming negative thoughts. I needed to compose.
Expressive writing means to put into words how you feel and what you’re going through. It can help bring healing in difficult situations, such as mental health difficulties and suicidal thoughts.
And so this blog was born. I had no intention of making any of my writings public before this. I was used to keeping a mental health journal to chart my bad days and my moods, but this was a chance to use what I was creating to help more than myself. I could find a solution to a difficult situation or challenge my negative thoughts through my writing. Reflecting allows for learning. But I could also write about my experiences, learnings and feelings and inspire others in the process.
Expressive writing has become one of my go-to coping mechanisms. I still scrapbook and use other creative tools to help me cope with my illness. I go to my bedroom at 9pm each night and colour for an hour before I go to sleep.
Finding my inner-creative has helped me to develop the confidence, self-worth and supports that were necessary for me to overcome suicidal and self-harm ideation.
It lead me to hope; that little knowledge in the back of my head that I am not a waste of space, that things can and do get better, that my experiences can empower me to help others who feel as lost and alone as I once did.
Once you find hope, no matter where or how, I've learnt that it's not so easily lost again. Where you find hope might not be where I found it; in a box of mementos, an empty sketch book and a tube of Pritt Stick. But I promise you it is there, waiting for you to uncover the spark of joy it brings back to your life. Don't give up.
If you have been affected by any of the issues discussed in this post, please visit my Getting Help page.