This post is about my response to a programme I saw on the BBC last night called Surviving Suicide, not information on coping with suicide or potential suicide. If that’s what you’re looking for, google should be able to help you out. If you’re in the UK, you can watch the programme online for the next few days, if you want to.
Ok, on with the post.
On the whole I thought this programme did reasonably well. It showed stories from people who had themselves attempted suicide and from people whose relatives had succeeded. It covered a range of mental health problems. It made the point that mental health problems are not always obvious, and that sufferers themselves may not realise they’re ill. It tried to take a broadly positive approach to the subject, stressing that with the right treatment even quite seriously unwell people can rebuild (or build) their lives.
The programme did seem to have a certain bias towards celebrities, even if they weren’t exactly ‘a-listers’ – Trisha Goddard, Melinda Messenger and a ‘rock photographer’ all featured prominently. No doubt this was partly an attempt to maintain viewer interest, and it does go to show that anyone can be ill, but it also runs the risk of presenting a warped view of the situation. No matter how spectacular my recovery, I’m never going to be invited to a record shop to sign copies of my book of photographs of The Jam, and the same is true for almost everyone.
The problem is that, without such obvious successes, it’s a lot harder to persuade yourself that your recovery is worth the effort. Over the next few weeks I’ll be judging my recovery by things like finding the courage to leave the flat in daylight, and the ability to touch a door-handle without having to scrub my hands with detergent afterwards. Doing both those things will be a real achievement for me, and they’ll cost me a lot of effort, but at the other end of all that effort, all I’ll be able to say to myself is, ‘Well, now you’re marginally less of a pathetic freak than you were a few weeks ago.’
Not all the participants in the documentary were celebrities. One of the “ordinary” folk worked in Starbucks, and emphasised how his recovery was based on the support of family, friends, colleagues etc – things that are far more accessible for most people. I actually empathised with him quite a bit, partly because his descriptions of depressive and suicidal thinking coincided fairly closely with my own experiences, and partly because … well … well, dammit all, because he was kind of cute, if you must know…..
But even he (sorry, I can’t remember his name) ended up doing a sponsored cycle ride across the far east to raise money for charity. Of course doing that made him the perfect poster-boy for this programme. As well as a documentary, it was also trying to encourage people to sign-up for Sport Relief, so the combination of charitable intentions and the triumph of hope over adversity must have made him seem almost irresistible to the programme-makers.
The programme’s emphasis on hope was certainly understandable, and probably a good thing as far as most people are concerned. But for me it just made obvious all the reasons why I’ll never get to be a poster-boy like him. Not only because I’ll never have an overseas charity bike ride adventure (I can’t ride a bike more than a few yards, and being abroad tends to make me rabidly paranoid), but also because I just don’t believe in the triumph of hope over adversity.
I’ve been round this course too many times. I know the best I’ll get is a temporary reprieve in between two major episodes. For me it’s not a question of “recovering” from my depression, or even of “learning to live with it”, it’s a question of finding the strength for an endless battle against it. And the best I can hope for is that every now and again I might manage to feel a bit less shit than normal. The programme seemed to be saying, “There’s always hope for a ‘normal’ life”, but the thing is there isn’t, not for me.