The Mighty Logo

We Need to Talk About the 'Unthinkable'

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

It’s been two and a half years now since my mum died. Many people know that. It was suicide, but I’m not sure how many people actually know that part, mainly because it’s not something they talk about, or something I feel I’m allowed to say out loud. It feels like something never to be mentioned. Dark matter to be kept in the dark — inside my head — saturated in a sticky mix of secrecy, sadness and shame.

Maybe it’s a slur on my mum’s name to reveal the truth? A betrayal of sorts to talk about the nature of her death and the fact that she felt like she couldn’t go on? Especially when she prided herself on being so strong. Some people say that suicide is “weak.” I’m aware of that, and that’s the last thing I’d want anyone to think about my mum, because she wasn’t. She was one of the strongest people I knew — a single mum and a survivor who struggled by in life, but always did her best for me and my sisters. When it came to genetics, she wasn’t dealt the best hand in life, it has to be said. Diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) she struggled with mood swings from as far back as I can remember. She was unpredictable and prone to depression. And then there was the drinking. But her BPD diagnosis was something else she chose to keep in the dark, along with the suicidal thoughts she finally succumbed to at the age of 60.

In the end, her secrets and her shame left her vulnerable — vulnerable, misunderstood and ultimately, dead in the most devastating way.

I’ve surprised myself by how strong I’ve managed to be over the past two years or so. Not in the immediate aftermath of Mum’s suicide, no. But as time’s gone on…  Maybe I have more of her in me than I thought, I wonder sometimes, and that’s bittersweet of course, considering her fate. And then I remember — maybe it’s the medicine? Anti-depressants have certainly helped me cope since it all happened, especially when I fell into a suicidal state myself soon after —insomnia, depression and the most terrible anxiety you can imagine.

I don’t really talk about it anymore. What happened with Mum — mainly because I don’t want to recall the details for fear of bringing them all back to the surface and not being able to sleep (or breath) again. But also because my instincts tell me that it’s not something people really want to hear about. I keep it locked away and buried in the back of my mind, like a dark, damp room you don’t really want to go into. I’m aware it’s there, always so painfully aware, but it’s one I try to avoid even thinking about, unless I really have to.

I wouldn’t wish It on anyone. Going into that room. Not even for a second. So, I keep it firmly locked, and try to remain upbeat. People like that.

Let’s face it, when all’s said and done, nobody really wants to hear about suicide. To many it’s unthinkable. To many — unspeakable. But isn’t that a big part of the problem?

Nobody thinks that suicide could become part of their lives, or that someone they love is capable of “the unthinkable.” Nobody really wants to speak about the possibility of suicide — least of all the person who’s actually having the thoughts. They keep it inside where (they think) it should be, and try to remain upbeat — pleasant and perfectly fine. People like that.

Today, more than ever, we’re programmed to strive for (shallow) perfection — an image we can present to the world, which shows we have it all together — on the outside at least. A hundred smiling selfies, varnished in “Valencia” (or whatever filter they’re using on Instagram these days.”  There’s no room for depression, and even if it’s there, the last thing we want to do is put it out on show for the world to see. Nobody wants to see that, or hear about it. That’s what we tell ourselves as we delete that dark and heartfelt post and opt for something cheerier instead to put out there on social media — something safe — something fake. Another selfie, perhaps? A bit of Valencia #livingmybestlife

The truth is, there are those who feel like they can’t manage another day in this world, and yet they smile and pretend there isn’t anywhere else they’d rather be, than right there in that picture perfect selfie. Smile — snap — 60 likes.

Behind the smiles of so many people lie troubled souls, alone and afraid to speak out for fear of rejection — of being shunned, judged and creating a scene from which people recoil.  Eyes look out into a world, which keeps on turning, and yet their thoughts have turned to escape — of no longer wanting to be there. And nobody knows. To many, it’s unthinkable; to many, unspeakable.

People analyze the last selfies of those who’ve taken their lives, and see no signs. They’re shocked. They looked happy. On the outside at least. Of course, depression is an invisible illness, unless we feel able to speak out, and let others into the private worlds inside our heads. Nobody wanted the truth — at least
that’s what the deceased thought. The truth is ugly — something not even 100 filters could fix… And now nothing can.

Before my mum’s suicide, that subject was always something far away — something unthinkable. But now it’s something I think about every single day.

It’s something which hangs in my head like a heavy question mark no matter where or what I’m doing. And yet I still smile out from selfies and pretend that I’m fine, or at least getting there. People like that.

But it has to change and that begins with talking, sharing my story and that of my mum who can no longer speak for herself.

It’s time to open up and actually think about suicide — speak about it and bring to light a subject which is so often kept in the dark — inside the heads of so many who think that’s where it should stay, shrouded in so much secrecy, sadness and shame like that awful back room in my mind. Now that room is open — not fully, but the door is slightly ajar, as I share my story and speak my truth. The air is circulating, the light is finally starting to come in — just a tiny fragment, but enough to see. Some clarity. People can peer in if they want to, and we can even sit there for a little while — confront the truth and breath the air together.

I am a suicide loss survivor and it’s something I thought I’d never say, not in a million years. But it’s the truth — my truth and there’s certainly more to come.

It’s time to make the unthinkable, thinkable — the unspeakable, speakable — speak the truth and help end the stigma of suicide today.

Getty image by Tetiana Garkusha

Originally published: September 17, 2021
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home