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How You Saved Me From Suicide

This story is about how I have dodged suicide for the past 5 years, and how I did it. I tell it not to scare you, but to inform you of what worked for me. It's not all about deep and meaningful conversations with friends about whether or not I was okay (although they can be of immense help). Sometimes, it's incredibly difficult to both ask the question, and to answer it, which may leave those concerned about someone's well-being confused and unsure of what exactly to do. Sometimes, this only increases the isolation of the sufferer. As you'll see from this story, although my parents, grandmother, best friend and my psychiatrist played a starring role, it was my incidental experiences with literally hundreds of people, from strangers to close friends, that kept me going. You don't have to ask someone if they're okay if you're not comfortable doing that. Ask them to come to the movies, invite them to go rock climbing, shoot them a text message about sport, send them a meme. Treat them like any other human being :)

I urge anyone with suicidal thoughts to seek help immediately, either through Lifeline, BeyondBlue, or a registered professional if you know of one. This story centres around the starring role my psychiatrist played, without him I'd be... I'm not sure. Maybe dead. Likely dead. 

My psychiatrist cried today. Not the big show of emotion that a failed Tinder date elicits, but about 10 minutes into our appointment, as he asked me if I had enough medication to last until I saw him again in three months, he choked up, and a tear or two escaped his eyes. He reigned it in almost immediately, and I pretended like I didn't notice.

As we sat in that small room, the same room I'd been going to for the last 6 years, we silently revelled in the knowledge we'd both saved my life, not for the first time, but hopefully for the last. When I saw Dan* last August, I was yet again merrily traipsing down a path that would bring my life to a very premature end. I've never attempted suicide, and maybe that's why I feel like I have to share what happened today. People who overtly save someone's life, be it dragging them from a burning building, talking them off a ledge, rushing to their house when they've threatened suicide, or grabbing someone before they step in front of a bus, get the plaudits. That isn't the only way, though.

I've saved my own life on two occasions, and it took a great deal of courage and perseverance over a great many months and years. My parents helped me both times, as did my best friends, my grandma, my uncle, my sister, my treating team, and a bunch of people who probably have no idea the role they played. People from the internet, people I met for one night, people from my past, even professionals who told me, unequivocally, I wouldn't recover without being in an inpatient eating disorder unit. Everyone played a part, and there are no small parts in saving a life.

One act, one day, one activity, one phone call can help change everything.

People talk of appreciating life more when they have cheated death, but on both occasions I've not experienced this. Maybe because it's a battle I fight every day, I go to sleep fighting it, and I wake up right in the midst of yet another duel. When you survive a catastrophic car accident, you know, rationally, you're unlikely to get in another one. But my mental health is by no means promised, it could all disappear tomorrow, and I may be thrown right back into the struggle.

There's a lot of talk about helping people with mental illness. RUOK day and other initiatives by BeyondBlue are bringing problems that were once taboo into the mainstream in an attempt to remove the stigma surrounding them. This is fantastic, and the bravery shown by those reaching out and offering help is exactly what it takes to reduce the isolation people suffering from mental illness can feel in society. But hashtags only go so far, and they can never replace the work of the registered professionals who toil behind closed doors, for days/weeks/month/years/decades, fighting with the sufferer, helping them in whatever way they can. This is also true of all the unsung heroes, the parents who accept their child despite flaws, of best friends who accept a one-sided emotional relationship to selflessly help someone through tough periods, of grandmas and sisters and uncles and aunts and daughters and sons. 

Back to my psychiatrist. I first saw Dan in 2010, and in the next seven years I'd go through 12 different psychologists, and I'd have another psychiatrist (a specialist in an area I was struggling with) cut all ties with me without explanation. The majority of my psychologists told me they didn't specialise in my particular ailment and moved me on. But Dan persevered with me, and I put my faith and trust in his ability. I'd drag myself to his office every appointment regardless of my mental state. There'd be times I'd not sleep for days, thinking he'd force me into hospital against my will. There were sessions I'd go in with my hopes sky high, only for them it to be dashed as he kept the medications the same, or told me we'd already hit the dose limit. Sometimes he'd sit opposite me as we discussed withdrawing from an anti-depressant and I felt his pity, and almost remorse, as he described the hell I was about to endure. There were sessions where he glanced at me and told me "you need to be in the hospital now."

When I saw Dan in August of 2016, he said "you are rail thin, your heart is yet again in a bad way, and your liver is reflecting your weight loss. If you do not turn it around in 4 weeks, I will place you in hospital against your will". From February 2016 to August 2016 I knew what I was doing. I wasn't prepared to eat more or reduce my exercise because it caused me too much distress. I was willing to face the consequences of that, and if it meant death, then so be it. I didn't have to make another appointment in 3 weeks, I could have walked out of there, stopped answering my phone, and continued on the increasingly rapid path to destruction.

But I thought about the hundreds of hours my psychiatrist had put in, about my parents coming to sessions and trying to learn everything they can, about them taking me to the movies when I needed an escape, about them handling my inability to do anything domestic or anything at all outside of the bare essentials. About my poor grandma, who worried herself sick over my condition and spent hours with me offering insight and hope. About my best friend, who had been staunchly by my side since 2010 through panic attacks, through the phase when my BMI was 14.5, who nursed me back to health when I was going through horrid withdrawals from Effexor, who told me over and over she'd never leave my side no matter what happened, what I said, what I did. She never left. I thought of my sister, who ate the horrible food I cooked and never complained to me because she knew it'd rock my self-confidence. I thought about my best mate, who could have moved on with his life but kept in touch with me even when he was on the other side of the world, who reigned in his adventurous side to spend time with me sitting on a rock in the sun talking about women and life. Of my other best mate who never left, was always available and would drop anything to help if I asked her. Of all the incidental experiences fuelled by people who cared. Of blokes from my cricket club who never played a game with me, but accepted me and included me nonetheless, without judgement or special treatment. People who treated me like a normal human when I felt like anything but.

They pulled me from the burning building. Support systems are essential.
So I ate. I did exactly what my psychiatrist had written down. I nearly doubled my intake, and I nearly halved how much exercise I was doing. It was awful, I felt horrid, I cried, I experienced terrible digestive problems (and still do), regular panic attacks (still do), and an unending sense of guilt (still do). I didn't put up a picture on the wall and yell "I'm doing this for you!" every morning, I just put my head down and got on with it.

So I saved my own life, but I wasn't the only one. I can never let all those people know just how grateful I am for their help, but such is human nature that I doubt any of them did it for the praise or recognition. Watching my psychiatrist cry today was one of the most beautiful things I've seen or experienced, an entirely unselfish and unguarded moment that only those who haul themselves back from the brink have the privilege of experiencing.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis, please call Lifeline immediately, they can help you! They can point you in the right direction and give you immediate help. Their number is 13 11 14. If your life, or someone elses life is in danger, call 000 immediately, do not hesitate. I've saved someone's life myself by calling the police. 

*Ppseudonym used

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