For World Suicide Prevention Day, Lizzie, an expert by experience and Orri Guest Speaker, shares her experience of suicide in eating disorder recovery.
A note from Orri: We recognise that this may be difficult for some of our readers, so we are going to ask you to exercise your self-care in deciding if this is the right time for you to be reading this…by that we mean: is today the right day? Is this the right point in your day? Is this the right point in your recovery? We encourage you to notice if you need support in reading this blog. Sometimes having someone alongside you is helpful so you can discuss thoughts or feelings as they arise. If this feels like it might be useful think about who you might ask to be there for you.
As always, please remember that you set the pace. Knowing what you can manage and supporting yourself in that is essential in taking care of yourself. Stop reading if you recognise you have read enough or if you notice feelings that are being awoken. Employ your self-care activities. Reach out with comments, questions or observations. We are always glad to hear from you.
My depression was a manipulative liar, and one of the things it regularly told me was that I didn’t deserve to be alive. Having an eating disorder and battling chronic illnesses was a recipe for a miserable and unfulfilling life. It was a combination of trying to live by such rigid rules that gave me such a restrictive, limited lifestyle, along with the mental torture inflicted if I dared to challenge it, that made me start to lose hope. I felt so low, so lost, so helpless. I felt unworthy. I felt like a failure. I felt so totally undeserving of all the love and support my family and friends were giving me. I felt like a burden. I felt like a drain – they were constantly putting up with my tears, my anger, my ever-growing list of demands and rules, and listening to my constant depressive thoughts.
“These thoughts had been on loop for months with no sign of reducing.”
I couldn’t see a way ‘through’ this fog, or a way out. The way ‘through’ people were trying to guide me to was making me feel so depressed and not wanting to be here. My brain was constantly planning ways to die, ways to harm myself, or even planning my funeral. When I was trying to study and write notes from textbooks, I found myself writing out plans for my funeral instead. These thoughts were just on loop and it felt like nothing would make them shut up apart from acting on them. I felt stuck and trapped by my own brain. And how can you escape something that’s inside of you?
I don’t quite remember the moment when I decided I wanted to end it. It was the middle of winter; it was cold, dark, and I felt like a burden to everyone and waste of space. These thoughts had been on loop for months with no sign of reducing. I was so sad I couldn’t function, I couldn’t get up, I couldn’t work, I could barely hold a conversation. I was lost (physically and mentally), I hated myself, I hated my surroundings, I hated the mental torture going on in my head, I hated how hard everything was, I hated myself and I hated my life.
“The emotions I felt were so intense, so real, so raw, so painful. I felt like they would never end and would increase and go up and up and up until I exploded.”
I was using food and my eating disorder to try to numb myself, but that wasn’t working. The antidepressants from my doctor weren’t working. Talking to people wasn’t working. It seemed like nothing was working. Nothing works when the voices in your head are so loud and the numbness so strong that nothing can drown them out. The emotions I felt were so intense, so real, so raw, so painful. I felt like they would never end and would increase and go up and up and up until I exploded. I felt like I was falling into a black hole that no one could save me from. And who would even want to save me anyway? So then I tried to end things. And luckily, it didn’t work.
“What I didn’t realise at the time, was that yes, I did want to be alive, but no, I didn’t want to be alive living in my current state. I didn’t want to end my life, I wanted to end my suffering.”
I thought I wanted it to work, I thought I wanted to die. What I didn’t realise at the time, was that yes, I did want to be alive, but no, I didn’t want to be alive living in my current state. I didn’t want to end my life, I wanted to end my suffering.
I’d been ill for so long, I’d forgotten what wellness felt like. I thought that my mental state was permeant; I was just a ‘depressed’ person, that was my identity now, and that’s just how my brain worked. Change felt impossible when I was too tired and too low to do anything. How was I meant to ‘get better’ when I could barely get dressed in the morning? How was I meant to be able to ‘talk about my feelings’ when I couldn’t even understand them myself? It seemed impossible, until it happened.
I don’t quite know how, or when, but after that day, slowly, the fog started to lift.
- I stepped back from other commitments; I gave myself some time off to process these feelings rather than trying to carry on as normal. I decided I needed to allow myself time and space to heal
- I cried (hard, quickly, and regularly)
- I talked (to anyone and everyone who would listen to me)
- I wrote in my journal about anything and everything (some days it was simply writing ‘I feel nothing’ over and over again, until I eventually began to feel something)
- I listened to music. Sometimes it was sad music I could cry too, sometimes it was cheesy 90’s pop music from my school discos that made me remember happier times
- I followed lots of mental health Instagram accounts and connected with people who felt the same as I did
- I read books about depression (‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ by Matt Haig and ‘It’s Not Okay to Feel Blue’ by Scarlett Curtis were amazing)
- I found things that made me feel free – like going for walks in the countryside, going for long drives in my car, or doing yoga
- I started to accept my depression. Accept the fact I was sad, accept that I wasn’t going to recover overnight, accept that this illness wasn’t my fault, but it was my responsibility to deal with it and try to get better. Once I stopped fighting it, it started to feel less suffocating
- I allowed myself to feel sad and spent (a lot) of days wrapped in my duvet watching cheesy films
- I decorated my room of times when I felt happy which acted as a constant reminder that this sadness wasn’t permanent
- I created goals for the future – I looked for places I wanted to travel too, courses I wanted to study, careers I wanted to have. All things that I wouldn’t get to do if I gave up
- I made small, teeny tiny goals for myself – at the start this was just making sure I got up and showered every day, then it progressed to bigger goals like seeing friends, or restarting hobbies. I think the important thing here is being honest with yourself. Meet yourself where you’re at. Don’t set goals to go on holiday or get a new hobby if you’re struggling to do the basics (like get out of bed in the morning). Don’t expect yourself to get better overnight.
- I challenged my thoughts. My depression said I wanted to die, but what did I want? What was the rationale and reasoning behind these thoughts? What would be the implications if I did? This was the hardest part. But as I spent more time with my friends and family, made sure my environment was safe and comfortable, and removed stressors and triggers from my life, I started to feel less overwhelmed. The love and support from my family became louder than the negative self-hatred. The connection I was forming with myself became stronger than the connection with these negative thoughts
- I tried to improve my self-talk and self-image. It was so cheesy, but I wrote down things I liked about myself, and that other people liked about me and I stuck it on my wall. When my brain said ‘you’re worthless, you’re useless, you don’t deserve to be here’, I’d challenge this with ‘well my friend says I’m caring, I’m kind, and I’m strong, and who do I want to believe? This demon that’s been in my head for years, or a friend I’ve known my whole life?’ This looks so strange written down, but it helped me to put my thoughts in perspective. They’re just thoughts, that’s all they are. They don’t have to become actions. The more you challenge them, the quieter they become
Initially, I didn’t talk about it because I didn’t want to worry people, I didn’t want to depress them or give them anything else to worry about when they led such busy lives. But silence kills and talking saves lives. My friend said to me ‘I’d rather listen to your problems than to your obituary. I’d rather write a reply to your text than write a speech for your funeral’. And that really hit me in the feels.
“To break the narrative and the stigma, we need to talk, we need to be honest, we need to open up and let the feelings out and the hope of recovery in.”
Experiencing suicidal thoughts isn’t a personal failure, its just a symptom of an illness. But suicide is only a taboo subject because we don’t talk about it. To break the narrative and the stigma, we need to talk, we need to be honest, we need to open up and let the feelings out and the hope of recovery in. Even if you feel like a burden, you feel like people don’t care, you feel like you don’t matter – its just your thoughts and your mental illness lying to you. You ARE worthy, you DO matter, these problems aren’t forever, and more importantly, there is ALWAYS someone there to listen to you (be it a friend, a family member, or someone from a helpline). You are never as alone as you feel. And I promise, things can, and will get better, if you give them chance.
A note from Orri: We are so grateful to Lizzie for sharing her experience of suicide for World Suicide Prevention Day. Please take some time to reflect on how this may have touched you and take the necessary steps to take care of yourself. We understand both the pain and the impact suicide and thoughts of suicide raise, both for the person experiencing it directly, and for those around it. Thank you for joining us in creating this space to consider this sensitive, but important issue.
In an emergency:
Call 999 or visit your local GP