“I Had No Idea Anything Was Wrong…” by Richard Wiseman
Topic: Warning Signs
At the end of August 2008 I tried to kill myself. Shocking thing to read and it should be an embarrassing thing to write down really, but it isn’t. It’s a miracle I’m sitting here writing this, too. I took thirty four Co-Codamol tablets and washed them down with a bottle of wine and went to sleep in the spare room. In the morning I was still alive, amazingly, but I was in a very bad way physically.
I won’t go into how my wife became aware, the trip to the hospital with my children in tow and all of that. Suffice to say that when the doctors did the math for my weight, height and amount of Paracetamol in my body they didn’t rate my chances. I was put on a small ward full of dying people. I was linked to a Parvalax drip and left in my own clothes for three days. People died around me, but I got better.
How or why I got better and walked away with no damage to my body at all is either down to genetics or a miracle. I choose the latter.
Now the thing about suicide attempts is that there are really only two kinds. There are those who do something then tell someone, the ‘cry for help’ category, and then there are those who seem normal and they just turn up dead; their attempts on the whole succeed. The latter don’t leave notes, no-one notices that they are heading that way and there are no warning signs that anything is wrong.
A brief history of the events leading to my suicide attempt is, for the most part, not very dramatic and so shows that some events in a person’s life can be more significant to that person than they appear to others.
My story is that I had been teaching at a school so badly run that it was extremely stressful, but that wasn’t the reason I ended up on the road to self destruction. The turning point was when I dealt with a shocking and abusive incident at the school and, according to the private occupational psychotherapist I saw afterwards, it cracked something inside. I had time off directly after the incident, but the county occupational therapist I saw for one session didn’t think there was anything wrong, so back to work I went. A year and a half after the incident I cracked and took a nose dive. I’d kept all my turbulence under the surface and limped along doing my best to keep going.
Again I won’t detail the abusive incident, the lessons learnt or how it led to me being stitched up by the school I was working at and paid off to leave. They were afraid I was unstable, in spite of my seeing five psychiatrists, who all declared me completely sane and returned me to work.
Those five Psychiatrists, seen over six months, declared me sane and cited some form of stress related PTSD. I can safely say I’m the sanest man you know of because I’ve been interrogated thoroughly by some very eminent psychiatrists and they found nothing; always makes me laugh, that.
The point is that why did no-one notice I was going to self destruct? There were no warning signs. There never are with cases like mine. I don’t fit the ‘cry for help’ category. No-one knew what was going on in my head and I simply made up my mind, worked it out, timed it and, leaving no note or explanation, aimed to end my life; simple and plain I wanted out.
I’m not supposed to be here. I shouldn’t have made it, but I survived. Unlike my cousin, who just over a year ago hanged himself, with no note and no warning; found, horrifyingly, by his father, my uncle; unlike the sister of a friend whom the police found in her car in a remote spot; unlike the boyfriend of a maths teacher I knew years ago; unlike so many who look fine on the outside and crack on the inside, but show no sign that anything is wrong.
There are many people who for one reason or another think that life isn’t worth living. They are of course wrong. Life is worth living. It’s just that for some people something breaks inside and they can’t cope with the emotional or psychological pain. They determine to end their lives and generally succeed. Afterwards the people around them ask themselves what went wrong. The people around them are also angry with the suicide and angry with themselves. They wonder if they could have stopped it. They wonder endlessly if they can think of any sign that might have helped them stop the person. The answer is that usually for the determined suicide there are no signs, and that’s how they succeed.
My wife was shocked that I had tried to kill myself. She’s a caring loving woman and she didn’t understand why she hadn’t noticed anything was wrong. Of course she asked me why I could be so heartless as to want to leave her and the kids and I had to tell her that I wasn’t in my right mind at the time; that it seemed to make sense at the time; she still finds that hard to understand, but I told her that, much as I love her and the kids, I had got to a point where for some erroneous reasons I couldn’t stand myself.
Since August 2008 I’ve been faced by lots of people who care about me asking why? They all say that they wish they had seen the warning signs. I’m here to tell anyone who has known any suicide that the fact is that there are no warning signs on the road to genuine and determined self destruction.
The relatives and friends of determined suicides are usually left saying “I had no idea anything was wrong…there were no warning signs.”
I’m going to add a postscript to this somewhat grim topic and I tender my apologies to anyone who finds it incongruous, either because of their personal experiences with suicide or because it seems to take too lightly the topic of this post. I defend my postscript with the argument that if I had not taken myself and life too seriously the events relating to me, described above, would not have taken place.
In the brilliant film ‘The Odd Couple’, the original version, starring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemon, based on the brilliant Neil Simon play, the character Felix has turned up at a poker game at Oscar’s flat. Felix is suicidal and imparts to one of the poker players that he has taken a whole bottle of pills; the others, with the exception of Oscar, are in uproar. One poker player shouts ‘He took a whole bottle of pills, Oscar!” To which Oscar replies ‘They could be vitamins; he might be the healthiest man in the room!”
Whenever I feel shame and guilt over my actions I think of this and it makes me laugh. I suppose you could say that’s what writers are there for; to help us make sense of the world and share experiences so that common understanding is spread amongst the human race. Let’s Write On…