First published at Huffington Post on September 10, 2012.
Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. If you weren’t aware, worry not. If you have a pulse, you’re doing your part to celebrate. There was a time not too long ago where I wasn’t planning on being around for the occasion.
I am a suicide survivor.
I’d love to say that this honorific comes from an unfortunately spontaneous moment in my adolescence following an F in biology, but the incident in question happened nearly two years ago. Despite a happy family life and a rapidly growing career in media, I wanted out.
On December 9, 2010, I went to a public washroom, downed a container of pills and counted down what I thought were my final hours. Tomorrow was never supposed to come.
Though I didn’t become one of the 4,000 deaths by suicide in Canada that year, I came close. My overdose put me in critical care for several weeks, comatose, and I needed to be repeatedly resuscitated after four cardiac arrests. I was dead for 90 minutes.
This wasn’t a spur of the moment decision. It was planned — for a couple of weeks, in fact. In the time leading up to my attempt, I knew when and how I was going to do it. Regardless, I spent time with family, friends and co-workers, not to mention making national television and radio appearances. No one knew anything was wrong. No one was supposed to.
Surviving an attempt has its own difficulties. In addition to dealing with the emotional issues that led to the decision, I was forced to deceive those I cared about as to the reason for my hospitalization.
My decision to reveal this was rooted in my frustration at society’s stigma towards those with mental illness and the lack of understanding about suicide. Sure, there are risk factors for suicide attempts, but the urge to die and the willpower to act on it can fall upon anyone. Rich or poor, black or white, male or female, university educated or high school drop-out.
For me, a white, middle-class male with a university education, a loving family and a good job, most would assume suicide was the last thing on my mind. Had I decided to reveal my deathly desire to a loved one, I would have been hit with any number of clichés: “You have so much going for you,” “You have people who love you,” “The world is your oyster,” etc.
All of them would be true. The fact is, none of that mattered.
To explain my reasons for trying to commit suicide in a single blog would be impossible, but the easiest way to sum it up is to say that I felt a lack of direction in my life. Several projects I had been working on had come to an end there was a perceived void in my life as a result.
My suicide attempt was not logical, but it was calculated. I knew what I was doing and I knew what I wanted. My refusal to seek help was simply because I didn’t want help. Having now had a glimpse of our country’s mental health system from the inside, I know it needs work. It also needs money. But our country’s biggest hurdle toward mental wellness is not a lack of funding, it’s a lack of understanding.
The first step to eliminating suicide is in understanding its indiscriminate nature. Despite the success of the “It Gets Better” campaign, suicide affects a broader group than gay teenagers. The media inundates us with cases of gay teenagers who commit suicide, but ignores the painful reality that adolescence can be just as difficult for straight kids.
The second step is recognizing that mental illness is, as its name suggests, a form of illness. Of all who have opened up to me about their struggles with depression and other afflictions, none seem to have chosen it. “Just smile” is hardly a prescription for the suicidal, but it seems to be the best advice many are able to offer.
To those with family members or friends struggling, reach out and let them know you care. Let them know it’s okay to seek help. To those in distress, you’re not alone. Asking for help is a show of strength, not weakness.
I won my battle with suicide, but the war wages on. Let’s end it.