Tag Archives: suicide

Why we need to tell our stories

I wasn’t going to write any more posts about depression and suicide, but I’ve been thinking this week about a writer I knew, Jonny Zucker, who killed himself last year.

Jonny’s family have just announced the Striker Boy campaign, in which they are donating all proceeds of a new edition of one of his books to the mental health charity, Mind.

When Jonny died, the tributes and memories that poured in all said very similar things. How generous he was, how full of energy and enthusiasm, how funny, and how very loved.

So often, those who take their own lives seem to be bright stars like him, people who have touched other people’s lives in one way or another, but don’t seem to have understood how amazing they are.

So here I am, thinking and talking about suicide again, wishing like everyone must, that there was some way of reaching across the dreadful chasm that can open up around a person and swallow them down.

I don’t think we can convince somebody thinking about suicide how wonderful and loved they are, or how much they matter. Even if we could, would that be enough to reach across the chasm and hold onto them?

Certainly, we can make sure the people around us know we are there for them, and will listen in a non-judging way, if they ever need someone to turn to. We can avoid saying unhelpful things that will make the person feel even worse, such as ‘I don’t know why you’re so hard on yourself’ or ‘Why don’t you just snap out of it?’ But not everyone is actually able to talk about it when they’re struggling with depression.

My feeling is that the biggest thing we can do for each other is be honest and not hide our own darkness. Sadness, feelings of pointlessness, even despair, are all part of the human condition, although that goes against our cultural assumptions.

We think we should be able to be happy all the time and every kind of pain is – or certainly should be – fixable. In our culture, unhappiness feels like failure, and we’re ashamed of owning up to it.

But the golden life is an illusion. We shouldn’t be claiming it while hiding our own darkness, because that make the darkness even more terrifying and lonely for people currently going through it.

What we need to recognise and especially to teach our children is that everyone experiences sadness, fear, despair… it’s natural. Life can be hard, but we can learn to handle it. This is the message in all my kids’ self-help books, including How 2B Happy.

I don’t mean I think we should bang on about our problems all the time, but just be real with each other. Real life stories belong to all of us; they lift us above our own situation and show us our wider human condition. They give us a sense of belonging.

A member of Jonny’s family commented, ‘Mental health needs to be discussed in the open and these personal stories need to be shared.’

I could not agree more.

If you would like to buy a copy of Jonny’s book, the new special edition comes out on October 6th. 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why my new book is published today

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.

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Years ago, a friend told me she thought that the world was divided into two sorts of people – those who had seriously contemplated suicide, and those who had never even considered it.

At the time, I felt sceptical, because thinking about suicide started for me in early childhood and I’d always assumed that everyone did it, but when I asked around, it turned out maybe she was right. Lots of friends told me it had never even occurred to them, but for others it was like a kind of home base, the place they always returned to in their dark times.

I think young people who have this mindset are particularly vulnerable because they don’t have the experience yet to know those desperate feelings do pass, and things do get better. Most of those who have made serious suicide attempts express gratitude later that they didn’t succeed.

So the message older people want to give to vulnerable young people is ‘Hold on’, as in the classic REM song “Everybody Hurts’ which was written in deliberately straightforward language, for pre-college teens.

Lesbian, gay,bisexual and transgender teenagers have a very much increased risk of suicide, and there’s great work being done for them in the It Gets Better Project, where ordinary LGBT adults share their stories of getting through horrible times at school to go on and lead successful lives in happy relationships.

Siblings of suicide are another very high risk group, and they’re the people I wanted to tell, as a survivor of sibling suicide, it does get better. I’ve done it the best way I know how to, in my new Young Adult novel, Drift, the story of a 16-year-old girl whose brother has killed himself.

It’s her story, not mine, but because of my story, I knew how to write it.

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Drift is published today.

You can read my first interview about the book on the book eaters site.

‘If I had to summarise this book with just one word, it would be beautiful…’ See the rest of young book blogger Marta’s review here.

Can a dream really change your life?

When you tell acquaintances and strangers that you write and teach about dreams an interesting thing happens – the polite, interested look disappears, their faces light up and they straight away tell you about a dream they’ve had…

This is the first sentence of Writing in the House of Dreams and I wanted to tell you about recent example, when a complete stranger told me this story.

He said that as a young man in his teens he had experienced intense suicidal feelings, and he happened to be going out with a girl who felt the same way.

They talked very seriously about suicide and he was in no doubt that they would indeed end up killing themselves.

Then one night he dreamt they were waiting for the last bus near a roundabout on the edge of town, after an evening out. Everything looked orange under the street lights and there was no-one else around.

When the bus finally arrived, the dreamer saw through the windows that all the passengers were skeletons.

‘Don’t get on the bus!’ he said, grabbing his girlfriend’s arm. ‘We don’t want to get on that bus!’

When he woke up, he thought the dream had been about her, and that he should tell her not to think about killing herself any more, but then he realised it was actually about both of them.

He thought, ‘If we’re not getting on that bus, we need to think of good reasons for living. We need to find out what we want to live for.’

From that day, the dreamer stopped obsessing about suicide and started to live purposefully, and at times in later life when things felt hard, he remembered that dream, and stayed off the bus.

As I write this, I’m struck by the curious fact that decades after the dreamer had this dream, there’s now a website for people considering suicide that uses the term ‘catching the bus’ to mean killing yourself.

I’ve heard lots of stories about people who have had a life-changing dream at a time of crisis, like this man, but sometimes a not-at-all epic-seeming dream can change the way we see the day-to-day things we’re going through, and help us over a hurdle.

For example, I had a dream that coloured balls were pouring from the sky as if someone was emptying a giant ball-pool. They were bouncing off the ground and landing all over everything.

I thought, ‘This isn’t right! The balls all belong in one place. They should all be landing in one box.’ When I woke, I knew it was about a situation that had been making me feel annoyed (it was ‘a load of balls’) and realised I had been  judging everyone according to one person’s behaviour.

That dream didn’t change my whole life forever, but it did change the way I was handling a passing situation. Big changes, little changes – dreams can provide an opportunity to consider things from a different angle when our conscious mind is going round and round, stuck in the same groove.

There’s another great story of a life-changing dream on Tzivia Gover’s blog 

Have you had a life-changing dream, or has someone else told you about theirs?