Wasted Potential

A while ago now, one of my friends posted about suicide – she specifically highlighted male suicide. It was a very objective accont, facts and figures. In addition, the TV News a few days ago presented an article about veterans’ suicides, so I thought it might be useful to publish my own experiences. Truth be told, I have had this post written for a while, but (a) I’ve never been 100% happy with the wording – the post probably has a hundred edits under its belt, and (b) it’s on such a sensitive subject, I’ve never been sure that the time was right to publish.

My own experiences during my daughter’s teenage years (this is not just a male thing). We had all sorts of issues with my daughter. As a teen, she sat in the next room from where I am right now, and cut herself. I knew nothing about it despite only being a few yards away. It was clear to us that something was wrong, but not the extent. When we did try to get help, every time we asked, we were told we fell through the cracks in the system.

To compound things, aged fourteen, a girl in the same class as my daughter, Megan, committed suicide. For many people, life at the age of fourteen can be pretty shitty, but most of us get through it somehow. This girl decided to hang herself instead.

We saw some interesting effects from my daughter.

First, my daughter started describing Megan as her best friend. I have no idea whether this was indeed the case, but I do know that we hadn’t even heard the name spoken before her suicide. So, they might well have been friends, or it might have been an attempt by my daughter to exaggerate her loss. My daughter had tried to do that before, but certainly never on the same scale.

The second effect was that the event normalised suicide. Does that sound weird? What I mean is that my daughter subsequently tried attempts of her own. Clumsy attempts, which fortunately didn’t succeed. She is twenty now, it is not something we discuss but she seems to be navigating life’s ups and downs. I guess she’s glad she didn’t succeed. She lives on her own so certainly, if she did want to do anything, she has ample opportunity.

I say fortunate, and I mean that of course because my daughter is still alive.

But I also see this from my own perspective, too. It feels quite selfish, but it is unavoidable. Because I know fingers would have also been pointed at my wife and I. In fact, we had very little interest from social workers, except in adversarial circumstanses, when everything had become inevitable – all our earlier metings were confined to being told how we didn’t qualify for something or other. And, I include the Police in this too – they will say that they are not social workers, which is absolutely fair enough. In fact, they tried to “help” the situation just by trying to build a criminal case against my wife and I (which wasn’t there). You wanna know why I don’t trust a policeman? That’s why. That’s how they operate. Black and white. A child is harming themselves, therefore the parents must be abusing them.

So, had the worst happened, I can only imagine what they would have tried to conjure up.

Despite this sorry episode, however, I do accept that suicide can be justified. In fact, I get irritated at the simplistic mantra that suicide is bad and that we should do what we can to prevent it. A former head of the UK’s armed forces said as much in the news article. Frankly it seems perverse to me that it is okay to build an environment in which somebody is left wanting to kill themselves, but all the same.. please don’t! In the case of veterans, this story comes around every year or so, so you can judge the scale of their efforts for yourself. (In their defence, the evidence against them is just anecdotal right now, because nobody has yet thought to measure such things.)

Every suicide is a tragedy, somehow, but each of us has a set of scales, reasons to live versus reasons not to live. For most of us, if we even spare it a thought, the scales quite easily tip one way. I guess that most of the time it is so obvious, we don’t even think of it. But what do you do when the scales tip the other way?

When the scales tip the other way, then I believe that suicide is a rational course of action. I think it is a pity if they do tip the other way, and the reasons why they tip the other way might not be sound, but all the same, I can understand that they might.

Imagine two extremes – somebody being worried about something, say. Money, for example. Something which many people woud say does not warrant taking one’s own life. Yet, it happens. Then, somebody with a terminal illness might decide on suicide, rather than prolonged agony for both themselves and their loved ones.

There is a whole spectrum of reasons, and I think we must view every case individually. Even somebody who commits suicide unnecessarily (we might judge), we should probably then ask ourselves why they perceived that things were so bad, that they took their own life.

So I don’t buy the straightforward mantra that suicide is bad. There is more to it than that. In fact, when somebody simplifies the issue that much, it does leave me wondering whether they have any real concept of what is going on in people’s minds.

I am, however, going to end the post on a yes, but…

I do still think from time to time of Megan. As far as I know I never knew her, never even met her, but suicides are uncommon, after all. Fourteen. I mean, if you’re gonna go, go. I understand that people have their reasons. But people need to give themselves a chance to live a little first. Megan would’ve been twenty now, same as my daughter. Not long passed her driving test, even managed to total that first car, but she was out drinking and clubbing with her mates at New Year, presumably enjoying herself….and goodness knows what else she gets up to that fortunately, I know nothing about! But she’s trying to carve out a life for herself in the big, wide world, unfettered by any constraints from her ever-so-square parents.

I wonder whether Megan would feel the same way now?