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?


  1. I think its often a difficult subject to discuss because of the shock and devastation to those who may not have realized that the person they loved may have been hiding unceasing pain for a long time.

    I know of a young woman who recently ended her life, and those who knew her are broken up because they thought she was an absolute joy. A lot of people were left baffled.

    Maybe the word “bad” is not the best to use. In my view, anything we do to deliberately harm ourselves is a sign that something is going wrong in between our ears. But that may well be because of perceiving the world around us as harsh and uncaring. People smoke, abuse drugs, take risks with their own lives and others by speeding while driving or engaging in other dangerous practices. They all manifest an unhealthy outlook, a sign that a person has either forgotten or perhaps doesn’t feel that life is a precious gift.

    I have deep empathy for those who carry around so much pain in their heart that they can see no other option but ending their consciousness. It is tragic.

    Every person is different. In some cases, there may have been an obvious cause of the person’s unhappiness, but sometimes it is much harder to comprehend what has contributed to the hurt they carry with them.

    Years ago when the height of the cruelty I experienced in connection with Jack was taking a toll on me, I experienced what I can only define as despair. Although I did not want to end my life, I had a long term desire to not wake up in the morning. I was taking risks. I was staying out later than I used to, going to more and more parties, not being cautious with my personal security as I should have been. I was also going to extremes with exercise and hardly eating. It was exhausting me physically and emotionally. Every day I experienced people tormenting me over Jack. It was so hard to escape the mental fog that had descended.

    I have a wonderful family and wonderful friends. Even Jack was wonderful, he just did not know what I was experiencing and the scale of the joke that I had become in the eyes of others.

    What helped me is that there were still things that I could enjoy in life. I had a deeply rewarding assignment. Although it was exhausting, it brought me deep satisfaction. I could still enjoy creation. But the isolation with what I carried was immense. I did try to talk about it to a few people, but they dismissed it as no big deal. Which didn’t help me in all honesty.

    When I went to the park that night, I didn’t feel I could go home. I would have gone home eventually I am sure. But feeling overwhelmed with my challenges made me forget that I was putting myself in harm’s way. What happened to me that night yanked me right out of the challenges I was dealing with. But it gave me a whole new set of challenges which have been hard to climb out of.

    Only…I have learnt that even if it takes years, sometimes your situation can be so dramatically reversed. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that Jack and I would end up together. When you are full of despair, it is very hard to imagine things getting better. Hope seems cruel.

    Sometimes living on your own or being on your own is the least challenging circumstances you can be in. Sometimes it is a situation that allows you to brood on all your troubles and intensifies them.

    I guess what I am trying to say is, there is no easy answer. Everyone is different. There is no simple black and white when it comes to someone feeling crushed. In most cases the blame and shame game achieves very little. But finding a way to reignite a person’s ability to see light at the end of the tunnel can be challenging.

    For those who have been touched by the suicide of a loved one or for anyone who is just horrified at the thought of it, saying it is “bad” might be all they can muster. It is a deeply distressing entity, the thought of someone being lost in darkness is very upsetting. I guess what many people mean is “please please please don’t do it!”

    Liked by 4 people

    • Yes, I have mixed emotions on the subject. Also, people view life and death very differently, at different stages of life. For example if somebody who is old and tired, perhaps with major health problems on top, who am I to argue with them?
      My overriding thought with my personal situation was mainly just “thank goodness it didn’t happen on my watch”. But I assume that she is past that stage now – maybe moving out of this place helped her? I think it is sad though when somebody so young doesn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Always sad. I have worked with patients who were terminally ill for years. I have seen people who were suffering a great deal. One of the reasons why I found that role rewarding is because I had the chance to express love and care and compassion. If there was anything I could do to brighten their day, I would.

        For younger people who have their physical health, of course it is hard to swallow. I find it very uncomfortable that so many people have attacked what people used to have as a stable foundation – faith, hope, prayer have all been mocked.

        Well…as we both agree, everyone is different, but I find it sad that so many feel lost and alone and unloved. That sense of abandonment and the belief that nobody understands must be so cruel.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. That is the tragedy of suicide, it is a final ‘solution’ and it is irreversible. I agree that we need to look at each ‘case’ individually.
    I believe that people who commit suicide suffered a long time before, they just want to end the suffering. It is a specific state of mind.
    This discussion can bring up the euthanasia debate. Are people and their loved ones entitled to a more honorable death than what we sometimes see after suicide.
    I witnessed a few ones relatively close to me, the first attempt of a friend happened when I was 13. The second when I was 14. Then Kurt Cobain killed himself and that tipped the scale for me. It brought the scale of life and death into my head, this would become an almost never ending fight within my mind till the age of 30 maybe. It flairs up, big time, during depression. The option is horrible, the fight difficult.
    Working in the mental health field 2 colleagues committed suicide. A later another friend. It is one of the bigger causes of death in my country after car crashes and heart disease I guess. So I don’t think I’m the cause of this all happening around me!
    A few years ago another friend succeeded which brought many sadness but opened up the conversation between our friend group. Now one of my best friends is always willing to comfort me in those difficult times because she understands it better.
    We all struggle but we don’t know the struggle of others. Thank you for this respectful post on a sensitive topic. I hope my answer is not all over the place.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank *you* for your contribution. It makes absolutely perfect sense. Obviously, no clinical experience here, but I have met clients through both my streams of charity work who I would judge are likely depressed. It is never the “sadness”, if you like, which tips the balance, but the sense of being too lethargic to be able to do anything about it. To have suicidal thoughts at that time….well, it must be very difficult not to listen to them.
      In some ways, I am very envious of people who can just go through life with this “fuck ’em all” attitude, because I wonder how deep their introspection goes?

      Liked by 3 people

      • Balance would be the key I guess.
        I think that people with ‘fuck ’em all’ attitude are a) dead inside b)sad inside c)very angry inside.
        I also think that not everybody is interested or capable of introspection.
        I think it is naturally for us to care about things and to avert from that is likely a reaction (in my straightforward) opinion.
        My therapist tells me I need to adapt a little of that fuck all-attitude because I care too much which is evenly bad.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you for writing this and I’m delighted to get a mention 😉

    Suicide (carried out by anyone ) must be horrendously painful for those left behind, never knowing why and wondering if they could have done anything to prevent it

    Unfortunately, it’s become increasingly a symptom of our time and the downside of social media, which has highlighted ‘deficits’, ‘lack of’ and ‘must-haves’ for some people, putting lots of unwanted additional pressure on everyone. These days kids don’t want to work on building sites, in offices, coffee bars, high street stores or Tesco’s, they all want to be footballers, models and celebrities, as seen on ‘Housewives of …..’ and all the dreadful reality tv shows.

    It’s true, Veteran suicides have increased in the last few years and it’s not surprising considering what that they’ve seen and had to endure during the Gulf War, in Bosnia, Afganistan etc, but even more than that, some have and still are being prosecuted for doing the job they signed up to do.

    What is a ‘mountain’ for some is a ‘molehill’ for others. People have different levels of coping skills; some not having any at all, and often for some, various pressures build up, one on top of the other — then there’s the proverbial ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’.

    I know it doesn’t make sense to many but if you haven’t walked a mile in someone else’s shoes……… seen their darkness……….. felt their pain…… or heard their cries……..

    There’s often outcry that it’s a selfish act or a bad thing but I, like many others, have twice seriously considered taking my own life. Once after the break down of my relationship with my sons’ father (which led to psychotic depression) and the second time when I was struck down with this damned illness, Transverse Myelitis because I felt like I couldn’t live if I was left paralysed. Thankfully, I regained the ability to walk but still had to be medically retired from the job that I loved as a Mental Health Nurse/Ward Manager and Mental Health First Aid Instructor. The one thing that stopped me was that I didn’t want to leave my sons and my now-partner of 11 years with that legacy.

    In hindsight (isn’t it a wonderful thing), of course, I’m happy to have seen my sons through University, watched them receive 7 degrees, 3 Masters and 1 PhD between them (proud mama moment), to have witnessed one getting married recently (hopeful of the next one – my other son that is) and to have spent some amazing times travelling with my partner.

    Am I selfish — I still experience terrible flashbacks, waking nightmares, depression and anxiety, constant automatic negative thoughts (ANT’s)), suicidal thoughts and ideation but I don’t have the intent. I don’t want all of this and despite my mental health training (over 10 years), knowledge and skills to teach and support others, the counselling I’ve had and the medication I still take — It just won’t go!

    The tragedy of suicide is that it’s a permanent solution to what should be a temporary problem.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. This is a really good post Pete. You have in my opinion dealt with it in a very sensitive manner. In many ways I did not wish to respond because I feel that my response would probably be coloured by how I feel myself. I have to be honest and admit that I wish I did not have to wake up each day and face yet another day of grinding struggle and pain. Not only that but my level of dependency makes me feel I am not really even a person. I know that this is not really true but it is how I actually feel. To have to ask somebody for absolutely everything truly makes you feel not a person. I have to admit that I have considered suicide. However I also have a deep fear of death and of suicide. I think that were the actual moment to come when I took action to take my own life I would via right away from it. It is so final and in a sense so frightening . I also know that there would be people left behind who would be so utterly devastated that they would not be able to live their own lives and so I have to keep a balance in my mind. I have to say that I wish there was more help available for people like me who struggle with so much but sadly there is not. I do know the impact suicide has because I have had quite a few friends who hace taken their own lives. Often after many years of struggle but in the end the despair became so great that they ended up committing suicide. Often cries for help or made but no one hears them. Sometimes the person who is so tormented can cover up their true feelings with a smile and be constantly laughing or telling jokes and may even appear to be the life and soul of the party. Often peoples true feelings are hidden. Often, people long to be able to voice their pain, but it just is not the done thing. I have a friend who has multiple psoriasis and she has said quite bluntly to me that when she has had enough she will go to Switzerland for assisted suicide. Of course this opens up a whole can of worms and there are huge discussions that koan regarding this. I would never ever get anybody who takes their own life or who goes for assisted suicide we can never be in another’s shoes and therefore that makes us unfitted to judge. Thank you for this post Pete. It is good to open up such a discussion.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I must admit that the stroke made me think about death a lot. Death itself doesn’t scare me but *how* I die does. I can’t think of any way that would be particularly pleasant. So yeah, I can completely “get” suicide versus chronic illness.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I need to thank you for this post. It opened some thoughts in my head about suicidal thoughts. I talked about it with my partner last night, very openly and for the first time. I feels better go open up about it, now that the thoughts are on the back burner (and I’ll hope they stay there!). But when it may change in the future, my partner is aware and I know I can talk about it. That made me feel better about it. So thank you for addressing the topic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I must admit that last time, I found writing about my daughter quite cathartic. This is lightweight by comparison. I think the remarkable thing about the post is just the drip-drip effect. All the little things we just put up with when we’re in the middle of it, but once a bit of distance is there, we realise just how seismic they were. But I can see that clearly now.
      I don’t quite know where suicide fits into things, but I think it is good for us all to think about death. Things become clearer. Some things become important, lots of tings less so.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Being raised in a Christian family (with pastor parents, uncles, grandparents, cousins) set me up with that notion that suicide is bad. Growing up, the occurrence of suicide was not as high compared today. Back then, adults would do that but not teens/kids… you’d ask, what went wrong? How come I have seen kids as young as 11 commit suicide?

    I was severely bullied in school. I was called names and no one wanted to be my friend, even my friends pretended to not be my friends just to avoid being bullied for befriending me. It started from elementary til high school… Never did I think of this measure though. Back then, I would link it to the knowledge of knowing it’s wrong because of my Christian background but as an adult, I had assessed whether it’s really about the Christian beliefs inculcated in me that prevented me from even thinking about that — I realized, it wasn’t. I believe it’s because I was just not predisposed to do that. That didn’t mean I was strong, because I do breakdown and wallow on my sadness for months but it never crossed my mind.

    I was feeling judgy about it. Despite my new understanding that it didn’t have to do with one’s spirituality, I still have that simplistic view that suicide is bad and that you’d go to hell. Until I realized that someone who’s been raised exactly the way I’ve been is suffering from suicidal thoughts… that person is certainly carrying the same genetic codes as I am… so what gives?!!

    I was fighting it because I couldn’t accept how she’d randomly say it and would say it in passing, like having this subliminal play on me about taking her life away… I was trying to talk things through but the more I talked, it’s like I’ve been triggering it more… it was frustrating at first but I ended up being so frightened… until now, I am scared and walking on eggshells around her…

    That’s the time I realized, I do not understand it at all… and that I have no idea — all the judgments disappeared because you cannot judge something you do not understand… thank you for posting about this and it certainly opens a channel of awareness for people like me who chose to be cruel instead of loving…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing, Janis.
      Yes I think certainly as youngsters, we often struggle to find our place in the world, and we almost need to be protected from ourselves until we discover that this is the case. So possibly an upbringing where “suicide is wrong”, simply closing down the debate, is helpful.
      I think it is worrying when people talk about (their own, imminent) suicide, vecause I think that adds an element of blackmail – don’t make me unhappy or I shall kill myself – which I think is wrong.
      With my daughter, there were a couple of times when she claimed to have taken pills. Whether she actually had or not, we never knew, but just the action of telling us meant that everything turned upside down.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It is really worrying and I used to always tell my mom, “we can’t be marionettes being strung along all the time” — they did not like how tough I was and told me that I understood nothing because I wasn’t living with them… There and then, I realized it’s way more serious…

        I am sorry you’ve also had similar worries about your daughter, I really hope she’d gotten way over that stage and I hope she’d continue to help herself towards feeling better and better…

        Liked by 1 person

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