In a week when we are remembering the pain and the trauma around suicide, I recall a meeting with someone close to the edge; someone who had given up on life.…
We talk of suicide.
Rhona has tried a few times and failed…a source of some irritation to her.
She has lived week by week of late.
Stay alive until Christmas…stay alive until the New Year.
Stay alive until Mary’s birthday.
And she’s still alive… and never late for our appointments.
No one understands her, she says. They don’t realise how bad things are.
They just look at the external things, her house, her job, her horses etc..
They think because she’s having a meal out with them she’s getting better.
‘You’re obviously getting better!’
She’s not getting better.
She couldn’t care less whether she has a meal out or stays at home.
‘I have a broken brain,’ she Rhona. ‘There’s no mending that.’
‘A broken brain? That’s a strong image,’ I say.
And then she tells me of a friend whose mother committed suicide.
‘He doesn’t understand why she did it, he really can’t understand, but I totally get why she did it. It makes complete sense.’
We sit in silence. There’s quite a lot of silence today.
‘It makes complete sense inside their particular bubble,’ I offer. She nods. ‘But it’s very small bubble,’ I add.
She changes direction. She considers different ways of killing herself. She doesn’t want to be a burden.
She doesn’t want to ruin a train driver’s day, for instance; or trouble a fisherman, having to pick her body out of the sea.
Does that rule out a cliff jump?
And she wants to donate her organs, so wishes to limit the overall damage to herself.
I ask her why, if her brain is so broken, and talks so much shit, she listens to it quite so avidly.
It’s a risk, I know it’s a risk, but my sense is that it’s time for a risk.
‘What else have I got to listen to?’ she asks. ‘It’s who I am.’
I can’t agree and suggest that it’s a poor impersonation of who she is…what Ted Hughes would call her ‘secondary self’ rather than her ‘primary self’.
‘The primary self would speak with a very different voice… is a different voice.’
That’s the voice that’s been getting her to our appointments, I say; the voice that wants her to be well; the voice that makes me laugh with some of her stories; and the voice which has spoken with such awareness about the rage inside her.
‘I’m more raging than depressed,’ she had said in our first meeting.
That had been a pretty good notice.
But she skates away from that now, skates away from her awareness with a clever explanation from her broken brain.
Yes, I watch as her over-thinking takes control again, easing her away from difficult feelings.
‘I’m not sure I am angry really, and if I was, who would I be angry with? It’s no use going round shouting at everyone. I mean, what’s the point of that?’
The secondary self is so clever, so convincing…and one thing is clear: she doesn’t want to look back. She resists any engagement with her past.
‘Your secondary self does seem to have the run of your playground,’ I say.
‘But it’s not the only voice. It’s the dominant one but not the truest one.’
Each week, I’m aware of the fragile state of our relationship. Each week, I’ve been surprised to see her again. We’ve laughed quite a lot along the way – there is a comedy in despair.
But I’m aware I might be losing her now.
I’m pushing her harder, drawn into an encounter with her secondary self, which is feistier today – but still a latrine of self-hate and clever life-denying explanation.
‘I read about people who have been depressed and come through it,’ she says dismissively. ‘You read them on the internet – but they’re not the same as me, not at all. The ideal would be for a truck to hit me when I leave – no need for anyone feel guilty then or wonder if they could have done more for me. Just a road traffic accident. I mean, I’m quite at peace.’
‘You’re not at peace – you’ve just given up on life. That isn’t the same. You’re neither at peace with yourself nor the world around you.’
‘I suppose not.’
‘Which of course makes me sad.’
‘No reason to be sad.’
‘Plenty of reason to be sad because I believe in you.’
I name some of her attributes, some of her glory. I find her very easy to like.
‘It doesn’t matter if other people believe in me,’ she says. ‘I have to believe in myself.’
They are her last words to me today.
‘Yes, nothing makes much sense until then,’ I admit, feeling useless.
For the first time, she doesn’t make another appointment before leaving. We shake hands, she goes to her car; later, I write up my notes and light a candle.
Outside, a cold wind blows.
I don’t know if we’ll meet again.
Post Script: We did meet again. Rhona is now out in the world, contributing greatly.