This problem appeared first in the Daily Mail.
I don’t usually write emails like this to anyone. Today is different. Today, I feel very low. Very few of my friends know what I go through each day.
I’m 20, at university and living independently with friends — there’s no reason to complain, right? Every 20-year-old should be happy and carefree, it’s the start of our lives. I try so hard to paint this picture to everyone.
But the truth is, I’m very depressed and anxious, and it’s getting so bad that for the past two months all I’ve wondered is the best way to commit suicide, so I don’t hurt my family and friends too much.
I sit staring at the wall, smiling to myself about how it will work this time. I’ve attempted twice before, including an overdose. Nobody knew.
I’m not going to be stupid, and assume nobody cares. Of course they do. But I can’t stand trying to get through every minute, every hour, of every day. I’m so very tired.
I know I’m lucky, with a roof over my head, food in my cupboard. This contributes to my self-loathing. I’d do anything to feel happy, but I’m exhausted.
I always feel so worthless. Many people have contributed to this throughout my life. I won’t bore you with details of my past. The past has gone, and I’m here now, in the present, and hating it.
I’m on antidepressants and was seeing a counsellor, until guilt consumed me for wasting her time. Why should anyone have to listen to my self-pitying rambles? It didn’t work anyway, I always left feeling mortified.
I’ve started running, eating healthily and socialising a lot more, but nothing works.
I’ve self-harmed for many years — my legs, arms, and stomach are a pattern of self-hatred and punishment. I can’t even express how low I get. I’ve been down for a very long time, but this fog won’t clear now. I can’t see myself getting past the age of 21.
I sometimes think about kissing my wonderful housemates goodbye, ringing my family to say I love them, and then simply walking to the station and stepping in front of a train shooting past. Done and dusted, no more waking up to wish I were still asleep for ever.
I don’t think you’ll even respond. But the urge is getting stronger every day. I needed to just pour out a little of my feelings to someone who will never know — or see — me.
You begin by saying that you don’t usually write emails ‘like this’ and I wonder what you mean by ‘like this’. On the surface you obviously want to say that you don’t write cries for help, that you don’t publicise your feelings. On the other hand, I wonder if the anonymity, and the fact that you don’t know the recipient is allowing you a freedom of expression that you don’t usually allow yourself. There is something interesting about the tone of this letter – it is aggressive. The flatness of the line ‘Very few of my friends know what I go through each day’ contains an undercurrent of anger, I think. Faint, but there. And the ‘right?’ is an open challenge to the reader, an expectation of derision and attack.
The next section contains clear declarations of serious depression, anxiety and despair as well as confessing two previous suicide attempts. You say ‘every 20 year old should be happy and carefree’ as though there are some rules somewhere and a score sheet. It sounds as though you award yourself points for pretending to be well and attack yourself when you are unwell. The voices in your head (your super ego) are/is annihilatingly harsh. You have extremely cruel inner voices telling you firstly what you should be like, then telling you the ways in which you fail to reach this imaginary perfection, and then beating you senseless for the failure.
However, there is more happening here. The rage and aggression is getting clearer. You smile to yourself about how killing yourself will happen and you say you don’t want to hurt family and friends ‘too much’. I doubt this. I think your rage is intense, consciously directed inwards but nonetheless very fierce and unconsciously applied to the people around you.
The aggressive tone continues as if you can hear someone saying to you; ‘Don’t be stupid! People do care!’ and you need to respond. It is as though you are contradicting all your own thoughts, attacking them and taking the opposing view. Then you say that this is exhausting. Having such a violent internal battleground must, indeed, be completely exhausting. You say time seems vast when you know you have to get it over with somehow – as though you are waiting for something awful to end. Perhaps you did once have to endure something awful and seemingly endless and you carry the feeling with you. It is striking that you only mention the days. This suggests that you do manage to sleep at night. You later mention sleep being oblivion and near to a fantasy of death. Only if you are asleep is this awful thing (but what awful thing?) not happening.
You go on with your internal battle as someone (a part of yourself, of course) sneers at you, saying; ‘What is wrong with you moaning on when some people are homeless and starving.’ I doubt you would apply such cruelty to someone else who was as depressed as you are. It sounds as though you have absolutely no pity for yourself, only rage and contempt. You say you would do anything to feel to happy (because presumably your inner voice is saying; ‘Pull yourself together and do things to make yourself happy.’) but that is perhaps a misguided goal. Perhaps making a real effort to understand yourself and forgive yourself your perceived failings (which are likely coping mechanisms you did not adopt out of some kind of perverse choice) might bring you some way out of your prison of self-loathing.
There is a fairly hefty whack of aggression again in your saying that people have contributed to your feelings of worthlessness (and you do sound like someone who has suffered abuse of one kind or another as you hint) but that it would be boring to discuss it. You would like to put it aside and be in the present, but our minds don’t work like that. Only by processing the past can you be in the present without this kind of self-flagellation. Of course, you are in desperate pain but you are also on the attack – you accuse the recipient of your letter of total lack of interest or care. You accuse the recipient, in fact, of the kind of terrible cruelty you inflict on yourself. The reader is dismissive, contemptuous, sadistic and bullying. I assume you have been very close to someone who showed you those qualities and you have adopted them into your own mind and continue to inflict them on yourself, also assuming that other people are as horrible as you are to yourself. This is quite an attack on us.
You say you are taking antidepressants and that you have seen a counsellor. It’s not at all uncommon for people to feel unworthy of treatment especially when a total lack of self worth is the overriding symptom. However, what you are suggesting is that you are completely beyond help. You give the impression you have tried everything but nothing works. Again your rage is clearly audible – you are a special case, the only person in the history of time who cannot be helped by anything. Your sense of isolation is obviously crippling and yet it goes without saying that there are many others like you, also feeling as alone as you feel. It sounds as though you are terrified of being helped, of making yourself vulnerable to people you assume to be as cruel as the vicious part of yourself. GPs are not always well-equipped to deal with severe mental health issues and I would suggest that antidepressants and a doctor’s counsellor are a bit of a fob off. You need to be understood, to receive some of the real care and attention you have so far lacked and that you assume does not exist. You need to be seeing a proper psychotherapist at least twice a week and you need to show up and not stop going for defensive reasons. You say felt mortified because you were rambling self-pityingly – this is your cruel inner judge again telling you to stop whining and you should be ashamed of yourself. This is the part of you that does not want to get better, that wants to continue to attack the world and yourself in order not to fully expose yourself to another person and vulnerably ask for real help (presumably because you expect abuse). But there is another you, a you who IS asking for help, going to the doctor, counsellor and writing to a newspaper, however much the request is couched in aggression and contempt. It is that part of you that might drag you to a real therapist.
You say you have self-harmed for a long time which is, as you probably know, is already suicidal behaviour and usually a way of attacking someone else using the tool of your own body. (Interestingly, men tend to attack women’s bodies in rage and despair whereas women also attack women’s bodies – their own. Usually this is an attack on mother in some unconscious form). You say you would like to kiss people goodbye, tell your family you love them and jump in front of a train. So, you would like this planned suicide to be very dramatic, public and almost romantic (ignoring the fact that it would certainly be gory, painful, horrific and not necessarily successful, and not quick). You say earlier that you don’t want to cause pain, but this is a course of action that would cause maximum pain to people close to you and strangers alike. This is a tragic fantasy. I am not suggesting you are not serious about doing it, but am trying to understand your thoughts around it. The fact that your rage is so public does stress again that your anger is directed at others and that you are using yourself as proxy. Really thinking about and understanding this might help you out of this terrible place.
You go on to assume again that the reader of your letter is cruel and won’t even bother to respond (directly insulting to that reader) but you say that you are pleased the reader will never know or see you. I think this is hugely important – real intimacy is too awful to contemplate and so is a real request for help. If you assume there will be no help and no reply, that nothing will work, then you are not really asking another person for help. It’s a kind of ‘I didn’t want to come to your stupid party anyway’ attitude. This is a suggestion, carried by the whole letter, that you are stuck in a place in quite early childhood.
Suicide does tend to be a kind of murder, a murder of the hated part of the self that often represents another person from early life. Only killing the hated part of the self can save the apparently good part of the self. Your letter is a threat, a very murderous threat. You direct it ostensibly against yourself but I think it is designed to cause great damage to a real or imagined other.
My analysis is pretty brutal but so is your letter. Only by recognizing your brutality towards yourself might you be able to redirect it where it belongs or even let it go.
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