I am 54 and feel life has ended and it’s time to go — killing my memories with me. Yes, I am married to a man who loves me very much, but I feel numb about that. He has never fulfilled all my dreams. He was my first boyfriend and we married after I got pregnant at 19.
We went on to have four children and now have three grandchildren, but life’s events have left me in a black hole I cannot get out of. I want to lie down and go to sleep for ever, leaving them all to live their lives without me.
There is no future for me to look forward to.
This depression has arisen from events, some caused by my family, which have affected me deeply. I grew up alone as a child with domineering parents who lacked the intelligence to know that what they feared most for me was happening under their very noses. I’ve suffered sexual and physical abuse when growing up, and bullying, poverty, mental illness . . .
Looking back, I wonder where I got the strength to deal with it all. But the thought that life would get better gave me hope. Instead, I faced more trauma.
The relentless anxiety of having to deal with it all left me exhausted and bitter. I have lost all faith because I never felt any spiritual assistance during 34 years of hell.
Now my children have their own lives and I’m barely involved. I’ve tried to recapture some of the hope I felt when younger, but it is futile. Those dreams have gone for ever and this makes me sad.
I have no sisters and my husband cut off all contact with his family years ago, so I have no one to talk to. Working full time, I was unable to help my daughters-in-law after the grandchildren’s births — and anyway they’re both very attached to their own mothers and don’t want to spend any time with me.
I care for my disabled daughter and mother, too, which meant friends gave up on me because I was always at one hospital or another. At work, I am well liked, but people see me as an aunt or mother, not friend. I’ve had counselling but it does not work for me.
I want to end my suffering, but feel guilty about what people may say about me when I have gone. Nobody knows my story. I am the Pretender, who goes into work and talks up a wonderful, fulfilled life. How can I kill myself without people thinking I’ve copped out?
They’ll all say: ‘But she was always smiling, always bubbly, loved her grandchildren, husband and children.’
The life I once dreamed of when I was a young girl was simple, but came to nothing. I am only too aware that I’m looking forward to old age, illness and misery. Can I end it all without people thinking I was selfish or a horrible person?
This letter first appeared in the Daily Mail.
The first thing that’s striking about this letter is that you have written it. You’ve written an angry letter to a benign Daily Mail newspaper columnist asking whether or not you should kill yourself. You put your argument forward in a way that demands a counter argument. You already know what her answer will be. So, what you are actually seeking is encouragement, someone to be stern-motherly and tell you to pick yourself up and soldier on, to point out the things you say about your loving husband, your colleagues, your children and grandchildren and repitch them at you in a positive way. That is what your letter demands and yet you point out that such a response would be useless. So you’re saying; ‘I want help but you can’t help me. Please can I kill myself? Oh, I know you won’t even let me do that. Puh.’ On the one hand you say you’re suicidal, on the other hand you don’t seem to have taken your state of mind seriously and gone to see a psychiatrist or proper therapist. So, it’s a major problem or it’s just a ‘cop out’. You honestly don’t seem to know.
Though you are obviously depressed and should absolutely seek help, I don’t think you are as suicidal as you say you are. Clearly a GP would be obliged to take you at your word and that’s a good thing, but just reading this passionately angry letter, concerned about the opinion of a journalist, the opinion of friends, acquaintances and family and saying how blind and stupid they all are – this is not someone about to kill herself. This is someone who wants to kill a lot of other people but, that being illegal, you want to take revenge on the fools by killing yourself. Trouble is – will they get it? That’s what you’re really asking.
It’s going to be extremely difficult for you to get help for your real depression because you are not someone who is allowed to need help. You didn’t get your needs met when you were little (you say so) and, in order not to feel the pain of that, you have always met other people’s needs, never needed anything yourself. However, the projection of need into others didn’t work, didn’t stop you needing the care you have never managed to get (because you haven’t been able to ask). Even here, you’re not asking for care. You think you’re asking for permission to commit suicide, or you are really asking to be told not to. But that’s not real care either.
That combative first paragraph expects the reader to knock your arguments down rather than listening to what you have to say. You don’t expect anyone to listen to you, so you don’t give them anything real to listen to. You feel the need to win an argument with someone very unforgiving. The sentence beginning ‘Yes,’ is where you start fighting this imaginary, unsympathetic person who is saying; ‘Oh come on! Your husband loves you! Stop moaning!’ You say you feel numb about your husband but that is not true at all. You are angry with him for not fulfilling your dreams, for getting you pregnant and marrying you, for preventing you from marrying someone else (as though you were entirely passive in all this, and everything else – things just happen to you).
The paragraph about your depression is a desperate one. You clearly do feel awful and exhausted, burdened and responsible (I don’t want to diminish this), but also angry. Your parents ‘lacked the intelligence’ to protect you – pretty damning. Your list of the horrors you experienced is just that, a list. Your parents let you down and exposed you to bad stuff. Whilst these things must have been truly awful, the way you describe it all dismisses it as though it can’t be helped, blocking questions, help and sympathy. How could anyone be sympathetic with so little to work with? You expect no sympathy and so dismiss your difficulties as intractable.
Then some martyrdom – ‘I wonder where I got the strength.’ This, however, is followed by some truth at last. You feel ‘exhausted and bitter’ and that is what very much comes across here. But then you accuse the world again immediately, complaining that it didn’t assist you. Your children apparently reject you and here are these dreams again. The dreams your husband prevented you from fulfilling. Daughters-in-law reject you, colleagues like you but not in the way you want to be liked. You resent your mother and daughter for dragging you around to ‘one hospital or another’ instead of allowing you to make friends. Oh, and the counselor was crap too.
Finally, we get a glimpse of what is really going on. You are ‘the Pretender’ with a capital P. What a pretence it must be, as there is no sign of anyone smiling or bubbly or loving in this letter. Only rage and strange talk about the ‘dreams of a young girl’ (basically that girl stamping her foot, angrily). Obviously, I could start talking about 54 being young, old age not being miserable for everyone and spouting the banalities you expect and request.
But it does sound as though your anger and resentment at the cruelties of the world somehow keep you going, somehow just about keep your very real depression at bay. You always pretend to be happy and well. You take on a great deal of work and responsibility while simmering with anger privately. You feel selfish and horrible for having suicidal thoughts but…do you? What you have described is a crowd of selfish and horrible people who surround you. You complain that nobody knows you but you say yourself that you don’t let anyone get to know you because you’re constantly faking. Or is this some real insight – the reasons you want to kill yourself ARE spiteful (selfish and horrible) and part of you knows that?
You could feel better. You could enjoy some areas of life. You could feel fulfilled. But it won’t be easy. You won’t have all your girlhood fantasies fulfilled. You won’t change anyone else. But you could learn to be honest with yourself and others and, instead of worrying about what they think of you, be more honest about what you think of them. If you can understand your very powerful defences against the world, your anger and what you feel to be enforced passivity, take some of the armour off some of the time, let them know you, you might get real support and friendship from them. But do you want to? Not sure at all.