A few months ago I lost one of my closest friends. She was the kind of person who always completely got it, whom I could (and frequently did) sit and talk with for hours and not get bored.
She killed herself in March. Her loss is felt by all of her friends; a fact she must have been aware of, on some level, but one her mind forced her to ignore. The thought of putting herself through any more time in this life was too much, so she ended it.
I can’t say it came as much of a shock. She’d always struggled with depression and frequently contemplated suicide. But that made it no less sad.
The last time I saw her we sat up all night talking with one of our other friends. She described to us the method in which she was going to kill herself and how her funeral and the subsequent weeks would unenfold. We knew by this point that there was no point in trying to dissuade her – we’d tried so many times already. The only thing we could do was keep alert and try to stop her if we caught her in time. We didn’t.
When I heard about her death, alongside all of the usual thoughts came one not usually associated with suicide. When someone has been struggling with cancer, or a similar long-term, horrific illness for a long time, there is a sense when they finally die that their loved ones feel at least as if they are finally at peace. Like their pain has ended. It is acceptable to say this about illnesses such as cancer, things that degenerate people in an obvious and visible way, but less so about suicide. And yet it is how I felt about my friend. She had suffered for so long, and knowing that she was no longer feeling that way lessened my own pain somewhat, because I knew she could finally be at peace.
The past few months have been hard. Her death sent me spiralling into an inertia the likeness of which I had not seen in myself in decades. I sat inside the house all day and gorged myself on foods my body can’t process. I grew fat and lethargic. I resented seeing my other friends, cut off all but the most necessary communications with the outside world.
Eventually I started acting more like a human being again. I got back on my feet – literally and metaphorically – and continued on with life, the way I know my friend would have wanted me to do. In the meantime, a couple of friends-of-friends also took their own lives. The news of these didn’t hit me so hard, because I barely knew them personally, but of course I felt for my friends, and three suicides in the course of a year, just in my own small friendship circle? That seemed excessive.
And then Robin Williams died the other day, something which made me feel quite sad, despite me not being someone who particularly follows the life of celebrities. But he seemed like a good guy.
I met up with another friend the day after the news of his death broke. My friend spent four hours talking about how he wanted to kill himself; about how he saw a kindred spirit in Robin Williams, someone who constantly tried to make others feel better by playing the clown, being “the fun one”. And my friend does take that role in our group, it’s true. He spoke about how, if Robin Williams with all his worldwide support, could not keep going through life due to its sheer impossibility sometimes, what sort of chance did he have? He updated me on some ongoing difficult situations in his life, and spoke about how there was only one surefire way out of them. I do not believe that this friend will kill himself, at least not soon. I think he flirts with the idea in the way people do when they’re having a bad time – but if I’ve learned anything from the past few months, it’s that life has a grip most fragile.
I got on the train home pretty exhausted by all this talk of dying. As I was alighting at my stop at half past midnight, my mobile rang. I picked up. It was another friend, slurring her words almost incomprehensibly, who told me she’d just chased a load of pills with several bottles of alcohol and was about to slit her wrists.
Long story short, I was on the phone with her until the ambulance finally turned up three and a half hours later, and then they let me stay on the line while they did all the procedures they had to do, because she was completely freaking out and needed someone there. I hung up at 4am and got up again at 6am to go to a meeting.
Luckily she pulled through and she seems ok(ish) now, she’s being looked after and she’s calling me to let me know what’s going on.
The world is a shitty place, but it’s worth living in. Or at least, I think so. I just wish I could transfer some of that hope to the people who need it most, especially – and this is me being purely selfish now, but allow me this lapse of logic please – my friends and acquaintances who seem to be leaving the world at an alarming rate.
My friends who have gone, I miss you. My friends who are still here, I’m glad you are and I hope you’ll stay. I’ll do everything I can to make sure you do.