I sit before a plainly dressed, earnest woman and my new case worker. My case worker introduces the woman as a psychiatrist in training. No time is wasted before my mind is picked apart, dissected, analysed like a specimen under a microscope. I am asked a series of questions, questions I have been asked so many times I could rehearse it all back to them.
We get to the questions about suicide.
“Have you ever thought of harming yourself?” I am asked.
“Yes,” I reply.
“How often do you have these thoughts?”
“Just a few days ago,” I admit. “Well it depends. Sometimes I will go through an entire week when I don’t think about suicide.”
“Have you ever acted on those thoughts?” comes the next question.
Here is the moment I have to relive the day I tried to jump off a building at university. The “cheese grater” we called it after its holes. It was quite a distinctive piece of architecture, but also a ticking time bomb as the holes were large and able to be climbed through. It was just waiting for a depressed student to come along and jump. I’m not sure what kept me from jumping, but there I sat with my legs dangling over the tallest building on campus, high as the birds, wind blowing my hair and centimeters away from my death. Little could I foresee the impact my actions that day would leave. First it freaked out the teachers on that level who had to deal with me firsthand; I’m sure they were apprehensive about coming to work again. Later that week the holes were barred up so nobody could climb through them again. Then came the student gossip, students prying like journalists after the hot new story. And lastly, in every psychiatric assessment from that point onwards, I would have to repeat the day. It has forever left is imprint on my psychiatric history like a criminal record you just can’t erase.
Many people think suicide is a senseless act committed by people who don’t know what they’re doing. Even psychiatrists don’t really understand it. The one person who seems to really get suicide, in my opinion, is David Foster Wallace.
“The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”