Both my grandfathers committed suicide. I have no memories of them. My father committed suicide when I was five, my mother when I was 16.
If there is a suicide gene then I must have it. However, I doubt that there is. I think suicide might run in families, for psychological reasons, that is my personal experience. I am not an expert.
I first tried to take my own life when I was 15. I cannot really remember why. I know that sounds strange. My mother had been getting steadily more depressed and had already made several suicide attempts. She used barbiturates. I would find her unconscious and dial 999. I think that the pressure to look after her and the trauma of her attempts just made me feel one day that I had had enough and wanted out. I knew where she kept the barbiturates and I washed a lot of them down with a can of lager. My mother had gone out for the evening but by a quirk of fate she returned early and so it was then her turn to get me to hospital where my stomach was pumped out.
I never thought much about it and certainly did not analyse my motives. I went back to boarding school and that was where I received the news that my mother had taken her life. She did so on St Valentine’s Day 1968.
I think I must have gone into denial and just buried the whole thing. Counselling was not considered necessary in those days: certainly not in an English Public School. I had no close family to share my loss with. I was expected to carry on as normal with my school work and activities
I remember having mixed feelings: relief, despair, anger, guilt. It was better just to bury those. I determined to make my own way in the world, eventually becoming a solicitor and a Judge.
The second time I made an attempt on my life when I was when I was about 50. I had been miserable for years. I had set out to build a career and a family and I had succeeded but I felt no joy or happiness. My wife and I had drifted apart. My children were, and still are, lovely but I could feel no satisfaction from what I had achieved.
I married when I was 23. Things seemed easier then. There was a route map. Develop my career, have children, get a nice house and car. But I found during my late 40s that I was in a prison, metaphorically. I did not believe in divorce and yet I was living with a woman whom I no longer loved.
I did not know it but I was thinking irrationally. My wife went away for a weekend with a friend and I was in the house with my three children. I decided that I had to end everything there and then so I put a plastic bag over my head, got drunk on whisky and tied the bag around my neck with an elastic band. It took several attempts.
The feeling of the bag clinging to my face was horrible, even though I was drunk. Eventually however I passed out and the next thing I knew was that my eldest son, who was 14, had ripped the bag off my head. I don’t know what made him wake up, perhaps I screamed. We have never discussed it although I know we should. It must have been terribly traumatic for him.
My son called an ambulance (history repeating itself) and I ended up in a psychiatric clinic. It was lovely there. I had intensive psychoanalysis for six weeks and was at last able to begin to understand that I had suffered emotional abuse as a child and the psychoanalyst helped me to bring all the anger and hurt and painful memories out in the open where I could address them. It was not easy, I cried through most sessions. Gradually I was able to bring the anger and hurt out into a calm safe environment, and start to deal with them in a rational way.
I realised that I had to make significant changes in my life. I divorced my wife. It was hard, I did not want to hurt her but I realised that my primary duty of care was to myself. Fortunately the divorce was not acrimonious but I found myself living alone in rented accommodation. I carried on with counselling and found a very good CBT practitioner who was also a great help.
(To be continued…)