I mean, they are, of course. But what I mean is that I think they’re going to kill themselves.
Intentionally mostly. Sometimes by sheer carelessness.
I really started to notice this in the last couple of years when my 19 year old son started to become a little withdrawn.
He still had a full social life and had a lot of laughs but I knew something wasn’t right.
He was being incredibly reckless: getting crazy drunk on nights out and unable to get himself home (leading me to drive into town at 3am repeatedly over a period of a few months); blowing his wages at a rate of knots; struggling to deal with even minor interpersonal conflict; and was unable to sit still for more than 5 minutes.
So when he came to me almost a year ago and said he was struggling, and after a number of conversations decided he’d like to try counselling, I was pretty sure he was feeling suicidal.
And thus, a few months later, when he came to me and confirmed this, I was both horrified and vindicated.
On (what feels like) the other side of this experience, I can see that my son was scared of these suicidal thoughts and I recognise that is a really good thing.
He was keen to overcome them. Willing to seek help. And has made some significant, positive changes in his life since then.
Of course, he’ll still face challenges in life, and may well seek help again in the future, but – for now – he seems much happier and has much more purpose that I've ever seen him.
Which brings me to my daughter.
She’s just gone to university a few hours away and she’s struggling.
Used to being the brightest of a motley bunch at her Ofsted-rated, “requires improvement”, working-class school, where few go onto higher education, she’s suddenly found herself one of the average attainers in a community full of A* students from mostly “outstanding” middle-class schools which send the majority of their pupils on to undergrad study.
And she feels “not-good-enough”; inadequate.
A feeling that she always feels, mind you, even when she is attaining at the highest levels, but that’s a story for another day.
For now, let’s just say that she’s finding it difficult.
And my little habit of assuming death is always lurking is now trying to take over my life.
So every time she messages to tell me how horrible it is I desperately want to dash to the phone to reassure her. To talk her down off the cliff edge. To soothe her.
Fact is, my daughter most likely isn’t going to kill herself. I say “most likely” because we can never truly know what is inside of someone else, and because part of me is afraid to put this in writing in case I'm wrong and have made a horrible mistake, but let's just say that I am pretty confident when I say this.
Because, yes, she holds herself to impossibly high standards (which is no doubt down to her early years parenting by me – but again, a story for another day).
Yes, she’s afraid to fuck up or fail (yup, probably me too).
Yes, she’s young and naïve, and not used to being on her own, and trying to find her feet.
But suicidal. I don’t think so.
At least, my grown up brain doesn’t think so.
But that less mature part inside that says, “but, what if… [every horrible thing imaginable]” is twittering away at me every time I let it. And I do let it.
And so I often find myself fawning over her to keep her “choosing to live”.
Despite her giving me no reason to think that she would choose anything other.
Unless you count the “FML”, “wanna kill meself”, “am coming home” texts that I get all the live-long day. Though mature me knows her ability to share these outbursts are exactly why she won’t kill herself, and actually it’s time for me to back out and let her find those feet of hers.
So then I cast my mind further back.
I note that I’ve had several coaching clients tell me that they’re afraid that things would get so bad they’d end up suicidal and, though confident dealing with it in the moment, ended up doubting myself after the conversations and having my own coach review everything I’ve said and done to make sure I haven’t made matters worse.
And, when I asked my (now civil) partner to move out of our shared home a year ago, I was afraid he would kill himself.
He had attempted it himself some years ago during a period of depression, and he lost his dad to suicide when he was just a toddler.
Further back still, when I suggested ending my marriage of 15 years back in 2012, I was afraid my husband would kill himself and thus rescinded my suggestion because I was so scared for him.
Again, I had reason. He had suffered depression for much of our marriage and had battled with suicidal thoughts.
In both of these cases, I held back with my own needs because I was afraid of what they would do to themselves.
Not because I think that I’m so important to them that they would kill themselves over me, but because I wasn’t confident that they were emotionally stable enough to handle me wanting something other than my relationships with them.
So then I had to stop and ask myself, why do I keep on creating this?
Why do I keep on stepping into relationships with emotionally unstable people, or projecting emotional instability onto my loved ones.
The truth, which I only finally got at in the last 6 months or so, despite holding curiosity around this for some years, is that my inner child had a story.
A story that my mother was going to kill herself and leave me.
How accurate my memories are from back then (we’re talking 3-5 years old) is unclear. But it doesn't really matter.
Because the fact is that my child’s perception of it (or what I’ve been able to recall to consciousness thus far) is that my mother was very sad and very tired. A lot.
She cried a lot.
She and my dad verbally and physically fought, a lot.
She slept a lot.
And within myself I discovered the story (hidden away by my ego, because it was so potentially damaging for me to know) that I believed I was not enough for her to want to live for. And the story that it was my responsibility to make her happy. To keep her happy. And to get her to keep on choosing to live.
And thus I walked on eggshells and fawned and reassured and held many of my own feelings inside. I abandoned myself to serve my mother. The most important person in my world. Like a good little soldier.
It’s important to note that there is no blame here.
She was a very young mother doing the very best she could in very difficult circumstances, and I can see that she loved me with a fierceness and desperation that comes from feeling inadequate herself.
I know this feeling well, for I have, and sometimes still do (see above) the very same with my own children. Even though I know much better than she did back then.
But this story that I am so inadequate that my own mother didn’t think I was enough – a faulty story forged by a tiny child who had no concept of the nuances and complexities of human behaviour – ruled my life unfettered, for almost four decades.
To be honest, it made me, not so much a people-pleaser, but a people-avoider. A person who felt frustrated by people who wanted me to take responsibility for them or to make me the centre of their world.
I avoided commitment at the emotional level.
I left myself quite disconnected from the "dangerous" reality of loving people.
I have this specific memory, in a moment of despair a year or so after the birth of my daughter (second child), breaking my heart over the pain that I had allowed into my life by having two babies that I couldn’t emotionally disconnect from (fuck knows I tried).
Babies that (it seemed at the time) I would have to spend the rest of my life desperately trying to keep safe and alive. The idea that I would forever be terrified for them, no matter how old and capable they grew. And look at how this piece began to see that this is still true for the disempowered parts that still live within.
Of course, back then, I didn’t realise that my horror was rooted in this story with my mother. But it is so clear to me now that it was.
And let’s not even get into how being so emotion-avoidant stifled my professional life, my business, my ability to make it rain money.
And so the point of all this rambling? I don’t know really. I just wanted to write a longer piece on this.
Mostly just to say that the stories we (all) create in early childhood – stories created from very limited and largely mis-understood data, sitting in our unconscious. that we can’t even remember – rule our whole entire lives without us knowing a single thing about it.
These stories are why our egos (the gatekeepers of our supposed failings) are birthed into our inner world in the first place. To hide the truth about everything that is “wrong” with ourselves. From ourselves.
But there is light at the end of this tunnel. For there is always a choice to change the rules of engagement.
You see, we have the power to free ourselves from these unconscious commitments. From these habitual programmes.
And with time, patience and compassion, we can lovingly coax them into the light of day and begin to heal them.
Begin to free ourselves.