I’m a bit timid whenever I travel to new places so it isn’t really a surprise that I found exploring to be an emotional challenge. What was a surprise was how rapidly and completely I fell apart.
When I was twenty-three I moved away from home for the first time to pursue graduate studies at a university halfway across the second largest country in the world. I went alone, preceded by a kitchen in three boxes, to live in a beautiful apartment in a nice neighbourhood. I got there, slept on a tiny air mattress for a week, away from everyone and everything I knew. For the first few days I explored diligently, went to my new university and met people, but as the week went on I became more and more insular and afraid to leave my house.
I’m a bit timid whenever I travel to new places so it isn’t really a surprise that I found exploring to be an emotional challenge. What was a surprise was how rapidly and completely I fell apart. In seven days I went from being excited about the challenges of Graduate School, to standing in a kitchen holding a knife and wanting to end my life. Four years later I can tell you step by step how I would have done it. I can tell you where I would have died. My life nearly ended in early September 2008, in a bathtub, in a little house in Ontario more than one thousand miles from my friends, family, and the ocean. I’m a tidy sort: there would have been a pillow for my head, running water to minimize the mess, some money to pay the cleaning bill. My landlord would have found the body when he came to check in on me. I had thought it through, and I can say with absolute certainty that if I had taken that final step I would be dead.
It feels strange that I don’t recall the exact date, but I do recall the feeling of the knife in my hands as I sat on the counter in the kitchen. I own a couple of pocket knives, a couple of hunting knives, and I had a kitchen worth of random blades to choose from. The knife that would have put an end to me? A simple pocket knife I’ve had since high school, it was a present from my father. I still have it. I can tell you right now where it is, and I have been able to since that day. Probably I will always be able to. But the implement had no significance to the act I was contemplating, it was just a knife.
I didn’t even unpack.
I’m alive today for the weirdest of reasons. It wasn’t my best friend’s voice, or my parents’, or my sister’s, or even my then girlfriend of five years that kept me from doing it. I managed to convince myself that my absence from their lives would be fine. Hell, my sister is the beneficiary of basically my entire estate. I was sick enough to think the inheritance would be of more value to her than having me in her life. What kept me in it, really, was thinking about a good friend who lost her father when she was little. I’ve never asked her what happened, but for the two hardest days of my life I was utterly convinced that he had killed himself. I couldn’t let myself do that to her. And I couldn’t push past the belief that she wouldn’t forgive me. Everyone else? I thought they would be fine. Better off without me.
So, is suicide a men’s issue? Absolutely. The gender of the person who is thinking about suicide is immaterial; the only thing that matters is the prevention of tragedy. Whoever you are, wherever you are from, the world is better for having you in it. No life is so irrelevant that we are not all lessened by its loss, and no matter how bad you feel, no matter how alone, there are people who will dearly miss you. Don’t forget it. We all have moments when we are afraid, and feel alone, but we never are. There are always people who can—who will—help you. You are loved.
My fellow men must disregard the culture of emotional rigidity that says we are not allowed to show our feelings. Flexible thinking helps us to balance ourselves out and avoid succumbing to the monsters within all of us. Make no mistake. Being strong does not involve closing off emotions or seeking to work through them on your own. We need to work together to learn to express ourselves constructively, and to reshape society so that men can be comfortable being emotionally communicative.
Suicidal thinking is a monster to face, one which is extremely hard to put back in its cage once you first let it out. I got up, I walked away, and I got help. I still face the urge to kill myself from time to time. It gets out of its cage no matter what I seem to do. Sometimes its work that lets it out, sometimes women, sometimes loneliness, but I know that I cannot ever gratify it. Suicide is not an option: it is the forfeiture of all options. It is never, ever the right choice.
In Canada and the U.S., the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Read more on Suicide.
Image of tiger courtesy of National Library of Ireland on The Commons/Flickr