This post contains subject matter that is difficult to read. It includes discussion of suicide including suicidal ideation, a suicide pact and suicide baiting.
This post is Part Two of my last post (Me & Carol – Part One). I recommend that you read that earlier post before reading this one.
As one of my favourite writer’s wrote:
“…in a world I’d never known among people whose existence I never thought possible,
became for me a concentrated course in the horrors of insanity and the dwelling-place
of those judged insane, separating me forever from the former acceptable realities and assurances of everyday life.”
– Janet Frame, An Angel At My Table
It was Friday, when Carol had been discharged but I was still an inpatient at the local psychiatric hospital where we had got to know each other. Back then, 20 years ago, while mobile phones were common, it was certainly not everyone that owned one. I didn’t have one so relied on being able to use the patient telephone to make contact with anyone outside of the hospital.
Carol and I spoke by phone that day and she told me that she wanted to go ahead with our earlier plans (our suicide pact) to die the next day, but as I wasn’t able to be with her that she would do it alone.
It is fair to say that I totally understood her desire to die. I wanted to die too. While I’m not sure that I outright encouraged her to go ahead with the plan, I am certain that I didn’t discourage her. At the end of our conversation, she told me she was turning off her phone and that we would not speak again. I guess that we ended by saying goodbye, but I don’t remember that aspect.
What I do remember is the terrible dilemma I sat with for the next 24 hours. Would I tell someone or not? Would I get help to stop her planned suicide attempt?
The short story is that I didn’t tell anyone, and that is something I will always have to live with.
Saturday came and went, and I continued to be torn apart by what I knew, and what I imagined was happening, eventually coming to the conclusion that my friend was by now dead. I heard nothing.
It was three days later when my then-husband Dave arrived to visit that night, armed with a letter that had come in the mail. It wasn’t something I was expecting. On opening it I found that it was a ‘suicide note’ from Carol. It was hard to disguise my distress from Dave, but essential because he knew nothing, as did anyone else.
It was some days further on before I got a phone call. It was Carol, and she was in ICU. She had survived but had sustained serious damage to her heart which she would carry for the rest of her life. I admit that I was struck by a terrible dichotomy of feelings. Relieved she was alive but disappointed that she hadn’t achieved her goal. You see, I could understand her despair and desire to end her life. Our hopelessness was something we each carried, but also shared together. In my sickness, I really wanted for her pain and suffering to be over. I was disappointed for her.
In the months that followed, Carol and I went separate ways. It wasn’t something that we wanted, it’s just what happened as a result of unrelated circumstances. I shifted to another city, and after eventually ending my marriage, did not return to Wellington. We eventually lost contact and today, I have no idea where Carol is. I have looked for her on social media with no luck.
“Now I am setting out into the unknown. It will take me a long while to work through the grief. There are no shortcuts; it has to be gone through.”
– Madeleine L’Engle
Of course, this was not over when Carol and I parted company. There was a lot for me (and presumably her) to process and work through. What I had done, in agreeing to this pact and then ‘allowing’ Carol to go ahead with the plan, was monumental. We were no longer together but I carried guilt with me from that time on. As my recovery from mental illness began, I found myself carrying more and more guilt. I began to understand the implications of what I had done. And now that we had no way of contacting each other, there was no way of working through it.
I think that it’s fair to say that friendships between people with severe mental illnesses can become pretty intense, pretty quickly. It is an emotional rollercoaster that while on that journey we gather those around us into. My experience is that particularly when you are in a group therapy environment, that rollercoaster gets bigger and faster. In group therapy, you are often sharing intimate parts of your life with other participants. You get to know each other well. But it’s an artificial environment, controlled to some extent by the therapist. At some point, it comes to an end, and in my experience, you can expect the friendships to last forever, but that often doesn’t happen. Outside of that controlled environment (for Carol and I it was the hospital), there can actually be nothing to tie you together.
In my years of mental health treatment, I can think of a number of my friendships that have been intense but actually didn’t last once outside of the therapuetic environment. I think this is what happened for me and Carol.
You may rightly wonder why I am sharing the journey I went on with Carol. Why would I even admit this stuff? Good question. I am opening myself up to all kinds of abuse.
A few months back, was the story of Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy, where Michelle (by text messages) encouraged her boyfriend Conrad, to kill himself. Michelle got 15 months prison time for her encouraging texts. At the time, the court announced it’s decision, there was a lot of fierce and hateful comments on social media towards Michelle. I hung my head while the antagonism towards Michelle Carter was in the news because I felt if people only knew, they would target me with abuse too.
What was so different in that case from what I did to Carol? It seemed the only substantial difference I could see was that Carol survived her suicide attempt. Conrad didn’t. While it was reported that both Conrad and Michelle were depressed at the time of his suicide, I suspect too that the mental illness Carol and I were both experiencing was more severe. But no excuse.
I can’t justify anything I did (and didn’t do). It is actually hard for me to imagine doing what I did, but then I am not as severely ill as I was, so perhaps I can claim to be a different person. But some people do bad things when they are severely mentally ill. Many of them end up in prison, forensic psychiatric care, or with severe consequences for what they do. Many have to live with the burden of what they did.
While thinking out loud (that’s what I do on my blog) I am struck that the biggest hurdle is perhaps to forgive oneself for what has been done while mentally ill. I think that is where I am at now. I realise that I need to forgive myself for having let Carol down. I wasn’t a good friend to her because I was so caught up in my own hopelessness that I couldn’t find hope (or help) for her.
I can’t have this conversation with Carol. I don’t even know whether she is dead or alive. But I have to find a way to forgive myself so that I can live on.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy
Thanks for reading