A brief diversion today if you shall indulge me. This is going to be a difficult write for me so perhaps a difficult read for you, I’ve no issue with you skipping today, there’s already a great deal of sadness knocking about and an overwhelming outpouring of emotion and opinion on what I’m going to write about. I’m going to shove my contribution here, take it or leave it.
I’ll also say, from the off, that I’m going to write freely – I’m going to shrug off responsibility under the catchall excuse that I am writing from experience, and in order to do that I need to not be restrained by “guidelines” or second-guessing, you are supposed to be very careful when writing about suicide, the perceived fear being your words may in some way be complicit or detrimental to somebody who is fighting demons themselves, but whilst I certainly understand this responsibility, I also find it a slightly stifling constraint when wishing to work through this in an honest manner. Even at this stage I can tell you that what I write today will be contradictory, almost certainly inconsistent throughout, perhaps self-indulgent, perhaps selfish, but these are the hazards that need to be navigated when speaking openly about such a confusing and nonsensical topic, I will also assure you that whatever I write it shall be the truth from this side of the fence, as mind-spinning as it may sometimes be.
That’s the pre-apology done, I shall give you the credit that if you are choosing to continue reading you have understood this, and you accept these terms of responsibility (or lack of).
So. Here’s some back story;
In my show this year – and fuck me, this is so far from a promotional piece, if at any point you think I am being exploitative to shift some tickets then I’ll be appalled with myself, not on any level what this is – there is a relatively brief chat about a suicide attempt. My show deals with impulsivity and the vast majority of it is silly stories of situations I have found myself in as a result of an innate inability to control my inner mischief, but in the run up to the fringe I decided to also include as counterbalance tales of when impulsivity has been a potentially fatal disability. I did think long and hard about it, I did consider my responsibilities and these fell into two main issues; firstly I had a concern, that was shared by some people close to me, that in order to regale the story, I had to also reveal the method. To put it bluntly, when I talk about this particular suicide attempt, I have to also say how I was attempting to do it, which throws up the concern that you are sharing information that you don’t necessarily wish to pass on, especially as you have no idea who is in your audience on any given night (unless you know that you have a reviewer in and have sold no tickets, in which case you do know who is in the audience: It’s Kate Copstick and all your friends).
The second concern I had, came a little later, and it came about because in week one of the Fringe I spotted somebody in the audience who I thought was somebody else, and it panicked me. I have a friend who has been directly affected by a family member who took their own life, and not only this, in the same manner of which I describe during my show. I thought I saw her in the second row, and then suddenly became very aware that I was hurtling towards the section that discusses it. We have two sub issues here, one is that I didn’t wish to be seen as flippant or (I’ll say it again) exploitative of something that had so deeply hurt her (I do speak about it very casually, which is truthful for me and also the most palatable way of getting a regular audience to come with you on such a taboo topic), and secondly, there’s no getting away from this, that section of my show remains very funny. It’s dark, and it’s perhaps not what you’d be expecting from that show – certainly not from the stupid posters – but it is funny and it’s been my biggest secret smugness with this show that I’ve been able to get big laughs from something so desolate.
I had a good look at the person in the audience to be certain it either was or wasn’t my friend, and it wasn’t. I was hugely relieved and continued being brilliant at comedy, but after the show I immediately sent my friend a message asking her if she was going to be coming to my show this year. She said she was and I replied that I really felt I should at the very least have a chat with her beforehand, as I was concerned about how some of the content may make her feel. The discussion went on, without ever saying what the content was and I eventually said “you’ve probably guessed what it is” which she confirmed.
Before my show yesterday we met for a drink and went over it, a conversation which then obviously went on to discuss depression and desperation on a much wider scale. Despite her reassurances I was still unsure, still battling this niggle that it was somehow inappropriate that my stupid show run the risk of potentially salting wounds that would never heal, but as the conversation ran on I began to become comfortable with what was happening here. This was two people, one of whom had been through the ghastly motions of an attempt, and another who had been directly destroyed by a family member coming to that heartbreaking conclusion that there was nothing left to do but that. We concluded that whether I reveal the method or not, people would always find a way, and on the second point, namely my worry of her reaction, I was assured that she could not live her life being protected from the mere mention of this awful thing. We were both in an excellent position to discuss this, and explore it, with emotion certainly, but also with the firsthand experience and philosophical brutality that direct experience brings.
It was potent in the extreme, given the lengths I’d discussed suicide yesterday daytime, when the horrible news filtered through about such an amazing, simply brilliant man apparently getting to that point and leaving us.
There is a terribly misguided compulsion to declare this sort of thing “a waste”, to even feel anger towards the person who has denied us further pleasure. It’s a fundamental misunderstanding and simply not fair. Declarations of selfishness are also all too easy to fling in the direction of the departed, but again, that’s scratching the surface, and this is before we even get to “but he had so much, he had everything…”. It’s just not enough in that situation, once you are there, right at your end. I can’t speak for somebody else, not one of us can, but I can speak from my own experience, and I’ll tell you the tragic truth, that nothing is enough when you have gone that far. You consider the feelings of others, certainly, you fret about it, it pains you, but nothing – absolutely nothing – defeats the pain and hopelessness. No amount of love or guilt or care placed on the opposite end of the scale will bring you back up at that moment. It’s frustrating for all concerned, but that doesn’t make it any less of a fact.
I’m going to limit my take on this to the attempt I made that I have chosen to reveal in my show, there are others, equally complicated events that I could delve into from the last eight months, but I feel a little restraint and self-secrecy on my part will keep this more focused (and fuck knows it’s already all over the place). The method and full situation aren’t for here, I’m just going to tell you how I felt, in that moment, when the spiral had stopped and I realised I was right at the bottom. This is by its very definition hugely self-indulgent, I again offer you the choice to not concern yourself with it and come back tomorrow to get the payoff to my previous blog, there’s just a rather overwhelming urge on my part to get this out today, given my conversations and the dreadful bombshell which ended yesterday on such a sad note.
On a specific and personal level I felt abandoned and betrayed, unloved and unimportant. These were my selfish and self-absorbed reasons, but they were far from selfish at the time, they were hugely contributing factors, as were an increased feeling of frustration with my job, and new financial stresses. Added to this, on a wider level, there was a huge sense of feeling insignificant, like I had absolutely nothing to contribute on any level, just irrelevant. And in a world that has gone to shit, the sheer ruthlessness and nastiness of human beings (not just in relation to me) felt an unbattleable (not a word) foe. It felt cruel for me to have to carry on, cruel that there was any expectation from any corner that I should have to continue to endure this abject misery, the main reason regularly given was how much it would hurt other people. Well, what about the hurt I had to carry to protect others, the pain that consumed me whilst having to take others into consideration? It simply did not balance, it was me or them and I couldn’t comprehend that me being gone would destroy anyone anywhere near as much as I was already destroyed. I was desperate and defeated. The perfect storm.
I still don’t know whether I am relieved or disappointed at my failure, I’ve always felt that would be my end, for as long as I can remember. It may have been dismissed as teenage angst in my younger years, but it continues, I carry it with me like a rucksack full of concrete. I don’t really want to make a conclusion on that front, not just now.
What I don’t want to do is play the ‘tears of a clown’ card, but there is perhaps an underestimation of how this job fucks you up, even if just on a logistical level. I was delighted to have a long chat with Al Murray the other evening, he’d been to my show, been very kind – way beyond the call of duty – and I surrendered my misanthropy for an evening to go for a drink (he had wine by the way, the fucking hypocrite). We discussed many things, decided we were kindred spirits in our views of the comedy industry as a whole, and then the conversation strayed toward the nature of fame (we are both famous in a way). And anyone embarking on a comedy career may wish to look away just now, because the conclusion was; there is no nirvana. No matter what levels of fame and/or success you attain with this stupid job, the job remains the same. Whether you’re prepping for the 02 or prepping your first or tenth fringe show, the process is the same, the stresses are the same, the rules of engagement don’t alter. There’s no privilege that comes with success, it stays the same anxiety-ridden endeavour. It’s the same job. I mention this as a response to the easily held opinion that once you are rich and famous you are just fine and can skip through the roses of success, doesn’t quite happen that way. Sucks, but there we go, where would we be without being challenged?
So let’s get back to other people, the people outside who have to deal (or choose not to) with these weary souls who feel they can’t go on. From the people I was in contact with who were looking out for me, I got two main protestations; one being they simply did not know what to do, they constantly asked what could they do to make it better? The answer, you may have guessed by now, is nothing. The other protestation was the frustration that I was not seeking help, that I should go to the GP, all that stuff. Again, to be blunt, in that mindset, you don’t actually want help. Your opinions are cast in the strongest stone, and regardless of what “professional help” is offered, or what anti-depressants are advised, you are painfully, hopelessly aware, that the facts of the situation remain, no matter what hypnosis or psychological reframing you are subjected to. I did relent, and have counselling, which may or may not have thrown up further issues. The main thing I battled was the concern on the professional side that I was talking about suicide “far too matter-of-factly”. I would argue this till I’m – for want of a better phrase – blue in the face. I maintain that until we take out the kneejerk reactions on this subject, we get nowhere in truly dissecting and understanding it. If you are of the opinion, as I am, that for some people – not all – but some, it truly is the only option, then you are able to talk about it like a grown up. I’d be a hypocrite if I said everyone has something to live for, the wicked, vile but honest truth is, some people do not. It honestly is a cruelty to expect a person to soldier on, when all hope has truly gone, when the fight would be stopped if it was in a boxing ring. Horrible, truly horrible, and a difficult thing to even attempt to get your head round, but that doesn’t mean it is not an – admittedly very difficult – truth. The real tragedy comes (check that, it’s always a tragedy) when it is somebody who truly does have reason to carry on, but cannot see through the veil of desperation and still leaves.
In answer to the “what do I do?” question that is regularly pleaded, I will answer that from my own experience. I will first preface this though by saying, you cannot stop someone if that’s what they are going to do. You can’t. I wish I could tell you something different, but you can’t.
Here’s what not to do, and some of this may sound selfish, but tough:
Don’t turn your back on someone, don’t call someone’s bluff. Even if you are certain it is attention seeking or a cry for help, even if it is a massive inconvenience for you, if you care for that human being on any level, take them seriously. In a worse case scenario, your apparent dismissal of their plight may just be the last piece to fall into place for them. There is obviously a huge desolation, but this is often compounded with an uncontrollable anger, and being pointedly ignored, or perhaps worse, not believed, can only throw more fat on the fire. That’s unfair, we know that and hate ourselves for it, it is really unfair on you, but this is what we are dealing with if we are being truly honest. They may very well take the same journey regardless, but for fuck’s sake be there for them till they go, take that pain as it will definitely be nowhere near theirs.
Out of tragedy, often grows great beauty, and today – after that last night – there has been an overwhelming surge of love, certainly on the social media that I subject myself to. This will definitely pass, all emotion just now, but let’s revel in it for the time being. People are expressing care for other people, I’ve personally had a load of messages from friends and strangers alike, saying the kindest and loveliest things today. On my heart, they mean so much. I know I am so lucky in my life to have people who regularly express their care for me, in fact one person’s reaction to the knowledge of my attempt reset my head to the point where I actually did think I had a responsibility and could not do that to her, not if that was how she reacted to the very notion that I would even attempt it, how she would react should I succeed was an unbearable thought. Maybe that is keeping the demon at bay, it cannot be her responsibility and I would never feel comfortable with her taking that as her role in life, being my saviour. None of us can ever take on something so huge, but the surge of love I feel for her, and how much my continuance clearly means to her, hit very hard indeed. In a nice way. My other friends, old and new, have raised the bar of friendship, they know who they are, I really hope they know how much I appreciate them, I’ve often not for ridiculous reasons, I don’t think that will ever be the case again. It has felt like a day for letting people know.
It’s been speculated today, that if the amazing, unique, beautiful soul that was and remains Robin Williams had foreseen this gargantuan outpouring of love, he would not have left. I’m not sure. I don’t know his mind or circumstances. I can, however, tell you this rather contrary fact to the whole “people will do it regardless” claim I’ve made:
When I last tried, no other person would have been able to stop me, not in the moment, that is true, but something happened and I aborted the mission myself, not sure what it was, just something. But there have been times since, where darkness started to fall, when expressions of love and care have brought me round in time. I really hope the world continues this outpouring of appreciation for the people that matter to them, you can never say it enough, you need to make sure people knew – no matter what happens at the end – be sure that you have told them. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is more important than the people in your life.
“If there’s love, dear…those are the ties that bind” Mrs Euphegenia Doubtfire
RAY PEACOCK – HERE COMES TROUBLE – 9:25pm Underbelly, 30 July-24 August 2014. Tickets at underbellyedinburgh.co.uk or 0844 545 8252