"They are all okay! And all those things could exist in the same woman. Women shouldn’t be valued because we are strong, or kick-ass, but because we are people.So don’t focus on writing characters who are ‘strong’. Write characters who are people.” (x)
When I was 24 I very nearly killed myself. I was living in Ibiza at the time, in a very nice villa, on the quiet east coast of the island. The villa was right next to a cliff. In the midst of depression I walked out to the edge of the cliff and looked at the sea, and at the rugged limestone coastline, dotted with deserted beaches. It was the most beautiful view I had ever known, but I didn’t care. I was too busy trying to summon the courage needed to throw myself over the edge. I didn’t. Instead, I walked back inside and threw up from the stress of it.
Three more years of depression followed. Panic, despair, a daily battle to walk to the corner shop without collapsing to the ground.
But I survived. I am days away from being 38. Back then, I almost knew I wasn’t going to make it to 30. Death or total madness seemed more realistic.
But I’m here. Surrounded by people I love. And I am doing a job I never thought I’d be doing. And I spend my days writing stories, that are really guide books, the way all books are guide books.
I am so glad I didn’t kill myself, but I continue to wonder if there is anything to say to people at those darkest times.
Here’s an attempt. Here are things I wish someone had told me at the time:
1. You are on another planet. No-one understands what you are going through. But actually, they do. You don’t think they do because the only reference point is yourself. You have never felt this way before, and the shock of the descent is traumatising you, but others have been here. You are in a dark, dark land with a population of millions.
2. Things aren’t going to get worse. You want to kill yourself. That is as low as it gets. There is only upwards from here.
3. You hate yourself. That is because you are sensitive. Pretty much every human could find a reason to hate themselves if they thought about it as much as you did. We’re all total bastards, us humans, but also totally wonderful.
4. So what, you have a label? ‘Depressive’. Everyone would have a label if they asked the right professional.
5. That feeling you have, that everything is going to get worse, that is just a symptom.
6. Minds have their own weather systems. You are in a hurricane. Hurricanes run out of energy eventually. Hold on.
7. Ignore stigma. Every illness had stigma once. Stigma is what happens when ignorance meets realities that need an open mind.
8. Nothing lasts forever. This pain won’t last. The pain tells you it will last. Pain lies. Ignore it.
9. Or, to plagiarise myself: ”Your mind is a galaxy. More dark than light. But the light makes it worthwhile. Which is to say, don’t kill yourself. Even when the darkness is total. Always know that life is not still. Time is space. You are moving through that galaxy. Wait for the stars.” (The Humans)
10. You will one day experience joy that matches this pain. You will cry euphoric tears at the Beach Boys, you will stare down at your baby daughter’s face as she lies contentedly asleep in your lap, you will make great friends, you will eat delicious foods you haven’t tried yet, you will be able to look at a view like this one and feel the beauty, there are books you haven’t read yet that will enrich you, films you will watch while eating extra large buckets of popcorn, and you will dance and laugh and have sex and go for runs by the river and have late night conversations and laugh until it hurts. Life is waiting for you. You might be stuck here for a while, but the world isn’t going anywhere. Hang on in there if you can. Life is always worth it.