from the wooden house it’s only a short walk over the granite to the sea and eternity
My only serious, truly conscious attempt at suicide came in 2014.
It was the end of the summer and my ex and our three children were at the summer cottage. My ex and I had made it through the holiday without major arguments and A was set to go to school, B was comfortable in school and E was about to start day care. It was the penultimate evening and I explained to Ex that the worst of our parenting was over and now we could have more time for each other and rekindle our love. I loved her.
It was time for a fresh start. A time to start living for each other rather than the children.
Ex saw my guard was down – that finally entering into conversation about the future had exposed my head. Ex swung a metaphorical punch that left me out on my feet and reeling. I was staggered. She wanted me gone. I was utterly alone. Striped of any title I had. Terminated. Separated.
I was divorced from the only reality I knew. Family life gone.
I was rudderless.
Fifteen years of love and family had gone cold and died.
I cried that evening. Crying was nothing new. I had taken to crying myself to sleep most evenings. Silent tears rolling from my eyes and dropping on the floor. They fell to the floor because I slept with my head slightly over the bed so as not to snore. You see, I didn’t want to disturb Ex’s sleep. If I disturbed her sleep, she disturbed mine. Sometimes our relationship was good, sometimes bad but it felt like I came a distant fifth in the family’s priorities. But it was all for the best for the children, wasn’t it? Surely it was only a rough period before we could rejoin the Nordic family paradise of the good life? No it wasn’t.
I write the above paragraph to show that I was already obviously depressed and putting the needs of others far above those of my own. I just didn’t know how far down I already was. What I did know was that others had it much worse and I should persevere. “Fuckin’ man up!” Yeah, I was the fucking up man. A ,man fucked up. I just wasn’t fucking.
Yet, I still cared something for myself, I occasionally raged against what I perceived as petty injustices suffered by myself. The previous year I had lost my temper when told I was disturbing the children’s sleep. I was preparing breakfast and Ex had come back from the outhouse and been enraged that I was boiling water fifteen minutes earlier than normal and would wake everyone. I shouted back in anger about hypocrisy and double standards.
I remember thinking I can’t do right for doing wrong. Then I blamed myself for not knowing what Ex wanted. I loathed myself, my stupid, idiot self. I swung the knife I had in my right hand into my ribcage above my heart. I winced, expelled breath. If it had been the bread knife, a helicopter would have been flying me off the island.
Ex saw what I did. She turned and walked out of the house. I was shocked and scared by own actions. I did the only thing possible. I kept calm and made the breakfast. We didn’t speak of it, it hadn’t happened – although I wore the bruise.
It wasn’t an isolated instance of self-harming. All over my former home there are small indentations where I have headbutted the wall. There are holes in doors. I still headbutt inanimate objects. I headbutted the wall a couple of weeks ago. The pain felt good. It took away that mental distress and replaced it with physical pain that lasted for three days. I did worry that I had taken it too far that time.
I also rain blows on my head when I’m in a moment of particularly intense self-loathing. I tried to stop doing that when I saw A doing the same thing to himself. The first time it happened I rushed to him and held him and explained why it was wrong and that he shouldn’t punish himself because it wasn’t his fault.
He looked at me and I knew he had seen me punching my knuckles into my head. I calmed him. I explained what was wrong, that I was ill but getting better – like he would. I told him I loved him and repeated that we would all be better in the future. I might have even sung Ooh Child to him. I got him ready for school. I closed the door after him. Then I burst into tears. Hammered my head off the wall and stumbled onto my unmade bed. I lay sobbing in that classic foetal position. I didn’t do any work that morning.
I’m good at helping others but I often can’t help myself.
The morning after Ex stated we were separating, we had breakfast as normal. However, my mind raced with thousands of poorly connected and unfinished thoughts and I wasn’t really present. Ex had said she wanted to keep the separation secret until after the children were settled in school and day care and I played along with it – that’s all I remember. That and the feeling I no longer had a purpose. That my purpose had been served and I was now expendable.
Ex and the children left to attend a family gathering at a relative’s summer house.
I wasn’t part of that family anymore, so I stripped off and walked into the sea. I was going to swim until I couldn’t and then I would drown.
The bay was large and isolated and if I didn’t venture beyond a certain line of sight, there was no way I would be seen when I went under.
My plan had several flaws. I had become quite proficient at swimming over the summer. Kayaking had made me stronger as well. The water was warm enough to not chill me. It was a warm, sunny day. I like swimming naked in the sea. The current wasn’t strong. This was the Finnish Archipelago where waves will not lift you and dump sea water over you. Apart from winter cold, there is little in Finland’s environment that will kill you.
All those swimming badges I never achieved when I was a child, I got them that day. That brick you’re are supposed to pick off the swimming pool floor to prove you are capable of diving. Did that too.
I was having fun. I started laughing. I wanted to die and I was having fun. I started singing Smashing Pumpkins’ Today” Then I sang ‘I was floating in the Caribbean’ from the Pixies’ Where Is My Mind.
I flipped over and floated on my back. I began to drift. Looking up I saw ‘the sky was big and empty, my chest filled to explode’. A lone sea eagle circled overhead. I thought of another Triffids song to go with Wide Open Road. I thought of the suicide washed up on the shore in The Seabirds and how the woman he had spent his last night with had said, ‘Little boy, it doesn’t have to end this way’.
Drifting on my back, I made those almost imperceptible adjustments you can do to do nothing but float. But I was twitching as well. Muscles and nerves were tensing. A familiar drone approached – a horse fly. I swore it wasn’t going to take a bite of my flesh. It circled round me. I determined its flight, clapped my hands together and squashed the zombie insect. I was focused and had intention.
I was angry, viciously angry. It occurred to me that Ex must have been planning this for some time. I realised I had something of the status of a full-time au-pair. We could’ve spent the summer somewhere else to please me… But summers were always spent at the fucking summer house – a place where she was at home and happy but where I was basically bored out of my skull after two days.
I felt righteous and was now singing the lyrics, ‘anger is an energy’ and ‘may the road rise with you’ from PIL’s Rise. I remembered I had children, a sister and a father. I wondered what else my ex had planned for me. Whatever it was, I wasn’t going to accept that fate.
I was going to live. I had the inkling of a plan. I swam to our shore. I strode over to the shed and wielded the axe to whack the fuck out of pieces of timber. I lit the sauna. Got it nice and hot, not far short of 100 Celsius, and threw water on the stones to accept that lovely blast of soft heat a well designed sauna can give.
I was going to live well. I was going to live. In the calm and dark of the sauna. I made sensible and irrational plans.
For a few short weeks I had a totally manic burst of energy. A manic burst of energy. Manic energy. Manic.
Then it ran out and I was dead inside again. That’s when I needed help most. When I think I could’ve been rescued by a therapist before the real collapse began.