Four Jammy Biscuits Saved My Life Today
(How to NOT kill yourself)
© Adrian Kenton 2012
Sounding Off Publishing
Adrian Kenton asserts his right as sole author. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be copied, recorded, used or stored in a retrieval system, electronically or otherwise, without the author’s explicit written permission. This publication is protected in the UK in accord with The License, Copyright and Patents Act of 1988; and internationally in accord with the Berne Convention and Council Directive 93/98/EEC – Oct 1993.
Four Jammy Biscuits Saved My Life Today
(How to NOT kill yourself)
“The spirit of a man can put up with his malady, but, as for a stricken spirit who can bear it?”
side 1 – bare fact
Is there anything good about mental illness? We’re told not. It’s all negative and negative is bad.
opening the packet
Stood there, naked in my bathroom, ready for the final time to step into the clear warm water with a razor blade in my hand, I asked myself, “is there nothing left, nothing at all, that I want?” … No ... Nothing, was the answer.
Em… ehh… that’s weird… actually, there was something else… ehh… I could eat a Jammie-dodger biscuit!
This was just one of many suicidal episodes. The worst, though. The desire saturated every fibre of me. I have experienced six different ‘types’ of suicidal feelings over countless episodes, following a complete breakdown in 1997. I learned to resist or evade suicide over the years, since. Sometimes it was dependant on the flimsiest, most haphazard of interventions. I promised myself never to act on any driving compulsion until all my established coping mechanisms – numerous, varied and bizarre – had been exhausted. Except the moments when I felt possessed. I was a passenger then.
On this occasion, I had tried everything. This world was far too cruel a place and I couldn’t hack it. My tortured, exhausted mind and body wanted one thing – to die. Nothing else. Nothing now. Nothing for the future. Only to be free of pain. Enough is enough. Nothing momentous about it. No hesitation. No resignation. No heightened emotional state. Just the knowledge I couldn’t take another second of this existence. And it would only take a few more for it to drain peacefully away.
Not killing yourself, when that is all you want in life, is a skill. Not many people are likely to discover this, but they should know about it, just in case.
Life has some inbuilt gear that seeks to continue against all odds. Why? When we’re old, we don’t feel old mentally, and we moralise about it, but never seriously contemplate the option of dying unless we’re severely pressured or suffering. We never credit the topic of suicide with any validity, even when suffering is involved. But suicide is much more than simply wanting to be dead. There is a big difference. It has numerous faces.
When we watch animals guarding their territory, fighting or fleeing, we anthropomorphise to place their behaviour within our own terms of reference. It’s pretty hard not to equate it with familiar human emotions like fear, but are they the same? Is there a difference between fear and survival reactions? Amongst mammals, birds and even amongst some insects we see reactions to danger. Survival strategies. Rarely do we encounter creatures that have no survival instinct. If they were simply to make up the numbers in a food chain, why don’t fish simply saunter into a dolphin’s mouth or a gannet’s beak? Why put them to all the trouble? For centuries we misunderstood lemmings, whales and elephants. A bee will sting as a last resort, but does it know it will rip its insides out? An army of ants will electrocute themselves deliberately on a live cable, allowing the rest of their colony to walk over their charred bodies to bypass a train line that would momentarily kill the few hundred that happen to be on the rails as each train passes. Not as often as you’d think, actually, since the fused corpses short a red light signal to the traffic control. But this kind of mass suicide is rare in nature. A rat will chew its own leg off to escape a trap we’re told. Human explorers too, apparently. What is it that makes life kick in under the most extreme pressure and what does it take to contemplate death as a choice?
A stray dog approaches, happily mooching its way around driveways and dustbins, cocking its leg, unconcerned. It gets closer; you hold out your hand with a treat, coax it gently, but its tail curls between its legs, it skirts around and darts past in a panicky wide birth, or it stops short and backs away slightly – more cautious of danger in its periphery while sidetracked by the unsolicited attention – a distant car door shuts and it jerks to one side as if the impact was an inch away. Straight away, you know how that dog has been treated. The dog’s natural reaction could actually land it in more danger than it perceived it was in. How many times we’ve seen a panicked animal accidentally killed. The dog doesn’t have to stay that way. It could isolate itself from its environment; or with someone’s care and attention, it could once again acclimatise and regain a level of confidence and trust.
We hate to think of human beings being in such a state. We’re so advanced as a species. Yet, if you have ever heard a genuine primal scream, you’ll know it is not something replicable that can be engineered through meditation. We are not so far removed from a whelping distressed animal. There is a state beyond physical and mental familiarity. A state beyond the conscious choice of life or death. A state outside the tolerance of a fuse wire. And we all have it as instinctively as any other animate creature. You have it.
Trauma and distress in humans rarely shows as overtly. That’s one of the scary things about it, but most of the problem of why mental trauma is so scary and devastating is because the environment we’ve created around it is negative, intolerant and hostile.
The problem seldom rests with those who are suffering mental illness. ‘They’re weak or unduly negative or defective; leave them for the experts, to deal with.’ This is the public perception that has been perpetuated from Dickensian times and the mental health sector has done little to alter it, or their standards of care. Instead of everyday common knowledge, it’s an elitist environment that many “experts” have been able to exploit and sometimes abuse; indulging their egos at vulnerable peoples’ expense.
But the reality is, people suffering extreme mental distress are usually more positive than you or even they can imagine, even when they don’t appear to be. They’re inspirational if we only take the time to find out why. They can show us how to get through when the filthiest shit hits the fan. The dog was never in real danger until it reacted to what it perceived. But how do we cope with the crap that comes from within? Of course we’re all shit-scared of it, it is scary, but it shouldn’t be. It is our hostility towards it that perpetuates and compounds the fear, more than the experience itself. Instead of levelling all the conditions upon the behaviour of the person who is suffering – almost to scapegoat them – we need a broader understanding of the positive and negative influences. These influences can turn out to be the complete opposite to some of the precepts we hear in clichéd responses from professionals, family and public alike. Perpetuating those clichés implicates us.
We have to counter these erroneous precepts to preserve any level of sanity without resorting to some delusional denial. As we’ll see later, people suffering mental illness don’t have the monopoly on that. But even if you’re fortunate enough to develop skills in managing invasive mental illness, there are factors beyond your control and one of them might be your mind.
Don’t assume that’s necessarily a bad thing. The mind is more awesome than we could ever imagine. There are incalculable positive anomalies that can mean the difference between letting go and hanging on. And if you ever get to that stage, surprisingly, there might not even be much effort involved. The influences and differences between the two options, depending on circumstances, can be equally valid and have surprising and positive outcomes. You’d be amazed at your propensity for survival under the most intense pressure, even the overwhelming desire to end it all. We have not been educated about these options and influences; not told what these differences can be. Maybe because they don’t always make sense. But we’re missing out on an awful lot of pain relief. The desperate excruciating pain of a mother to give birth can last days and is often mentioned as the worst kind of pain. It isn’t. There is an all-consuming pain that can make you deranged over years and years. It can paralyse and disable and disfigure you for good, if it remains unchecked. We need to understand what causes this pain, how it works and what makes it worse. Most importantly, how we might ease it. Whether that pain is from something real or imagined, it will not go away until we treat it as real. So, how do we get real?
Slavoj Zizek in his book ‘Welcome to the desert of the real’1 states “...the true choice apropos of historical traumas is not the one between remembering or forgetting them: traumas we are not ready or able to remember haunt us all the more forcefully. We should therefore accept the paradox that, in order to really forget an event, we must first summon up the strength to remember it properly. In order to account for this paradox, we should bear in mind that the opposite of existence is not non-existence, but insistence: that which does not exist continues to insist, striving for existence...” So rather than turn away, turning away from ourselves, it means opening ourselves up to closer scrutiny of our pain and possibly a redefining, repositioning, or justification for it. This is not a new idea; but the concept that eating a few biscuits can alleviate suicidal compulsion must be. As soon as I discovered it, after my initial shock, I thought – ‘people need to know about this.’’
The only way to illustrate it, is if I attempt to take you through my painful journey. By trying to replicate all the contributing factors and symptoms, the anatomy of depression if you like, means you might get not only a sense, but a feeling of depression. In effect it could make for a depressing read, but it’s about successfully getting through and that’s the point. Don’t worry, there will be respite. But if you’re squeamish, look away now.
So, how do you describe the density of compulsion to end your life? The sheer weight of severe depression? The consuming agony? Let’s cut the crap right away. What it isn’t is this:
It isn’t conditional on the personality, circumstances or level of tenacity and determination of an individual. It isn’t because of a giving in or a giving up. It isn’t down to a lack of backbone. It isn’t due to a self-serving attention-seeking deficiency. It isn’t being fed up, or being sick of a situation you feel powerless to get out of, or settling for something that’s unfulfilling. It isn’t being stuck in a valueless existence. Depression is very different to a prolonged miserable feeling. Many people can cope with that perfectly well. It can arise from those feelings, depending how desperate they become, but it can also be fairly unrelated to that, in some ways. It isn’t just mental but overwhelmingly physical.
What it is is another world; another existence you never knew was there. It is part of you. A surreal part of your subconscious existence but nonetheless real, valid. As much as you’d like to deny it, it is as much a part of you as your need to shit. It is a language we find foreign, but one we all know. It is why we get toilet humour and Radiohead, even if we turn up our noses at them. It’s there in your gut. It’s primal and can make you do things you’d never dream of. It can turn you into a monster or a freak, fill you with inhuman rage and panic, or render you defenceless, imprisoned as a battery hen. It can make your body feel like a drowned corpse bloated with filth, oozing filth from your pores, while at the same time absorbing all the filth, all the injustice, all the pain that is being dished out around the world; from the jolted senses of a child witnessing a violent act between its parents, to a loving parent or potential parent being deprived of their child; from the petrochemical contamination of every biochemical molecule, from all the crap that gets chucked into the sea, to a dead fish being thrown back because it exceeds the EU quota. You feel it all. All in one go. A neglected garden… a rotting window frame… a bus-full of aspiring city workers and students, sat on separate seats, not talking to each other, passing the waving brolly of a pensioner pushing their arthritic limbs to the max, but not max enough to catch it. A flickering florescent in a factory that’s operated by a skeleton crew, covered in dust. A row of starlings shitting from a telephone cable. A ruche in the carpet, sticking out from the gripper-rod, stabs you in the heart. People laughing and dancing, holding and hugging, performing and receiving awards. And not receiving awards. A drunk staggers from a pub, lighting up. A bloke turns over the engine of his well preserved two-tone Corsair, first time. It punches a hole in your chest the size of a wrecking ball. A damp cracked slab with a weed poking out.
How do these things exhibit so much pain? How can you describe the pain of everything that exists, feeling all that in one body, at one time? Over-sensitive? Over-concerned? Unreasonably pre-occupied? You have no justifiable reason to feel all this. You try everything not to feel it, because you reason you must have a choice in it. Think again. Just try and think. Or try not to think. It’s impossible. Argue what you like. It doesn’t make it less dense, less consuming, less real. Less.
And when you’ve already faced most of the contributing factors in your life and all your imagined demons and there’s no remaining justification for all this pain, you’re convinced it’s organic; it lurks in some dark recess of your bowels ready to consume you at will. Whose will? Not yours; it’s not always a conscious thing or a consequence of over-deliberation. It emerges sometimes without provocation and erodes or gobbles up your will until it possesses you and inflicts its own. And there’s nothing you can do. Fight as you might, you’re a hostage. It may eventually go away and return, unexpectedly, to paralyse and cattle-prod you again until you’re exhausted, spent, consumed. It comes and goes as it pleases. But it is so intrinsic, by then, you can’t treat it like an enemy any more. I mean, it’s got to be your own will, really… hasn’t it?
That’s what most people think. That’s why they blame the people who suffer this. That’s why it’s inconceivable, to think you can do to yourself things that are worse than anything you could imagine in a horror or war movie.
Those who have suffered this know it, even if they can’t describe it. They rarely have to explain to other sufferers. But to those who haven’t experienced it, it is foreign to their rational sensibilities. Explain until you’re blue in the face, they’ll never get it. They can’t possibly understand and that’s a safeguard, in a way. But that lack of understanding on the part of family, carers, professional services and the general public impacts negatively on people who are vulnerable and suffering. That’s no good for anyone.
So, this book is for all people, everyday people and professionals working in mental health and other services. It is for those who are in the dark and for anyone who is afraid of it. Because, it’s the fear that perpetuates it and renders you paralysed when it hits. Some feel that it’s not good to analyse everything, but it doesn’t stop them suffering. If you have a choice and can get by in life, via distraction or denial (one of my best friends makes an excellent case for that), then good luck.
This book is mostly for those who don’t have a choice. All you know is that you don’t know you’ll never end up that way. And there are people who can take your choices from you. I didn’t have a choice. There was a single thing I had to do… a single thing I wanted. My life, reduced to a single desire.
Jammy biscuit. Not quite the hearty breakfast of the condemned man but it was something. Why go while I still wanted something else? That didn’t make sense. It would only delay proceedings by a couple of minutes.
So I did that.
What’s good about that – a person deciding between taking his life and eating a biscuit? Think about it…
End life / Eat biscuit
So… what do you think?
What’s good about it? Don’t worry if you didn’t get it, this time around, but it’s only the central point to this whole book. If you just read over it, give this question some thought before you continue. And if you’re still not getting anything, don’t worry. It is a difficult thing for anyone to get their head around. All I can ask, for now, is that you thought seriously about it.
But this was my life.
The implications are profound in both negative and positive ways.
Ok. So, I thought, ‘I’ll go with the biscuit, then I’ll get it over with.’ I sat there thinking I’d at least enjoy them. It was like eating cardboard. Even they’d let me down.
Three biscuits later I felt no different. Didn’t expect to. Was in no doubt I was going to kill myself. Didn’t feel the slightest compulsion to carry on eating, but I might as well force myself to finish the packet and go with a stuffed belly.
So, I chomped on the next one…
1 (Verso London, New York 2002)
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This page contains the first chapter of Four Jammy Biscuits Saved My Life Today by Adrian Kenton as a sample. This sample has been published with permission from the author and/or publisher of Four Jammy Biscuits Saved My Life Today, whoever originally submitted the book for review.