Gillian Smith is a Scottish author and mental health advocate, who found her own recovery through writing about her experience with suicidal thoughts and mental illness. Gillian is a supporter of Grassroots and believes in the importance of open and honest discourse in making those around us feel comfortable in sharing their own stories – and that no one should feel that they are alone and can’t open up about what they’re facing. Below is Gillian’s account of how writing led her to a better understanding of herself and the world around her.
All throughout my teenage years, I struggled with depression and anxiety. During a time when people didn’t talk about mental health, I suffered in silence, too afraid to speak out, feeling that my struggles weren’t valid, that nobody would understand or even care.
When I was 14, I was violently attacked and humiliated by people who I thought were my friends. On seeing my first real glimpse of how cruel and uncaring the world and the people in it could be, I lost my faith in the world and in humanity, and sank into a deep depression. Overnight, I went from being a regular teenage girl struggling with the same self-doubt and angst we all do as teenagers, to being overcome with anger, self-hatred and worthlessness.
I no longer wanted anything to do with the world around me or anyone in it. I blamed myself for not being strong enough to cope with something that so many others move on from so easily. I felt completely alone. But I carried on as normal, and never told anyone how I was feeling. I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone about how I was feeling, I thought nobody would understand. On the surface, I was still trying to be a normal teenage girl desperately trying to fit into the world around me that I hated, and that I felt hated me, but underneath, everything I did became a struggle, every breath I took was forced.
“I didn’t want to die, I just didn’t want to live anymore”
One of the thoughts that got me through my teenage depression was thinking that one day it would be over. One day I would grow up and be happy, the same way everyone else was. But when my depression followed me into adult life, during a time when I thought I was happy, I lost all hope that I would ever be truly happy, and I decided to end my life. I didn’t want to die, I just didn’t want to live anymore. I convinced myself that I had tried my hardest but I was just too weak to ever overcome my depression. I told myself that I was a burden to those around me, that the world would be better off without me. But when I woke up the next day, still alive, I felt even worse, knowing how much I had hurt those around me. I knew then that I had to try to find another way. I had to find hope again.
“I had spent my life searching for happiness, searching for a light, to scare away the darkness. But seeing the diversity of the world and people in it, showed me that maybe it was possible to live with both”
I decided I needed to find a reason to live. I had to know that the world could be a beautiful place and that there was something out there worth living for. I travelled to the most diverse place I could think of, somewhere as far from home and from my comfort zone as I could. I found myself in South Africa, a nation famed for its poverty, drought and discrimination. If there was anywhere in the world that I could learn how to be happy in an unfair world, it was there. As I travelled, I saw beautiful sights and terrible sights. I saw rich people, poor people, sad people, happy people. I saw that the world is a mixed bag of dark and light. I had spent my life searching for happiness, searching for a light, to scare away the darkness. But seeing the diversity of the world and people in it, showed me that maybe it was possible to live with both. If it was possible to live in poverty, yet be so rich in life, then maybe it was also possible to live with depression and be happy at the same time. The world can be cruel and dark and unfair, but it can also be beautiful and peaceful and full of hope. My mental illness is a part of me, and it always will be. And in learning that it is possible to mix dark with light, I learned to accept it, and learned to live in harmony with it.
“I started to understand that my depression and everything I had been through because of it, was part of what makes me who I am”
That’s when I started to write. I wrote of the events of my past that I needed to understand in order to move past them. I forced myself to face the demons that I had spent my life running from. Seeing my problems and my feelings written down in front of me, everything started to fall into place. I started to understand that my depression and everything I had been through because of it, was part of what makes me who I am. I had always considered myself as weak, for not being strong enough to get through it. But now here I was, I got through it. I wasn’t weak at all, I was stronger for everything I had gone through. And suddenly, and probably for the first time in my life, I was proud of myself. I was proud of everything that I had conquered. I was proud that I was still here, fighting, no longer having to force myself to keep breathing.
“I want to encourage others to look more deeply at their own stories, to write them, post them, talk about them”
Now, I want to share with the world how much writing my story has helped my recovery and acceptance after my attempted suicide. I want to encourage others to look more deeply at their own stories, to write them, post them, talk about them. To accept them and endorse them for helping them become the warriors they are today; survivors of mental illness who continue to get stronger each and every day. I want people to share stories with each other so that they know they are not alone. Just like I did, too many people suffer in silence, but none of us are alone, we are all in this together. I hear other survivor stories and it encourages me to keep going, inspired by the bravery and resilience of other mental health warriors. I published my memoir Make Yourself this year as my story through depression, suicide and recovery, because I hope that it will show other people who are struggling that there is hope beyond hopelessness, and there can be life after attempted suicide.
If you want to hear more aboout Gillian’s story, find her on Instagram @recovery_in_writing, where there is also a link to buy her memoir, Make Yourself.