Posted by: Ele Quigan | September 10, 2013

Me Before You – Jojo Moyes

[[TRIGGER WARNING – the following post contains a fairly graphic explanation of Suicide/suicidality]]

Holiday, Sun/Sea/Sand, beach front apartment, lack of sleep (I’m really not sleeping so well at the moment, nor got enough sleep yesterday after arriving back home at 4:30am from leaving our apartment in Portugal at 18:30) meant for a morning on the balcony reading.

Typically, rather than buying fluffy thriller holiday fiction, I just randomly picked some kindle books that rated well – rather than really analysing them for ‘holiday suitability’. Who wants to be depressed on holiday? (I did take a Barbara Kingsolver. I’m basically a sucker for punishment).

In a nutshell, this book is about a quadriplegic, placed on suicide-watch by his family – with a young woman employed to watch over him. For 6 months. And of course, try to convince him along the way that life is worth living.

Suicide is a topic I haven’t really broached here before. Close to my heart, literally worn under my sleeve, it’s something that I still haven’t got my head around. It’s hard to talk around, so let me blurt this out, like it always sounds whenever i’ve mentioned it to someone. Words tumbling out, that can never be taken back, spoken in a rush – so family/friends/colleagues who read this – please stop if you don’t want to continue.

The last time I really genuinely got the urge to (wipe myself off the planet? leave everything behind? there’s no easy non-sardonic way to say this) – Kill myself – was more recently than I’d like to admit.

Standing alone on a train platform, a rush of emotions around me, life feeling like it had gone topsy turvy again, feeling lost and confused and unsure what was right, and god why was I thinking this again, with the gentle yet utterly convincing, constant whisper through my head, urging myself to just take that last step, and that everything would be better.

Internal monologue is an incredibly powerful thing. I used to barely be able to shut mine up – it’s not voices in my head (I’m not schizophrenic if you really want to know, I was diagnosed with something different), it’s my own feelings, thoughts, reactions – utterly convincing, often determined, occasionally it’s like having a conversation with myself as I work through the motions. It’s this same internal monologue that gets me into trouble sometimes. An enabler of bad behaviour – that knows nothing than to convince myself that something is a good idea. It rarely is.

I was so taken aback. The thought had come out of nowhere. Sure i’d ‘feeling a bit unwell of late’ (as I affectionately call it), but this time it had more power, unable to be easily brushed aside. A powerful whisper, believable, honest, familiar.

I stood next to the tracks for a few minutes, while one part of me willed me to jump, another part of me willed me to just get home. I obviously listened to the latter.

My life to revolve around that solid basis of thought ‘It will make everything better’. Working through the motions of why it would be better, who’s life it would fix, how much happier everyone else would be when I was gone, I wouldn’t be there to stand in anyones way any more. It’s a bizarrely comforting thought process, anyone who says ‘Suicide is the most selfish thing you can do’ hasn’t experienced that thought, feeling, the moment where you convince yourself that this is actually a good idea, and how you process that it will ‘fix’ things – not really understanding how it will in reality make everything worse.

It’s an unusual power to have (it’s the only way that I can explain it to myself) – and I guess that’s why I have tried more than once. Thought about it hundreds of thousands of times. Obsessed over it through late nights, distracted through work, half planning half visualising the future without me in it, seeing nothing but happy faces. No tears, no funeral, no lives left behind trying to see where things went so wrong, no unanswered questions – ‘surely the suicide note will explain everything’ I thought. But the times I’d tried, there was no suicide note.

I’d even thought about Dignitas, presenting a case, ‘Why I should no longer have to life and can you please help me out’ – in the same sense that this story pulled this through.

(I’m spoiling the story I’m sure, but it’s easier to explain it this way)

One of the hardest parts of the book to read wasn’t the end, it was the moment one of the protagonists sees the scars on the other protagonists arms, recoils in shock, surprise, and sadness. I too have those scars.

I hate them, you little caterpillars of both suicide attempts and self harm. I’ve seen the look of sadness in peoples eyes when they see them, it’s almost a distancing, pity as well. I try to keep them covered with a watch, and while some have faded over time, I still don’t know how I’ll ever be able to explain them if I have little ones. I want to make up a heroic story, ‘A dog was locked in a car on a hot day, I had to punch through it and caught my wrist & arms on the way through’. But I can’t do that, it’s cowardly, I guess like a lot of people think suicide is, the easy way out.

It would have been.

Getting better has been an incredibly long struggle. I’m still not in the greatest of shapes all the time, there are other ways to self-harm than a mark on your body – I am however a little bit proud that it’s been so long since I purposefully lacerated my own skin.

I do get sick of ‘I’m fine’ or ‘things are okay’. Last time I did attempt to talk to someone a bit more about how I was feeling – I got “Cheer up”. I cannot put into words how angry I got. I wanted to reach through my monitor and STRANGLE the person. No. It’s not just “Cheer up’ you blithering idiot. I’m trying to tell you my brain is full of obsessive thoughts about trying to kill myself and you’re telling me to just “Cheer up”? Oh and just HOW would you suggest I do that. Just tell myself to feel better? Buy another pair of shoes since shopping seems to help my mood? Eat a fucking chocolate bar?

Ignorance around mental illness saddens me, and yet on the other hand I don’t feel like educating the world either. I do however want it to be more open so I can say ‘No I had a fucking awful weekend where I barely got out of bed and I really REALLY HATE myself today’ – but no, it’s always ‘Oh my weekend was nice and quiet thanks, how bout yours?’. I don’t believe the positive thinking epidemic is a good thing. It makes me feel embarrassed to feel bad sometimes. It makes me feel ashamed, and often unable to mention to people when I feel really bad. I feel guilty having put my problems on someone, whenever I do it’s with piles of ‘I’m sorry I shouldn’t have said anything’ and ‘I promise it wont come to anything.’ And of course the oft used ‘Please don’t worry about me, I’m FINE’. Sometimes I wonder if these are promises I’ll be able to keep.

I spent a lot of the latter half of the book crying. Feeling that somewhere along the line I’d lost lot of myself – understanding both why a paraplegic would want to die, and remembering the times I’ve wanted to die myself. Also seeing it from another side, where people are upset and frightened at the prospect of losing someone.

I was transported to a white hospital room, waking up covered in monitoring equipment, unable to see . With a friend at one side who saved my life – I’m forever ever ever indebted. The other half in a corner crying, and remembering the feeling of how disappointed I was that I woke up.

I couldn’t see for two days. I’d had to drink cup after cup of activated charcoal. Yes it is as bad as drinking sandy tar. My heart has never quite been the same since. But this last time, the last time that I truly acted on that thought, was the catalyst to finally get the help I needed.

The book turned into “chick lit” by the end, felt cheesy, fake, and almost ruined it, but I looked at my own story.

I affectionately call us ‘The prince and the princess’. While we’re far from perfect (no-one nor any relationship truly is) me and the other half that managed to get through my own lack of self-worth, my inherent punitiveness, to where I am today. Through 2 years of therapy twice a week trying to relearn about who I am and how I should think, how to power through storms of emotions, to the point I have pretty much forgotten who I used to be all those crazy years ago. The same person who stood in the hospital room crying, is the one who met me once a week for over a year after one of the twice weekly sessions to feed me lunch (2 flat whites, 2 freshly squeezed orange juices, two sandwiches please) and let me cry a little. The same person who asked me to come to London, where I’ve finally managed to somehow scrape together a sense of self. We’ve known each other and been best friends for 10 years, loved each other for at least 8 of those, and we’re now married.

We’re our own ‘And they lived happily ever after’ story.



  1. Real life is better than fiction in your case 🙂

    In the book – I would have preferred if they had stayed just friends. I don’t like that everything has to come down to this idea of romantic love. I think that Will and Lou’s connection – facing dark demons together and saying things that nobody else would listen to – was stronger than that. I also think the “cliffhanger” ending could have been more real – just boiled down to a few famous last words in the end.

    But the meaning behind it I did find inspirational and moving – live your life. And if you don’t feel your life is worth living, it should be up to you to decide.

    I’m glad you got through what you did.

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