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To the girl I never knew who took her own life

It’s too late for her - but if you’re having suicidal thoughts, please, please read this

By Jon McKnightPublished 3 years ago 10 min read
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To the girl I never knew who took her own life
Photo by David Monje on Unsplash

Darcy, my dear, I never knew you - and probably never would have done. But your untimely death has had a major impact on me and countless others who’ve known what it’s like to feel as desperate as you did.

Like them, I wish I’d had a chance to talk to you, to hear your troubles, to see if I could lead you gently from that fateful path I so nearly trod myself.

I don’t know how you killed yourself or why you killed yourself, but I do know that so many people left behind - including strangers, like me - are thinking but one thing: if only we’d known.

The terrible tragedy of it, Darcy, is that you’ve denied yourself the hindsight that I and so many others now enjoy after experiencing the same suicidal thoughts that haunted you. But, in our case, we chose not to act on them, or failed in our attempts.

If you had not succeeded - and how we all wish that were the case, Darcy - it’s almost certain you’d be sitting up in bed now and experiencing the overwhelming, unconditional love that those you’ve left behind undoubtedly felt for you.

In years to come, you’d have been able to look back on this traumatic period in your life and be so grateful that you didn’t go through with it, or didn’t succeed, and would have had so many blessings under your belt by then that you’d be happy to count them and realise how glad you were to have remained alive.

Instead, you’ve become one of those great might-have-beens that the world so sorely misses.

What might Alan Turing have gone on to do if he hadn’t been so crushed by an ungrateful Establishment that they chemically castrated him for being gay, when he and his computer-pioneering genius had shortened the Second World War by two years and saved untold millions of lives?

He, like you, took his own life, and even people like me who weren’t even born then grieve for him and for our loss as a society and a world.

You had that world at your feet, Darcy. You could have been anything. And you’d probably have become something, or someone - someone who, like Alan Turing, might have changed the world.

Your death has robbed us of all that potential and left a Darcy-sized hole that, for your loved ones left behind, will never, ever, be filled.

You were 18, Darcy - always will be, now - and I’m 60. Some will wonder what I could possibly know about the mind of a teenaged girl I’d never even met.

Well, I’ll let you into a secret - something I’ve never admitted in public before, but which I hope might deter others in torment from taking the same irrevocable course that you did in your despair.

On the eve of my 18th birthday, I stood by the side of the busy main road about 30 yards from my home.

I felt in utter despair.

I’d been dumped by my first love a year earlier, and was still taking it badly. All my waking hours were filled with what-ifs, self-reproach, and self-loathing for being what I considered to be a complete social failure.

I stood there, my adulthood only hours away, and saw those endless years ahead as nothing but bleakness, loneliness and rejection.

The world that beckoned held little for me, I thought, so why would I want to be a part of it if I didn’t have to?

As the traffic rumbled past, I waited in hope for a double-decker bus to take me on a one-way trip to the next world.

Fortunately, on the day, buses were few and far between, so I had plenty of time to think about it.

The world would be better off without me, I rationalised. But then I thought of my mother, who’d loved me since the moment she gave birth to me and had been through so much.

Could I do that to her?

What effect would it have on her if I killed myself at such a young age?

She’d been through five miscarriages and had one son who lived for but an hour before the Shirodkar Stitch, a medical breakthrough, made my own entrance into the world possible.

She’d survived a mastectomy in the days when such surgery was rather more brutal, her marriage had been a misery, and yet remained a ray of sunshine who brightened others’ lives and thought, bless her, that the sun shone out of me.

Unimportant as I felt I was, and unwanted by anyone except her, I was rational enough, even as I teetered on the kerb, to imagine the devastation my suicide would have had on her blameless life.

I couldn’t do it.

Some bus driver went home that day unaware that he, too, had narrowly missed a brush with death - mine - and I went the 20 yards home, still in distress, but relieved I hadn’t gone through with it.

Could I have? Yes? Should I have? No.

My mother never knew, and I was glad she didn’t, as her cancer returned and took her only five years later at the age of 50.

But I remained haunted by what I saw as my social failure, Darcy, my unlovability.

As a young journalist, I felt confident and successful and valid as long as I had my notebook open. But when I put it away at night and just became me, not the journalist representing a great newspaper, my demons returned.

I spent the entirety of my twenties alone, wondering repeatedly if my doubts on that kerb on the last day of my 17th year hadn’t been right after all.

From the outside, some might have thought I had a charmed life. I was doing an apparently glamorous job, I won a string of prizes in consumer competitions including a car worth more than a year’s salary, and I got a side-hustle as a motoring editor which gave me a different new car to play with every single week for five years, as well as all-expenses-paid Press trips to Monaco, California and the Arctic Circle.

Winning the car was momentous. People at my office talked of little else for a week. I sold the car and had the biggest amount of spare cash I’d ever had in my life, just waiting to be enjoyed.

But how could I, I thought? I was almost 30, and still couldn’t find love. I could afford to go on holiday almost anywhere... on my own. I could find women who’d be more than happy to go with me, but their only interest would have been in the free ticket, not in me. If nothing else, I wasn’t going to kid myself.

My despair deepened. And just as no-one could understand why you felt so desperate when you seemed to have everything, Darcy, they couldn’t seen how torn-up I was inside, just at the time when everyone thought I should have been at my happiest.

Unable to celebrate myself, I drew out £100 in cash, put it in an envelope, and included a card telling whoever found it that I’d been unable to celebrate my own luck and wanted them to do it on my behalf.

Leaving it unsigned, I surreptitiously put the envelope on a bench in the middle of a public square in my home city, turned on my heel and walked away.

I have no idea who found it. It might have been a Yuppie who’d have spent most of the £100 in those days calling his friends on his then eyewateringly-expensive-to-run cellphone to tell them of his luck.

Or it might have been found by an impoverished single mother, to whom it might have made a world of difference. We’ll never know.

It wasn’t a selfless act, it was a selfish one, for it made me feel better to think that at least someone had got pleasure out of my win.

But those demons continued to haunt me, Darcy.

Driving those glamorous test-cars every week made me the envy of all of my colleagues, yet I was miserable because I had no-one to share them with, and had nowhere really to go.

Several times, on late-night journeys home, I eyed the concrete pillars of the motorway bridges ahead and seriously contemplated ending it all with one flick of the wheel.

The proceeds of selling the car gave me enough money to learn to fly, and I enjoyed it, but I grounded myself for a while after one day on which I was feeling so low that, flying solo several thousand feet above open countryside, I wondered whether to make a “mistake”, yank the control column to the right, and spiral dramatically into the ground.

Even I realised that I wasn’t fit to fly with a mindset like that, and I’d like to think it was the responsible part of my subconscious that talked me out of it.

I gave up eating hot food for a year and ate a lot less of anything else, to see if anyone would even notice.

I don’t think anyone did. And yet a young boss introduced me to a film that undoubtedly saved my life by making me realise what a gap even I might have left behind me.

I’ve detailed that here - and heartily recommend the film to anyone else who ever feels as low as you and I did, Darcy.

If I’d known about you, I’d have insisted you watched it. And I’d like to think it might have saved you, as it did me.

I had one further wobble, in my late thirties, when another boss decided I’d reached my turn on his rota to be bullied, and made my life such a misery that, after going 15 years and three months without taking a single day off sick, I was signed off for three weeks with stress.

With no home-life, no love-life, and now an intolerable work-life, I went to see a counsellor. Her name was Jean Yates. And she gave me the gift of perspective.

She helped me see him for what he was (clue: that’s why they invented toilets) and she helped me rediscover my self-worth, or at least enough of it to keep me going.

From that day to this, more than 20 years later, I’ve never felt suicidal, though I do occasionally get the blues like most other people.

I don’t know if that bullying boss is still alive, but if he isn’t you certainly won’t be meeting him up there, Darcy, be sure of that.

Having had my life saved first by a film and then by a counsellor, the thing that made that life worth living was my involvement in a BBC reality TV series called Would Like To Meet.

It’s a long story, and I’ll tell it elsewhere, but what it gave me was the gift of seeing myself as others saw me - and in my case, that gave me a unique chance to make improvements.

As a result, and after seven weeks of filming, the programme was broadcast and I had 208 messages and calls from women who wanted to meet me.

The 209th was from the woman who was to become my wife. We went on to adopt our darling daughter at six-and-three-quarters - an age when most children don’t get adopted because they’re no longer the puppies or kittens that are in the highest demand.

Our daughter has just turned 18. Your age, Darcy. And we can’t even begin to imagine what life would be like without her.

Our hearts fill with grief for you, and sympathy for your parents, your boyfriend, your friends and your loved-ones.

Like me, they all wished they could have talked you out of it - if only they’d known. Helped you realise how loved and valued you were - if only they’d known. And helped you become the beautiful, intelligent, accomplished adult the world will now have to go without.

It’s too late for you now, Darcy, but let’s hope that anyone who’s in despair and reads this will think twice about ending their own lives now they know how a life that can seem so pointless - even mine - can turn out to be so worth living.

You never got the chance to find that out. But they have. And I hope they’ll think of you, Darcy, when they look back in later life and remember how reading about you helped save them.

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About the Creator

Jon McKnight

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