Monday 10 September is World Suicide Prevention Day. To mark it, we spoke to Jaabir, a 32-year-old man with borderline personality disorder (BPD), about how he recovered from his attempt to take his own life in 2014. It's believed one in 10 people with BPD take their own lives.
Four years ago I tried to kill myself.
I made my plans and I didn’t tell any of my friends or family what I was doing. I sent them all text messages beforehand, asking them how their day was going and saying I hoped their next few weeks would be nice. A couple of them replied. I still remember those messages, even though it was just normal chat to them. I don’t think they could tell that I was in absolute agony on the other end.
As I walked towards the spot where I thought my life would end, I took a quick photo of the scene and posted it, without a caption, on my Facebook page. Looking back on it now, I guess it was a final cry for help. Part of me hoped someone would recognise where I was, realise why I was there, and come and rescue me. That’s not what happened, though. As you’d expect, people mainly just commented that it was a nice view.
I was about to jump when, at the last minute, a coastal worker found me and talked me out of it. It was essentially his job to walk around the area and stop people from, well, doing what I was trying to do.
Looking back on everything that’s happened since, I feel so grateful to that man for stopping me.
I'm 32 years old now, but I started experiencing mental health problems when I was just 12, around the time my dad died.
He passed away suddenly from thrombosis. It came out of nowhere, like a lightning bolt to our family. He felt ill on the Friday and died on the Sunday.
My childhood was actually really happy up until that point but my dad passing away changed something within me. His death made me feel cut off from the rest of the world. I became increasingly overwhelmed with grief and started finding it difficult to talk to other kids at school. And because they couldn’t relate to me, they left me out of things and called me 'weird'. As I became more distant, they started to pick on me even more.
It wasn’t long before they started bullying me because I was gay. I hadn’t actually come out yet but that didn’t stop them beating me up to – in their words - “see if poofs could feel pain”. I knew deep down I was gay but the bullying made it so much harder for me to admit it, even to myself.
I silently took whatever they threw at me. But all the while I was crumbling inside.
I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was already developing traits associated with borderline personality disorder (BPD). Everyone with BPD experiences it differently, of course, but I fluctuate between being in a really low mood, like a depressive state, and feeling really high, like I can take on the world. It’s exhausting because I can switch between these two states within a day, or even within an hour. I can feel intensely happy, but then something will trigger me and plunge me into a really low mood. According to recent research, 2.4% of people aged 16 to 64 in the UK have BPD.
My condition also makes me look at things in a really black and white way – things are either absolutely perfect, or they’re a total disaster. It’s the same with people too. Someone is either the most perfect person I’ve ever met, or they’re the spawn of the devil – and what’s worse, just one miscommunication can immediately turn someone from the former to the latter in my head. There’s never a grey area, there’s no in-between. I know situations aren’t actually like that, but I just can’t see things in any other way.
Even after reaching those depths of sadness I didn’t heed the warning my body was sending me.Jaabir
This is why it’s always been so hard for me to make friends, and even harder to keep them. I know it’s tough for other people to stick around, because often I’ll take things personally when I shouldn’t, or I’ll take things out of context and put a really negative spin on them. If someone pays me a compliment, my mind automatically turns it into an insult. Fortunately, I do have four real friends who have stood by me through everything - and I've always had the unwavering support of my mum.
The feeling of not knowing exactly what was wrong with me, just that I was deeply unhappy and reacting in an over-the-top way to everything, was how I felt all through school, college and uni too. After I finished my degree I got a good, stable job in IT – but those feelings just wouldn’t go away.
Eventually in 2009, I had a breakdown at work. My mum, who I’m really close to, had fallen ill and it pushed me over the edge. But even after reaching those depths of sadness I didn’t heed the warning my body was sending me. Instead, I just got right back on the hamster wheel, started again, and tried to push the pain out of my mind.
It didn’t work.
I suffered another breakdown just a few years later, in 2014, which led me to try to take my own life. My mum was better, but I was up to my eyeballs in debt and, to be honest, I had just had enough of living.
I didn't tell my mum about what almost happened until about a week later. I didn't want her to worry about me but I wasn't myself at all, so she knew something was up. In the end, she was warm and supportive, as I knew she would be. It felt good to confide in her.
It was then that I realised I couldn’t carry on the way I had been – this wasn’t something I could just push to one side and forget about. About a year later, in 2015, I decided I couldn’t hide who I was anymore and I finally came out as gay. I hoped that by acknowledging who I was, I could let go of the hurt and anger caused by the homophobic abuse I’d suffered as a child.
Most of the people close to me were really accepting – especially my mum, who has since become a massive LGBT ally. Even now, she’s always the first to tell me the latest gay rights news – I found out that Ireland had legalised same-sex marriage from her before seeing any of the headlines!
At the same time though, coming out was a bittersweet experience. Part of me had assumed that, if I came out, I would immediately feel this huge sense of relief and that I’d suddenly be happy with who I was. But that just wasn’t the case – and that disappointment at not having that 'a-ha!' moment, where everything resolved itself in my head, plunged me into another blue period. That’s when I finally went to a doctor and was formally diagnosed with BPD.
Getting diagnosed was only the beginning. I was prescribed a mood stabiliser but I knew I would have to try to find my own way for the next two years before I could have Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (or DBT) because of the long waiting lists for talking therapies on the NHS. I could see the time stretching out before me, which put me in a bit of a lonely place – but at least I knew what was making me feel this way.
After trying to take my own life, coming out and seeking professional help for my BPD, I left my job in IT. Instead, I started volunteering at a hospital in South London, before volunteering for a mental health charity in Camden for eight months. It felt good to help other people in a similar situation to me.
Then, one day in early 2017, I heard about a walking group run by a local mental health charity in my area of North London and decided to try it out. It was actually incredible. Even though it was just a short route, walking with a small group of people going through similar stuff made me feel a lot less alone – and the exercise helped me feel better too. Plus the guy leading the group seemed so confident, which I found inspiring. He had his life together in a way that I could only dream of.
The more walks I went on, the more energy I gained. I would chat to our group leader and ended up getting to know him quite well, and eventually I started plotting out our routes with him. It was voluntary, of course, but I really enjoyed it. I could feel myself growing in confidence. The weekly walks had become my reason to get up in the morning.
In April this year, the group leader told me he was moving on to another job. I was devastated. I was worried that the walks, which had become a lifeline to me and so many other people in the area, wouldn’t be able to continue.
But he reassured me he already had a successor in mind: me.
Can you imagine how happy I was? I said yes straight away – I had finally been given the opportunity to do something I really enjoyed, to help others with mental health problems, and, crucially, to get back into paid work. Now I spend my week planning the routes, making sure they're different enough each time so they stay interesting.
Things got even better at the end of last year because I finally started having my DBT treatment. I go once a week and talk to my therapist about my childhood, being bullied and the death of my dad.
It’s allowed me to look at things more objectively. I’ve even been able to forgive the kids who bullied me at school – which sounds unbelievable, but I can see that they may have had a lot of problems themselves that they were passing on to me.
I’ve realised being angry wasn’t helping me at all. Instead, it’s just been a source of torment. Now, I'm even thinking about becoming a counsellor one day, so I could help others with their mental health problems full-time.
I’ve come a long way since I was standing on the edge of that cliff, feeling totally hopeless, ready to give it all up, but now I feel genuinely happy.Jaabir
Oh, and I have a boyfriend now too - his name's Dale (he's the guy standing next to me in the photo above). We’re ridiculously happy together, which is an incredible feeling. We actually met on a dating site specifically for people with mental health conditions, which makes it easier really – it means that we both instinctively understand what the other is going through. Plus, my mum absolutely loves him – which is always a good sign. We’re celebrating our one-year anniversary this month.
It has taken a long time and a lot of hard work to get to this point. I’ve come a long way since I was standing on the edge of that cliff, feeling totally hopeless, ready to give it all up, but now I feel genuinely happy.
I only hope that I can keep helping other people feel this way too.
As told to Ashitha Nagesh
If you have been affected by issues raised in this article, help and support is available from these organisations.