The seductive whisper of the suicidal voice

***TRIGGER WARNING: suicidal thoughts, suicide planning suicide attempt, overdose, physical affects of treatment of overdose***

In September 2001, in the middle of a bipolar mixed episode, an idea came to me. I’d barely slept in a week despite prescribed zopiclone, and my mind had been running super fast. There was a lot for it to go over: the manic, multiple affairs I’d been having online; the lack of attention I had given my children and my husband Andy; my near abandonment of my training as a midwife; and the very recent horror of watching people jump from the burning Twin Towers.

But then came an idea. It was uttered in a calm, quiet, clear manner that was in stark contrast to my physical agitation. I knew it must be coming from a part of my own brain, but it didn’t feel like part of me. It felt like listening to a voice. I’m not saying it was literally a voice. I wasn’t having auditory hallucinations, nor do I mean I was experiencing a deluded sense of “implanted thoughts”. I mean that a section of my psyche I hadn’t even known existed had stepped forward, finger to lips to hush my whirling mind, and grabbed my attention.


it said,

>is what we are going to do.

>We are going to pick up that packet of zopi and put it into your dressing gown pocket.

>Then we are going to go downstairs and pour a big glass of juice and take it through to the bathroom.

>As we run the bath, we are going to get everything there is out of the bathroom cabinet – the painkillers, the antidepressants, the odds and ends of benzos, the leftovers of short courses of crisis antipsychotics, and add the zopiclone.

> Then we are going to swallow them all.

There it was. The answer to everything. The way to make the rest of my mind shut the fuck up, hopefully forever. The way to avoid having to deal with the fallout from my recent manic behaviour. The way to stop being me, once and for all.

>What you need to realise

continued the voice

> is that we are going to have to be very sneaky here.

> Andy is downstairs watching TV. He is between you and the kitchen, you and the bathroom.

> We are going to have to be very, very careful not to arouse suspicion.

The voice seemed to speak such sense that falling in with its plan was a massive relief. Suddenly everything seemed lighter, clearer, easier. I propelled myself along the landing and down the stairs. It felt like gllding, or floating; I had no sense of my body. I got the juice. I went into the bathroom and I did what I had been told.

At the time, I didn’t the question the voice at all. I knew I was crossing a line, going into territory I’d never traversed before, but the voice was so seductive that it was hard to resist and I found that I was after all prepared to take that step. In the days and weeks to come, when the scratches in my throat had healed (inflicted by using my fingers to try and bring up more and more charcoal and pills to assuage the nausa) when the bruises had healed from the cannulae and artierial blood gas punctures, when I was allowed back home, I could only think of how inept my attempt had been. Why did I listen to the voice? What was the point of taking an overdose with Andy in the house? It could never have worked, never have done the job.

I didn’t hear the voice for many years after that. Even during my depressions over the past few years the voice has remained absent. Yet in my crisis earlier this year and especially in this current crisis, it’s been back. Over past weeks I’ve been battling against its soft seduction, trying to push against the way it seems to talk such sense, offer such clarity. Fearing its powers of persuasion, I surrendered my all medication along with my bank and credit cards to my partner Tom. Because I knew I couldn’t trust the voice. Which I knew meant I couldn’t trust myself.

Last week Tom decided it was safe to give me my bank card back, just for a few minutes, just so I could go buy fish and chips. I assured him it would be fine – hadn’t I been upfront all along, sharing my suicidal thinking with Tom and the Home Treatment Team, confessing my plans? I went to the cash machine in our street and withdrew £20. At the fish and chip shop I found a queue snaking out into the street so I abandoned the idea and walked instead towards the mini Tesco, passing the cash machine again. I should have simply walked past, but I stopped. No one else was using the ATM, it was there, waiting, as if just for me. My debit card was clutched tightly in my hand, just the way the blister pack of zopiclone had once been.

> You know we can take out another £280, right? Our daily limit?

I knew.

> You know that if we want to buy the extra drugs for the main plan, if we want to disappear into an anonymous hotel room to carry it out, that’s going to be the minimum you’re going to need?

> We don’t want anybody tracking credit card purchases.

> There might not be another chance. Tom never needs to know. We just need to be a little bit sneaky now. Just go upstairs with a pizza or something and hand your card back. You can hide the cash in the wardrobe.

I stood in front of the cash machine, alone in the dark street, for ten minutes. I found myself lunging forward to insert my card, then pulling my hand back, again and again. So far I had been mostly truthful with Tom, but this would be an outright breach of the trust we’d placed in each other – that he would protect me from harm, but that I would be honest in order to enable him to do that. I felt pushed, propelled, by the voice and its oh-so-sensible thinking but in the end I went upstairs with nothing more than a margherita and some garlic bread.

The next few nights the voice got busy while I was in bed. Tom was already asleep when it started in.

> OK, so we don’t have your bank cards, but we still have your Freedom Pass, right? So we can travel any time, yes.

> How’s about we look up the timetable for the fast trains passing our station and make an estimate as to when they come through?

I called up the National Rail app, and obeyed.

> Good. Then we can get up, put your winter coat and boots on – no sense in being cold – open the front door very quietly, and go down to the station.

> Not to do anything tonight, no, no that. Just to check our guesstimate. Just so we know that if we want to, we can.

After that, I gave Tom my Freedom Pass and keys at night.

Today I have just been left alone in my home for about an hour for the first time in two weeks. It’s supposed to be some level of recognition of the fact that I’m doing better. And indeed I am not so desperately, horrendously low, not thinking all the time that I need to get out of here, need to die. But the voice isn’t finished with me yet. The voice is in the business of keeping escape routes open, and while there’s even a tiny likelihood I may want such a thing, it will keep on at me.

When Tom went out, the voice came in.

> Those meds are somewhere in the house. A good 5-6 weeks’ worth of lithium and additional diazepam. Not to mention paracetamol and co-codamol.

I dithered, knowing Tom would be back pretty soon. The voice began to wheedle.

> Just find them; we don’t have to take them now, of course.

> We can wait until everyone thinks you’re better and do it then.

> Back to the original plan, right? Just act trustworthy. Be a good girl and play the long game.

> We need to get your bank card back, get that money out. We can buy some additional OTC meds in the meantime. Continue researching hotels while we’re waiting.

> Then we can take everything you need to the hotel in your wheelie suitcase as soon as Tom’s gone back to work.

I am ashamed to say I heeded the voice. I’d been trusted to be on my own for the first time in a fortnight, and I went looking for the drugs. With every cupboard door I opened, I got that sick feeling of crossing the line. I didn’t find them; in the end despite the whispers of the voice I didn’t search as assiduously as I could have done, so clearly part of me doesn’t want what the voice part of me wants. But Tom goes back to work this coming week, and I’m going to be alone then. Alone, but not alone. Alone with the voice.

About purplepersuasion

40 something service user, activist, writer and mother living with bipolar disorder. Proud winner of the Mark Hanson Prize for Digital Media at the Mind Media Awards #VMGMindAwards
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28 Responses to The seductive whisper of the suicidal voice

  1. Lesley Smith says:

    Wow! That’s powerful writing

  2. Dear Charlotte,

    Thank you for sharing this. Not only is it powerful and evoking writing, it also twitches at the curtains and gives a glimpse into the horror-movie-style constant battle of living (and lived in) hell that is the reality of what you are going through…

    Keep on writing and keep on fighting, please! There is an army of “comrades” that are willing you on and wishing you well and will do their utmost to “cover you” during the crossfire in no-man’s land.

    With huge hugs and very best wishes,
    Linda xox

  3. telmamoon says:

    Thanks very much for sharing such intimate and deep insights into your life. I cannot appreciate enough what you’re going through but I’d like you to know that you’re a great inspiration. Reading your posts make me want to help, could you tell us how you think we could help friends/family who’re in a similar situation? Please keep writing. A big hug. Telma

    • Hi Telma, that’s a REALLY good question. Well, just I think by encouraging honesty. Letting the person know that if they disclose these kind of intrusive thoughts you won’t freak out, you won’t shout at them, you won’t dismiss the thoughts’ importance, but you will help thwart them in any way in your power. So I tell Tom a thought and he says, “OK, what can we do about that to help reduce the risk?” hence now he has all the drugs, the cards and the travel pass! He’s very calm about it but he’s adamant that if it’s at all within his power he’s not going to let me hurt myself. He shoulders some of the responsibility for that so that I don’t have to be solely responsible for beating the voice and keeping myself safe. Hope that makes sense! C x

      • telmamoon says:

        Charlotte, thank you so much for this. Your contribution here is very important and has touched so many people, I really wish you well.

  4. Michael Tobias says:

    Recognizing that the “voice” is NOT you, nor does it represent what you REALLY want — is a BIG step. So it talks to you. Let it talk. But it does not have to command you. YOU are driving this thing NOT the “voice”. Be strong. Love and wishes, Michael

  5. Wow, such an open and honest post. I’ve been where you are so many times – keep fighting.

  6. OnTheWay... says:

    Thank you for giving words to your experience, it helps me to try and find a way to understand the words in my own head with similar instructions. I don’t know how to tell the people around me, some I know would certainly make it harder and worse, but I’m trying to find a way to keep going. Your writing makes me feel less alone, even though I wish you didn’t know this feeling too, I wish I could take it from you and make things easier. But I know that you are strong and wise and know how best to help yourself through this. xx

  7. lisaluu says:

    you have an amazing talent for describing that seductive voice of escape. For me, the voice calls it my safety net – whenever everything gets too hard, a relentless drip of ways out starts. And it seems entirely reasonable, plausible and sensible. I am heartened to hear you have given over responsibility for your safety while that voice is active. No matter how rational that voice appears to be, it’s trying to rob you of your future, however difficult or delightful that future may be. Please keep writing and striving to fight the voice.

  8. Oh my god. I’ve never read it put so well before. This is it – luckily it’s never managed to get me as far as actually risking my life, I’ve always been found/”caught”/asked for help/come to my senses but this is what happens, and this is how it seems to make sense, and this is how I end up terrified of myself, stockpiling pills and razor blades and carrying rope out to deserted places. All along I KNOW I shouldn’t be doing it but somehow following through the steps feels easier than not doing.

  9. Thank you for sharing this. One of the OD that I took was a split second decision. I had been speaking to my Case Manager that afternoon and had promised her that I was safe. I planned to start a project that night to help me keep my mind off thoughts of harm. I was actually feeling quite positive about it. While looking through a box of books (I had only moved into my flat a week before) I came across boxes of medication that I forgot that I had because I had been handed in the rest of my meds to the hospital for daily dispensing (I lived in a small town at the time). The voice that you speak of kicked in and before I knew it I was shoveling in pills. I shocked myself at the impulsivity of it.

  10. J says:

    People need to understand what it’s like. Thanks for that. I have the voice also.

  11. I don’t know what to say. All I have is “hang in there” and unhelpful stuff like that. But I wanted you to know I’d read and am sending strength to you

  12. writeoncindy says:

    You brilliantly share the reality for so many of us …. keep digging deep and having the strength to reach out to people who love you and quiet that voice. Thank you.

  13. Paul Winkler says:

    Wow, Charlotte! I never thought about these situations as a “voice”, but you’ve captured what it’s like to be suicidal perfectly! I especially relate to the calm that descends once one knows what one is going to do. It is such a relief, yet it’s such a dangerous place to be.

    I know you’ve been struggling recently, and you’ve been in my thoughts often. Thank you so much for writing this! I hope many readers will absorb your words and see how it is for some of us.

  14. Becky Bee says:

    Thank you for this post.
    I’m so sorry you’re going through this.
    Tom sounds great.
    Your writing is fantastic.

  15. Paula Cummings says:

    Beautiful writing and also, giving me an insight into something I have watched a friend struggle with for years.

  16. blessed800 says:

    Your candid way of expressing what’s happening with you is admirable. You have put hope into places where others would see no hope…as I reflect on times in my life that seemed hopeless- I see you living through and even writing about your horrors. Your efforts are going a long way. Thank you.

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  18. Mo Warren says:

    I have felt like this for over sixty years even after all kinds of ‘remedial’ treatment. I feel so alone and horribly out of step with life which separates me ever further from my fellow beings.
    I have found the NHS to be mostly useless so have consequently spent much hard-earned money on private treatment, both medication & talking therapies. Sadly, this has turned out to be no better than NHS – just financially crippling. If only someone could look into my brain & finally make life worth living.
    Only fellow sufferers can begin to understand the oppression & isolation that this condition causes.

    • Hi Mo. I started out writing a sort of “top tips” but I quickly felt it would be better to just tell it how it is from my POV. It’s such a hard and lonely time, even when there are people around it can just create a different sort of loneliness. I’m sort of hoping that people’s family and friends will read the article and maybe understand a little more how hard it can be. Warmest wishes, Charlotte x

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