This has to stop.

Yeah, I'm a Twitter addict...and this time I found #RIPSophie trending. I don't know if I should put a warning on this post, but it discusses bullying and suicide. If those count as triggers, this post has them. (You can never be too careful.)

The story goes that a Wanted fan called Sophie (@JaythanILoveYou) killed herself over bullying. Another story goes that she hasn't actually killed herself and the story is fake.

I want to say this: even if the whole thing's a hoax, that in no way mitigates the fact that too many - I don't have the numbers to hand, but it's too many - teens actually do kill themselves because of bullying, and that it's a real, despicable problem. Faking a suicide - and I really don't know why anyone would do that, not because I'm naive but because it's a hell of a lot of work and brings a lot of negative press - may be vile, but it pales in comparison to the vileness of driving someone to take their own life.

Even sadder? If this all turns out to be a lie, it'll make it even harder for the teens who genuinely are suicidal to speak up about it, because they'll just be dismissed as attention-seekers. I know that I was.

It's now time for shameless self-promotion, and in particular the shameless, reckless retelling of a story that almost killed me. It goes into details, it doesn't always make sense, and it lays bare the very worst of me. All the same, it's a powerful tool.

I'm 15; I turn 16 come January. Between the spring - or perhaps it was early summer, forgive me if my memory's a little hazy - of 2009 and mid-July of this year, I was suicidal due to bullying.

I quite vividly remember the worst days, the early days when his bullying and spreading around of my secrets, the things that were so important to me, for fun and profit and not even because he cared about them, turned me into a wreck. I remember falling apart inside and thinking that I must be losing it. I remember the endless meetings, the way it came out to my parents, the way I was forced into counselling. Ineffective, I shall have you know.

Most importantly, I remember telling my mum I wanted to die.

I remember her telling me that I was a teenager and just looking for attention.

That pretty much destroyed my willingness to tell anyone about what had happened - well, that and the fact that I ended up breaking down and crying every time I did. So I got on with my life; I tried to suppress my feelings. I bought into the whole narrative of how anyone who talks about intensely personal things is an attention whore. I most definitely was not sympathetic to anyone with problems during those two years.

It worked. It worked so fucking well I almost feel like throwing back my head and laughing, because nobody knew I wanted to kill myself. Nobody knew that I went through life feeling like absolute shit, nobody knew that on the good days I couldn't actually feel happy and on the bad days I was in physical pain. (This is one of the things that happened to me - I'm in good health, but I would get pains in my chest with no physical source, and also general feelings of emptiness.) I refused to take my life because I didn't want to be weak.

I'm not saying all this because I get off on being dramatic - I don't understand why anyone would fake suicidal feelings when the reality is so horrible - but because I want to spread the truth. This story has a point, I promise.

Things came to a point this July where it hurt physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually to be alive. It hadn't even hurt that badly during the early days. Now, I don't know why a white, upper-middle-class girl from a "good" family, with good grades, with friends, with love and support all around her and the fortune to be born into a rich country, came to this pretty pass - but she did. I even brought it up with other people. They told me it was normal and to go on living because of my survival instinct. I shut up.

Oh, and the bullying got worse - and I had an existential crisis. I had no idea why I should stick around on the planet or why I had bothered for so long. I didn't even know if I was worthy to live.

Maybe the answer seems easy to you if you haven't gone through it - or if you have and you've forgotten the horrible experience. I had no idea of how to even start looking for it.

One particularly bad evening, after the third day in a row of breaking down and crying and generally being a burden on the people around me, I decided enough was enough. It just hurt too much to live, and I told a friend about my plans. Incidentally, I have some of the best friends I could ever wish for and I probably don't deserve them.

I got help from another friend - I think that was the first time I realised that people were genuinely shocked that I was suicidal. I was pretty shocked by the reaction as well. I hadn't thought that I was living life well, or even normally, but I didn't realise how alien it was to other people.

It didn't work.

It only worked the second time, when I sat down with someone I didn't really talk to and told her everything because I just wanted it to stop. I can remember very little of what she said. I also remember that my emotions at the time made even less sense than they do normally, which is quite an achievement.

I remember that without her help, I would have gone on and killed myself, perhaps that day, perhaps the next. I owe her, my friends, and anyone else who tried to help an absolutely immense debt - the debt of my life.

I came out of that conversation being happy for once and being convinced that he couldn't hurt me any longer. Seriously, don't ask about the logic behind that. I've got no idea what was going through my head at the time or how much sense it made.

I'm sorry to rub it in people's faces, but it was amazing just to be happy and want to live again. It was amazing just to be washed clean of the pain of those two years. It was amazing to wake up in the morning and realise that I didn't want to die.

Those feelings passed, in the end - as all feelings do. I spent a couple of months curled up in a ball, trying to analyse everything that was going on and trying to sort my life out; in the early days especially, I was still trying to get over the fact that I was actually alive.

And now, I guess, it's time to challenge some of the perceptions around suicide - because in addition to the hundreds if not thousands of sympathetic messages, there were a couple of complete arseholes, or at least incredibly ignorant people.

I have a hunch that the people who say suicide is weak or for quitters have never actually been suicidal themselves - not that I'm promoting it, since living with it is absolute hell. I can understand it, though: I had that attitude myself for a long time.

When I was suicidal, I didn't want to want to die. If there was a magical mystery cure that could have stopped me from wanting to kill myself, I would have taken it. I would have gladly cut off my right arm just to be happy again. I held out for two years precisely because I didn't want to be weak or to look like a quitter - but in the end, I felt like such a complete sack of shit that I decided it wasn't worth carrying on with a life I didn't want for extra bravo points.

Similarly, to address concerns of the "quitter": Imagine you have a really, really crappy job. You have no idea why you got hired or what you're supposed to be doing. You get abuse hurled at you daily. You're working there in hopes of getting promoted to a better position, but you always get passed over when you know you have so much talent. Oh, and your pay is somewhere between shitty and nonexistent. Do you not think you'd leave that job? Or would you stay there because quitting is somehow weak and cowardly?

Some call suicide selfish. That is pure shaming and nothing else - oh, and it really doesn't work. Someone can be fully aware of the family and friends they're leaving behind and still want to press ahead, not because they're selfish bastards but because living just hurts too much.

Telling friends and family can be difficult because of how highly personal it is and because of the stigma around it, so I wouldn't be surprised if Sophie hadn't said. I also wouldn't be surprised if nobody had known, especially if she was living and acting fairly normally on the outside - remember, I managed to hide my own for two years.

People don't kill themselves over "banter", as some were alleging - they kill themselves over something which is destroying them from the inside. Banter does not do that. Neither is it a simple matter of fighting your way out - I spent two years fighting, retaliating, ignoring, venting and basically trying everything. Guess what? None of it actually worked, because there's no magic bullet. I stood up for myself during those two years, and it still didn't work, because - contrary to what people say - the solutions aren't that simple. It's definitely not the case that people have "gone soft"; if anything, there's probably greater awareness of what's happening and more sympathy for the dead, which is why more people know about more cases.

Lastly, no-one's suicide is invalidated because of their choice of music. I don't really like The Wanted. That does not stop me from being diminished by the suicide of someone who did. Someone was trying to be funny by implying she deserved it for liking The Wanted - it didn't work. Actually, you know something? No matter how annoying, whiny, weak or just generally different someone is, you have no right or mandate to drive them to suicide. You have no right to destroy and damage a person like that.

To those who didn't want me to talk about this and air my dirty laundry: You know something? I didn't want to do this either. In a perfect world, I wouldn't have to do this. But this world isn't perfect, and I'm prepared to get a shitload of abuse and derision if I can help even one person.

To those who are considering it right now: First off, slap me if I sound patronising. Secondly, though the world is incredibly full of shit and prejudice, people would hate to see you die - not because someone actually going through with a suicide scares and shocks them, but because they love you and your death diminishes them. Those people are more numerous than you might think. Keep on speaking. Don't be cowed by decorum.

All this holds true regardless of whether Sophie is actually dead or not.


  1. I followed your llink from Sarah's Adventures in Mediocrity. A couple of things:
    1. I really, really sympathize about the bullying. My worst experiences were at a younger age than yours and had to do with things like physical characteristics (i was shortish and tubby and unathletic) and social class (i lived on the West Side of Manhattan, not the East.) I think I was too young to form suicidal thoughts (that came much later, and not on account of bullying) but I was miserable. I don't like to think that cruelty is hard-wired in us, if only as a way of establishing rank, but I fear it may be; I'm not an Ev-Psych type, though, and we also have the capacity to be kind and generous and inclusive. Small comfort when you're really in a crisis, but FWIW. (Also FWIW, I'll be 70 at my next birthday.)

    Second: Cosma Shalizi got his Ph. D. in theoretical physics though he now teaches in the Math Department at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh PA. I know some pretty smart people but cosma is the smartest person I've ever known, by a long way. He's also a genuine sweetie and a man of what I think are sound principles. His blog is called Three-Toed Sloth; I find much of it opaque, but there's a link to his personal pages, including very funny book reviews and other stuff. He's even reasonably well-read in Classics--hell, he's reasonably well-read in everything.

    Third: glad to see you list Brahms among your favorites. If I only get one piece on that desert island, it's the Brahms Clarinet Quintet.

    Fourth and last: Paul Fussell's book The Great war and Modern Memory is a remarkable book. He ties together close reading of the English War poets (Owen, Sassoon, Brooke et al.), harrowing accounts iof the trench warfare on the Western Front in World War 1 (he was himself a combat infantryman in World War 2), and a theory of how the 1914-18 war continued to resonate in Anglophone literature and culture for many decades after it was over. No special reason I recommend it you-I recommend it to everyone. Fussell's ex-wife Betty has written eloquently about what a shit he is, and I believe her, but he wrote a great book all the same.

  2. All I can say is thank you very, very much - for your sympathy, your intelligence, your links and your good taste. I'd very much like to believe that even if cruelty is hard-wired into us (and it may be - I don't know), that we can overcome it, that we are better than our genes. I mean, we worked hard to overcome tyranny and bigotry among others...we haven't erased them. Perhaps we never will. All the same, we at least managed to push the tide back a little. That says something to me about the power humanity has - and keep in mind I'm a misanthrope.

  3. You're very welcome, and I completely agree that what's interesting about human beings isn't that we have genetic programming (like every other living creature) but that we have the ability to disobey it.


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