‘Why did I get to live when others died?’ The enduring pain of survivors’ guilt from mental illness


By Freddie Cocker

CONTENT WARNING: this article contains references to suicide which some readers may find upsetting or distressing, so please read with caution.

“One thing I know about you, is that you’re really shit at suicide”.

Astonishingly, this is what a therapist said to one of my guests who came on The Just Checking In Podcast after he disclosed his suicide attempts to them.

Before I continue, I should add a disclaimer here that the guest took the comment in his stride and their relationship was a humorous and healthy one. It might have been un-PC on the outside to you reader but for the guest, it wasn’t triggering and he found this un-pc joke funny and resonating.

Despite that, this comment struck a chord with me for a couple of reasons. The first is that I relate to it through my own attempts to take my own life.

When I tried to take my own life age 13, I had no clue what I was doing. The amount I thought would kill me in an overdose was probably way below any amount which would have done serious damage. However, the motivation behind it remained the same.

So many people I speak to who have tried to take their own life say: “I didn’t really want to die but I simply couldn’t bear to live anymore” or “I didn’t want to leave my family and friends, I just wanted to leave myself”.

It’s this mindset which I certainly felt I had back then. I had hundreds of ‘near-misses’ where I came close to taking my own life at various stages between ideation, plan and attempt but in truth, my attempt to take my own life was pretty shit too.

Doing Vent for as long as I have, I hear about someone I know of online, someone in the public eye or in my private life who has taken their own life every 3-4 weeks. On a good year, it can be every 2-3 months. On a bad year, it can be every 2 weeks.

I have become depressingly normalised to it. When I started Vent, it used to affect me deeply. Sometimes I would go about my day after finding out the news thinking; “if only I could have reached that person before it was too late and given them a voice, maybe they wouldn’t have gone through with it?”.

Reflecting on it now I know that of course, this was a well-meaning but completely misplaced and irrational thought to have.

The platform was tiny then and still is quite small in the grand scheme of things in the mental health space. How on earth could I have reached them and who was I to think I could have miraculously stopped them from making that decision?

Now when I hear about these deaths, they obviously still affect me but I am in a much better place emotionally not to let my mind drift into irrational thoughts about them or create a distorted desire about what I could have done.

In spite of that, what I live with now is a small sense of survivor’s guilt.

All of these people died from suicide, why didn’t I? Why was I special?

If I was ‘better’ at suicide I would be dead. Sometimes I think that the bullying and pain should have killed me.

I had little to zero support going through the vast majority of it, I had no role models to look up to who had gone through it themselves, survived and thrived afterwards and I was utterly alone in every sense of the word.

The intensity and persistency of the abuse on a daily basis was enough to kill most people…but I’m still here.

Whether by hook or by crook, I am somehow alive and have made it to 27 years old and achieved all that I have done.

I hope that there are kids out there who have been bullied who might stumble across Vent and read my story who can find hope and commonality with it.

I hope they can realise that school eventually does end, that you can leave behind all the horrible people who picked on you and start a new life with people who truly care about you and love you.

Now that I have made it out of that dark place I was in, I find that there’s a whole new form of anxiety that raises its head every now and then. It’s mild enough to function fairly highly but enough to cause a ripple or two: survivor anxiety.

Despite losing all of the supposed ‘best years of your life’ to mental illness, my mind is now itching to make up for lost time. Whereas before I didn’t care if I died or make it past 16, now I am desperate to live.

I want to ensure my bravery and resilience I had back then was worth it. It’s a strange reversal but one that is a positive in a lot of ways too.

To summarise, I think it’s my mind’s way of telling me: “you’ve made it this far, don’t fuck it up now”.

So far, I think I’m doing a good job at that.

Freddie Cocker is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Vent. 


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.