Thinking About Suicide
During my “four years of madness” I often distanced myself – even shunned – many of the people I cared for and who cared for me. But a few managed to penetrate my self-imposed isolation and be with me during this time. I’d particularly like to thank Susan Humphrey, Janty Taylor, Steve Hayes, Daryl D’Souza, Margie Joyce, Susie Russell, Greg Hall and Lisa Intemann for their loving support during those times when I was not very lovable.
There are others who also sustained me during these difficult years but must remain nameless, some because I never knew or have forgotten their names, while some must remain anonymous to respect their privacy. These are the people I met in the drug rehabs, at AA and NA meetings, on the psychiatric wards and on the street. It also includes many of the psychiatric survivors that I’ve met since those dark days. This book is motivated by and dedicated to all those who struggle with life, whether it be suicide, addictions, trauma or any other challenge to our sense of self. I acknowledge you all, with love and hope and confidence.
There are some psychiatric survivors that I am able to acknowledge by name. These are just a few of the growing chorus of survivors who are leading the global campaign for a radical re-thinking of how we understand and respond to psychosocial distress. Peter Lehmann, David Oaks, Tina Minkowitz, Mary Nettle, Jasna Russo, Bhargavi Davar, Gabor Gombos, Sylvia Caras, Mary O’Hagan, Chris Hansen, Iris Hoelling and Moosa Salie – I thank you and all our comrades, for your courage, your solidarity, and for all that you have taught me. Nothing About Us Without Us!
There are other teachers, in the more formal sense of the word, who I must acknowledge for without their support and guidance this book would probably never have been realised. In particular, Professor Ron Adams bravely dared to be the principal supervisor of my rather unorthodox PhD research project. It is hard to imagine completing this work without his deft touch and fearless good humour. And my second supervisor, Mark Stephenson, complemented Ron’s guidance brilliantly with his spiritual, but scholarly, insights into the questions I was investigating. My warm thanks also go to David Mithen, Cath Roper and Susan Pepper for their thoughtful and constructive criticisms of the final draft of the book prior to it being submitted for examination as part of my PhD.
I thank David Mithen also for the words that appear on the back cover of the book. Along with very special thanks to Josephine Williams (not her real name) who as a fellow suicide attempt survivor inspires and encourages me that we can and must think and talk about suicide differently.
There are three other people I must also thank for the timely completion of my PhD, its three examiners, Professor Valerie Walkerdine, Professor David Jobes and Dr Jacques Boulet, each of whom made a valuable, critical assessment of my thesis. I thank Valerie once more for the quite brilliant foreword (please read it again) that she has generously written for this published version of the book. David’s important work as a suicidologist with the Aeschi Group is acknowledged elsewhere in the book, but I would like to add here my personal thanks for the support he has given me as a dissenting voice within suicidology, and also for granting permission to quote from his examiner’s report on the back cover. And special thanks also to Jacques who came to the rescue at the last minute after one of my original examiners had to withdraw.
Many thanks also to Maggie Taylor-Sanders and Heather Allan and everyone at PCCS Books who bravely dared to publish this unlikely book. PCCS have repeatedly shown their commitment to the first-person voice of madness and I feel privileged to join their list of very fine books and authors.
Finally, I must acknowledge my immediate family who endured so much during my struggles but were always there for me. My mother Sonya would have delighted in my graduation but she sadly, though peacefully, died in 2004. But she did live to see me finally win my freedom, which was a far greater joy for her than any graduation ceremony. Her beloved partner of 56 years, my father Bob, was at my graduation in 2006 but will miss the launch of this book, passing away in 2008, age 89. Bob was the most enthusiastic supporter of my work with his usual flair for daring to ask the hard questions with a wit and humour that never wavered. Twin brother Mike and sister Barb, who make brief appearances in this book, were often in the front-line of my madness when it was burning hot – frightening, bewildering, frustrating, sometimes infuriating. But never did their love waver, though at times it was the ‘tough love’ often required at these times, perhaps the toughest love of all to give. Sisters Megan and Sally were not quite so close to it being so far away geographically, but their love and support were always near. And Megan’s own journey of recovery continues to be a joy and inspiration for us all. It’s doubtful if I could have done a project such as this book, and the accompanying PhD, if anyone in my family, especially my mum or dad, had asked me not to, which many families might. But I have only ever received support and encouragement from this extraordinary family.
Before finishing, I must now also acknowledge the new ‘family’ that has appeared in my life since I stopped wanting to kill myself. It is impossible to describe Elaine’s contribution to my work as my first reader, my keenest critic, and my closest confidante on this literary journey and now, it seems, in life. Her kids Leo and Helen, now with their partners Victoria and Simon, have warmly and generously welcomed this stranger into their mother’s life, contributing their own intelligent, youthful wisdom to my work. I’m especially pleased that Helen allowed me to use her extraordinary painting as the cover for the book, and thanks also to Simon for taking the great photo of it that made this possible. And now, Helen and Simon have given us young Mallee, another teacher for me, this time teaching me how to be a grandad without ever having been a dad.
Needless to say, the responsibility for any arguments, errors, points of view or opinions expressed in this book rests entirely with me.
I now finish and at the same time start all over again by once more bowing low and humbly acknowledging, with silent, nameless reverence, the hundred or so people in Australia who will try to kill themselves today, six or seven of whom will succeed …
David Webb, Melbourne, 2010