Flying back from Milan to New Zealand, I had a thought; I wanted to die. It was the first time I’d felt this way for years, but lack of sleep, eating, drinking and the unexpected arrival of what I hoped was my period made me feel like I didn’t want to exist.
I laughed at the irony and hypocrisy of my thought. I’d just put in a submission against the assisted suicide bill going through New Zealand politics. I argued that it was dangerous to include severely disabled people as part of the criteria for assisted suicide. I argued my point because two years ago, I was in the middle of a perfect storm of issues and I was encouraged to pursue assisted suicide overseas from health professionals. In hindsight, my problems had nothing to do with my tetraplegia, but a lack of sleep, unresolved grief from a myriad of issues, PTSD from the earthquakes and a work environment where I didn’t have access to a toilet – a basic necessity and one I had spent a few years fighting for.
Botched restabilising neck surgery that left me with less movement two years ago meant I had to quit my full-time job and find new meaning in my life. Ironically, it gave me the opportunity to reflect on my situation, my coping mechanisms, my attempted suicides and it gave me a chance to sleep and reinvent myself.
I started my PhD, an Instagram account, became an international inclusive model and low-level celebrity in some circles. I traveled to Milan fashion week to walk the catwalk in my wheelchair, and I got to meet some amazing people through my PhD. My life has never been richer, and I’ve never been happier…so my submission made sense. I am glad I am still here, I came very close to not being here so see my time as being so precious, so valuable. I’m living on borrowed time in an ironic way.
On social media, I push the message of hope to other disabled people, I push the ideology that we are of value, we might go through hell, but sometimes, that hell has an ending. Yet briefly, I thought on that plane, I wouldn’t mind having the choice. It’s so easy, so seductive when you’re suffering.
Reflecting back to my thought, I am scared. I’m scared because I thought I’d overcome those feelings, those suicidal tendencies, yet the reality is that perhaps they will always be there. My family has a history of suicide, it could be in my genes.
I can’t say what the future holds. I can’t say it will always be this amazing, or I’ll be this happy. So am worried about being given the choice.
I spoke to a friend yesterday, I asked him if he wanted the choice of death if his world fell apart, if he was suffering beyond anything he could imagine, would he want the choice to die? He said no. He said it would be hell, he agreed, and he might choose death. I guess, like me, he didn’t trust himself because ultimately, he wanted to be here too as we only get one life.
I also thought about a message I was sent on Instagram in reference to my stance on assisted suicide. I was called pathetic, and that some people who are suffering beyond anything I can contemplate, and who can’t end it themselves due to physical incapacity, should be given the option of assisted suicide. I admit, it did make me think. But then in the light of this particular bill, it’s a whole new conversation to have, and including all severely disabled people, I still feel, is thoughtless at best and sinister at worst with regards to our current bill – the End of Life Choice Bill.
It’s a simple solution (echoes of a former eugenics movement in Germany…) but it’s so final. I hope I’m not given that choice, I hope I’m never in a position where I’d contemplate that choice. I want this to be my new beginning, a long one with the full stop many, many years away. I’ll keep saying it, but please, don’t give me the choice to die.