Approximately one million people commit suicide every year, according to the World Health Organization. Despite his best efforts, Steve Westwood is not one of them.
“Suicide Junkie,” Westwood’s autobiography, details his long-term struggles with body dysmorphic disorder, borderline personality disorder, depression and self-harm and all his attempts at giving back the gift of life.
Westwood exhibited signs of mental illness from an early age. As a young student he complained of “phantom” pains. His parents divorced. Bullies heightened his insecurity about his appearance. The opposite sex made him feel inadequate. And so he chose to cope with it all by using alcohol, recreational drugs, and self-harm.
“I knew there was a world out there somewhere, people having lives — people doing things,” Westwood writes. “I wracked my brain to work out what made them so different. What were they doing right that I was doing wrong?”
Readers ride along with Westwood through his ups and downs, love affairs and failed suicide attempts, hours spent in front of the mirror trying to correct with makeup all the blemishes he saw, his fear that it simply wasn’t good enough. It is not an easy ride by far, but one worth taking for anyone seeking a greater understanding of mental illness.
“I am in love with misery, constantly embracing death, yet as with any love it bears such a resemblance to hate,” Westwood writes. “But happiness is an alien thing to me and after years of seeking it, its poison now runs through my veins and threatens to kill me. All those years waiting for pleasure’s taste only to find it bitter. It was not worth waiting for… And so, I will not wait much longer.”
Westwood’s passion for speaking out about mental illness is apparent in his willingness to share his story with the world, a story for which he tries to find a positive ending.
“My wish to die might never leave,” Westwood writes honestly. “The jealousy I feel each time I hear of someone’s death might always be there. The envy I have for those that successfully kill themselves might play on my mind until the day of my own death. Yet I still do this, I still choose life.”
The book is not an easy read. If you’re not willing to put in 234 pages before you’re able to muster a smile for the plotline, “Suicide Junkie” is not for you. There is no easing into the pain of Westwood’s life; readers are introduced from page 1 to the anguish Westwood has felt all his life.
As a spokesperson for mental illness, Westwood serves his purpose well, holding nothing back and offering a window into the soul of a mentally ill individual. At times he instills in readers a sense of hopelessness he himself has so often felt. If you’re looking for answers or tips on how to cope with mental illness, though, you’ve come to the wrong place. “Suicide Junkie” doesn’t offer any surefire ways of quashing mental illness, but helps readers to better identify and empathize with the daily lives of the mentally ill. Westwood easily meets his goal of reaching out to those struggling with mental health issues, but the unrelentingly heavy subject matter may turn off those just looking for a good read. In the end, readers have the same choice Westwood’s family and friends do: Stick with him through his struggles, or simply close the book.
S. Westwood, Suicide Junkie
January 2007: Chipmunkapublishing