The novelist Marian Keyes has revealed how she battled constant suicidal urges at the height of her mental illness.
The Irish writer opened up to Kirsty Young about her struggle with alcoholism and depression on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs on Sunday.
At her worst – an 18-month period beginning in 2009 – Keyes said she struggled not to harm herself.
She had stopped being able to eat, sleep and interact with others, and was eventually hospitalised.
“Then the suicidal impulses started and it was very hard to physically to stop myself from going through with it,” she said. “For months and months, every day was an enormous effort not to do the acts of wounding myself.”
Her recovery was “really speedy”, but the experience altered her perception of what it meant to be depressed.
“Nothing worked but the passage of time … It’s an illness and it ran its course.
“I had always described myself as melancholy or depressive but I hadn’t a clue. Anything I had before was a blue day by comparison. This was altered perceptions, a mental illness.”
She wrote her novel The Mercy of Mystery Close in that period. She told the Guardian in 2013 that a scene in which the heroine planned to kill herself in a hotel room was inspired by her own experience.
“I had two goes going out assembling the whole kit and buying paper and Sellotape to write the note,” she said. “The conversation Helen has with the man in the shop, I actually had that, with him asking: ‘What is it you’re proposing to cut?’
“It was so bizarre to be standing in a DIY shop, buying a knife to open my veins with. I was absolutely going through who would find me, leaving money for her to apologise … I wasn’t in my right mind.”
Keyes, 53, also told Young about her experience of alcoholism while living in London in her 20s.
“Alcohol was the love of my life. It was my best friend and, in the end, my only friend … I had stopped eating, stopped hoping, I was constantly suicidal. There was only one way it would go. I couldn’t stop drinking and was preparing to go under.”
Writing was her “rope across the abyss”: she wrote her first short story, then a few months later began a rehabilitation program for alcoholism. She has now been sober for more than 20 years.
“It was that primal urge in all of us to stay alive, saying ‘I can give you this, will you live for this?’ It didn’t get me sober but gave me something to hope for.”
Keyes’ debut novel, Watermelon, was published in 1995.
Her 12 novels to date have sold 35m copies worldwide and been published in 33 languages.
Her 13th book, The Break, will be released in the UK and Ireland on 7 September.
• In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. Hotlines in other countries can be found here