This week’s post is by Jim Atkisson, who has told more of his story here. He believes that anyone who attempts suicide in the violent way he did had the same thought in the split second afterward, whether or not they survive: “Oh god, what have I done?”
(Please note that there may be a delay in moderating any comments, as the editor of this site is out of the country through mid-October.)
I grew up in an abusive home and felt invisible to the world. I was 16 years old. Suicide seemed to offer the best solution to my problem, but how? I went to the library and looked at books on death and suicide. I weighed the options and what resources I had to work with. I considered using a gun, but I was afraid of the violence. I contemplated jumping from some rocks on a mountain near my home, but I was afraid I would survive the fall. I considered pills, but I was afraid they wouldn’t work, and I didn’t have access to any. So, in the end I planned on using a gun.
I had access to them, and we lived in a rural community, so I planned on isolating myself in the woods, away from any help just in case I survived.
As soon as the gun went off, I knew I had made a mistake. I hadn’t known I would regret pulling the trigger in an instant. I missed my heart by an inch and my spine by less than an inch. The surgeon thought it prudent to not operate so close and risk paralyzing me, so I carry that fragment with me to this day.
For months before that day, I thought I had wanted to die, but when the gun went off, I wanted anything but death.
That was 27 years ago. I am thankful I survived.
When you look at suicide’s toll here in the United States, the numbers are staggering. Currently it’s the 10th leading cause of death. Why is it when suicide is discussed, we have to fight the urge to whisper or glance around to see if anyone may be listening in? We encourage people to learn CPR and rescue breathing, manage airway obstructions and check for lumps as a part of early detection. Companies, churches and organizations invest in automatic external defibrillators, just in case there’s an emergency and someone’s life depends on a rapid and effective medical intervention. The thinking is, it’s better to have the resources and never need them, as opposed to the other scenario: Someone collapses and we freeze, unable to reach the stricken life in time.
When it comes to suicide prevention, we are not prepared to intervene like we are when it comes to other medical emergencies. Every 13.7 minutes, we are losing someone.
I exhibited many of the classic symptoms of someone planning suicide, but they were missed. Many times, the person has left behind a trail of clues to their intent.
But it seems our suicide prevention plan is trying to figure out “We could have done this” or “We should have done that” for the deceased. By then, it’s much too late.
We must be more proactive.
Granted, strides are being made. But where I live, for example, not one public health announcement is posted in a prominent place.
How hard is it to reach people in time? Apparently, it’s hard. Could it be we’re afraid? We are afraid of what we don’t understand, and suicide is something the general public doesn’t understand. Honestly, it shouldn’t matter if we don’t understand something before we get involved and lend a hand to someone in pain and distress. Compassion, understanding, love and concern for the well-being of others should trump things like stigma, fear and shame.
There’s hope. There’s hope we can turn the corner and drive this monster away from our communities. I think the solution will come from people like me. We are suicide attempt survivors. We didn’t study suicide in a clinical environment and go on to present the findings to peers or in a scholarly paper. We simply woke up alive. We want to speak out and reach others. We understand the value of life and the need for action.
It’s also time to see suicide prevention and awareness bulletins posted in prominent places. Public notices would educate people on what to do or how to help each other. Public notices would make the conversation around suicide less taboo and more open to discussion. Discussion leads to knowledge, and knowledge is power.
I think it would be fitting if history recorded this time in American history and mentioned our suicide epidemic. Maybe it would note where the solution came from. People like us. We will not surrender our lives to suicide again. We’ll rush to the aid of others. We can stand alongside those who are struggling for their lives. We know the burden on their shoulders, and we can carry some of it for them.