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‘We forget that we have survived the worst’

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Before this week’s essay, here are a couple of good videos from young comedians who speak openly about their experience with suicidal thinking:

 

As a founding member of this site, GC writes from the point of view of someone who both wrestles with suicidal thinking and keeps the fight a secret from others. His latest post has been put together from recent writings on his personal site, and it explores the ambivalence that many of us might feel, or remember:

I am feeling a little lost today. I was supposed to kill myself today. That was the plan for the longest time. But then I thought, “I don’t feel like killing myself.” That doesn’t mean I’m not suicidal. I just feel like I let myself down, again. I don’t know why I bother saying I am going to kill myself if I’m not going to go ahead with it. I’ve “cried wolf” so many times that I actually think I’m not capable of killing myself, despite coming up with elaborate plans.

Ever since I read an article about the reactions of people who survive suicide attempts, I’ve been thinking about this. I am a multi-attempt survivor. Maybe my ratio of reasons to live vs. reasons to die is not high enough, or maybe I suck at trying to kill myself. Maybe I’m not meant to die, my time truly has not come, but I digress. There were nights I hated myself for surviving my attempts, and I still do.

Suicide attempters can be a challenge to clinicians. How to deal with this population that is at risk for attempting again? Research suggests that asking how they feel about their attempt is useful. A 2005 study by Gregg Henriques and others found that people who were glad to be alive or were ambivalent did not go on to kill themselves, while those who felt they intended to die were 2.5 times more likely to end their life later. This could explain why some people attempt suicide once and never do it again, and why some people continue to try.

Reactions to how an attempter feels afterward can be an important clinical assessment. If we ask how people felt when they first survived, we might find a clue and prevent another attempt.

My therapist and I have tried to work on what to do if “Mr. Hyde” shows up while she is on vacation. But the thing is, I don’t feel the need to ask for help. I go about my business like I normally do, except that I write dark stuff and plan the end of my life.

All I need is a pad and pen or my laptop, and I’m good. I express all the dark stuff on paper, or I send messages to people I care about, telling them I love them and that I will be in a better place. It seems normal to me, but I know it’s not normal when I wake up from this dream/dissociative state. The yellow legal pad, or the messages I get in the morning, remind me it wasn’t a dream. That I wasn’t in my “right” mind at all.

I think the stigma around suicide needs to change. People need to be able to think about suicide like they do vanilla ice cream. They like it or they hate it, but vanilla ice cream is still going to be around. As long as there are conscious people, there is going to be suicide. It might be by people like me who are in chronic physical pain and suffering from depression. It might be by people who have voices telling them they should not be around anymore. But I do know that people should listen to the person who is bringing up thoughts of death or thoughts of killing themselves or harming themselves.

The stigma needs to stop. The hurting needs to stop. I hope that people will read this and know they are not alone. The feeling of being able to talk about this openly needs to spread. Too many people feel they are crazy, and they don’t need to feel that way. Too many people seek help and are turned away because they have suicidal thoughts and need help. They just need an understanding ear and an open mind.

So the next time someone is thinking about death or thinking about killing themselves, I hope you ask them why, and listen. Because hearing their story is going to be the deciding factor for whether that person lives or dies.

My therapist often asks me how I get through this. There is a quote that I got from one of Kay Redfield Jamison’s books: “Only one option left, to suffer.” She is my inspiration, as she has bipolar disorder, tried to kill herself and is one of the leading researchers of the disorder.

I know it sucks, but the trick is to realize that when we feel this way, it is not our true selves. It’s the disorder talking. One reason why I’ve read so much about depression _ and there are a lot of good books out there _ is that you have to know the disorder, understand it, before you can know what to do. Sometimes knowing the demons is better than not knowing them. I know that it isn’t always easy when our physical bodies wreck our lives and we have physical pain that drives us insane. But things aren’t always going to be this way. It doesn’t last. Eventually it lifts. The hardest part of this disorder is that we forget that we have survived the worst of it. Every time we are stuck in an episode, we think it’s for the first time, that we are never going to feel better, ever.

I am telling you that you are.

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6 Comments Join the Conversation

  1. When I was brought out of the coma two days after my gunshot to the chest, the attending psychiatrist asked if I knew what had happened. Angrily and with disgust I said, ‘I missed.’ When he followed up with, ‘How do you feel about that?’, explaining just how unhappy I was proved to be a challenge. No doubt that contributed to the 24/7 watch put on me for the entire two weeks in that medical facility before getting strong enough to be transferred to a psych unit. Somehow I knew that everything I did, every decision I made would be a matter of life or death. The only thing that saved me was this incredible curiosity about whether or not I could come back and what it would take if I could. Of course ‘back’ wasn’t going to save me. I knew that. I’d need a lot better than that to survive. It took almost four of the last five years to get past ‘I want die’ (my ‘plan B’ for the last forty years) to ‘I want to live’, an altogether and strange place for me to be. Had there been any intervention beyond my own corpus interruptus could have had a negative if not dissasterous results. I’ll tackle stigma some other time. Thanks for your perspective.

    Reply

  2. This depressive episode has lasted for 10 years despite therapy and medication. I hope you are right about it ending and my thoughts getting better.

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  3. I was devistated when I woke up in ICU after my attempt. Exhaustion took over every inch of my body and I could barely even answer any questions. I was asked if I wanted to die still and I replied only that I had no energy to try again. Once released from the Behavioral Health Hospital and I saw the look on my parents’ faces and then on my childrens’ (one knowing what I had done and was equally angry with me and relieved I was ok; the other too young to understand the situation, just thought I was physically sick and so happy to see me after so many days) I knew that no matter how much pain I was in, or how badly I was suffering from these illnesses I HAD to allow myself to survive. I likened it to a POW in an enemy camp. I needed to make sure I would get through it to see my family again no matter what the cost to myself. I couldn’t let the illness take over me anymore. I couldn’t make myself believe they are better off without me. So I am still here, and will continue to be…surviving if not living. I still fantasize about death. I still pray for peace. I know someday it will come and there are some better days… But for now I am doing what I can to help lessen stigma as well. I am working to make this life useful. I ‘came out’ and publically spoke about my attempt and illnesses this past weekend openly. I had been gradually up until now. I honestly feel in this I have value. It helps me feel less, less than. And research proves this is the best and sometimes ONLY way to end the prejudice of the mentally ill. To have those that know me as I am behind my “mask”. As I portray myself in the world: healthy, active, well, and the biggest lie of all…happy. Having these people know who I really am is scary and freeing. I HAVE survived the worst of it, I hope. I have been in that dark Hell and I don’t want back in.

    Thank you GC for posting.

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  4. Thank you for your wonderful writing and insight. When I woke up from my overdose the nurse standing over me said ‘ there she is’ and my first thought was ‘oh fuck’. I live with major depression and chronic suicidal ideations. I have obsessed about how close I was to actually dying…no one will tell me. I wasn’t intibated and because of that…I feel like I didn’t do it ‘well enough’. Talking about suicide is tricky especially with medical practitioners…say to much and you are at risk of being placed on a 5150…so each time I see my doctors I have to explain the nuances of chronic ideations so they know I’m not actively suicidal. I appreciate your honesty and candor and please know…that your honesty has helped one woman in San Francisco…me : ) Much love.

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  5. It has been almost 2 years since running my car head-on into a tree, and I am still pained by the fact that I lived. Yes, I am lucky that I can walk with my metal legs, but I do not feel lucky to be alive. It is difficult to think that this will one day come, but I press on thanks to fellow-SA survivors who say that yes, it does get better. I am yearning for that day.

    Reply

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