This week’s post is by Susan Means:
I am 60 years old and a four-attempt suicide survivor. My most recent, and what I would have thought would be my final, attempt was in December 2012, just shy of my 59th birthday.
The fact that I have arrived at this point in my life, one of being willing to disclose, really illustrates to me how fully ingrained the stigma and shame is in me. After my last attempt. where I spent close to 10 days in ICU on a ventilator, an old friend told me, “Next time, get all your affairs in order first.” This was from someone who was in recovery for drug and alcohol addiction! I can remember going home to make sure I would “succeed” this time, as the shame was too great to bear.
Had it not been for my great psychiatrist at the time, I truly believe I would not be here to tell my story. Judgment, shame and the stigma, it can kill us.
As long as I can remember, I have felt the “flight” mechanism present in me. I had a trauma-filled childhood, full of lots of lows. I remember feeling like I needed to escape. The first time was when I was around 11 or 12. I believe both of my parents had depression, and my father was alcoholic. I have been diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety and even major depression, but I feel like anxiety and PTSD are the precursors to my periods of profound, long-lasting depression in my life.
At times I was prescribed anti-depressants, and I wanted so much for them to work that I “willed” myself to respond. But I know now I really didn’t. I was terrified of authentic counseling because I knew I couldn’t be honest; I could be locked up. By the time I got therapy, suicide was literally the last thing I felt I had control over. I remember telling my husband that if I ended up hospitalized, I would strategize how to get out as soon as possible and I would make sure I did it right _ immediately. True story.
In the early 70s, I was in California and entered the experiential personal growth movement. I was 22 at the time and remained firmly entrenched in the behaviors I learned, until recently. This meant that I “created my own reality” _ or I was a “victim.” Shameful!
This experience, as well as years in medical health fields, supported my beliefs that we do not divulge or disclose anything that shows us “out of control.”
Additionally, we were all living within a system where the slightest mention of anxiety or depression resulted in several reactions. First, if you expressed suicidal ideation you were almost certainly threatened with involuntary commitment, and the most that would happen was you were labeled by the insurance community and could no longer get insurance.
My first attempt resulted in a voluntary crisis center admission, and I remember giving them a false name and social security number. Yes, I knew what it would mean to disclose, as any potential revelation could prevent future employment.
This meant that there was a pattern of hiding and non-disclosure and no support system. I felt immense shame and presented nothing but a bright and cheery face to the entire world. When the anxiety or fear of failing would become too pronounced, I would bounce to a different occupation or world.
I remember meeting a new friend, a physician, who was going through ECT therapy, and I would drive him to the appointments. He said the most authentic thing I had ever heard: “If this doesn’t work, then it’s my last hope and I can’t go through one more drug, treatment or institution.” He killed himself a couple of weeks later, and I remember saying, “This is going to be me.”
What changed for me: I went to an experiential training in Tennessee. What happened was, I was able to finally fully disclose without judgment to a group of people. The most amazing sense of peace came over me!
To this day, we connect through WhatsApp and are there for each other anytime/all the time. We disclose confidentially our greatest fears, dreams, anger, etc. All of a sudden, the anxiety lifted.
Truly, my life is different today. For the first time in my life, I realize it’s the support system, the community, the disclosure that frees us. Will my feelings return? I’m sure, absolutely sure, they will. But the difference is, I can see hope for us in the works. With healthcare changes and the willingness of people all over the world who are working toward a new health care focus on suicide prevention, this means more relevant mental health education and peer support as well.
I hope that my disclosure will encourage others to join our community. Let’s empower others to do the same and help prevent suicide.