Trigger Warning: As indicated by the title, this post discusses suicide. Not graphically, and not in detail, but if you find the topic triggering you may choose not to read this post.
Suicide (and suicide prevention) is not something I choose lightly to think about, or even write about. It is “My Scary Place”. But I’m going here because this is
Too important not to write about.
My perspective is based as being a ‘suicide attempt survivor’. I also come from the perspective of being friend or acquaintance of people who were “thought to have died by suicide”. I have struggled for a long time with chronic thoughts of suicide, as well as having subsequently helped a number of friends who were in a similar space.
“My Scary Place” is a metaphorical box I created to hold my thoughts, feelings, actions, reactions and fears related to suicide. I had to create it because without it I would have gone literally crazy and would probably be dead. I need my box because it is never completely over for me. Perhaps that’s because it was ‘chronic’ for too long. In the words of another attempt survivor:
“It will never leave the back of your deepest thoughts. And on days of depression, it will fly into the foreground in an instant. It has its own eyes, ears and voice. It will try to lure you back. You have to be strong enough to acknowledge it’s [sometimes] a companion for life. It will stick with you through thick and thin. Don’t let it fulfill its quest to destroy.” — Andrew G.
For too long (I’m talking years here) I was labelled as having chronic suicidality. I was also labelled as having treatment-resistant depression, Anorexia-Nervosa and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I think it’s fair to say that I had a handful to deal with, but was also a handful for those around close to me.
I made two large, and very serious attempts on my life (during the 1990s). While many say that all suicide attempts are simply about finding an end to pain, this was not my goal. My goal each time was very clearly to end my life. I know that was difficult for everyone.
While recovering from those attempts was very difficult, I also recognise some of how hard it was for my family and close friends. It’s fair to say that I don’t know just how hard those years and my attempts were on them. A few have chosen to share some of that with me in the years since (and it was very hard to hear), but most have not. I get that. I know these things are hard to talk about.
That metaphorical box I have keeps it all safe for me. It is there if I need to go there but I don’t have to be faced with it all the time. While that might not work for some people, it is something that I have found works for me.
“Please Don’t Do Anything Silly!”
This was perhaps the sad catch-cry of the 1990s for me. It was something said to me by some friends, family and even desperate health professionals who I had stretched to the end of their tether and beyond.
I was struggling to cope with my suicidal thoughts, but my family were too. For them, though, they had no control over how I was and what I was doing. They literally waited for “that phone call” for too long. Who can blame them for begging me to “don’t do anything silly”? They were, after all, desperate.
But I took it differently. That begging comment felt condescending to me. Like I was a five-year-old being told to behave myself. And “silly”? And the person who said it the most was the person who was supposed to see me as a woman, not a child.
My crazed mind wondered how they could think suicide as ‘silly’. It was deadly serious, and I wondered why they weren’t taking me seriously.
Of course, I knew what they were really saying:
“Please don’t die!”
But that was perhaps too hard to say. Some thought that if they used the ‘wrong’ words, then they would somehow tip me further into suicidal thinking. There were no right words, for them. They were a ‘between a rock and a hard place’.
I was admittedly angry at everything. At them, at the doctors, and the hospitals I was going in and out of as my thoughts turned to actions. I was angry at myself each time I survived. I didn’t know what to do with that anger. I was too unwell to use psychotherapy, and hospitalisations seemed to simply delay what I saw as inevitable.
Clear to everyone, except me, was that I wasn’t thinking straight. I was lashing out at everyone, including myself when I acted on my suicidal thoughts.
After years of hospitalisations, two rounds of ECT, and many changes of medication I was offered what was put to me as my last chance (at life). At the time I was an in-patient in a psychiatric hospital. I was verging on psychosis, but could think just clearly enough to understand what the psychiatrist was saying. She was prescribing two new medications which she expected I would have to stay on for life. They would hopefully lift the depression and stop the chronic suicidality.
Anything offering those two gifts would be a godsend.
And that combination, plus good psychotherapy, which I could eventually handle, did make an extraordinary difference. A surprise to everyone, including me. There have been no suicide attempts or hospitalisations since. Yes, the thoughts would come and go but mostly, I could keep them under control, in my box.
It’s ironic then, that right now (13 years later) I am in the middle of a discussion with my current doctor about that pharmaceutical combination. In recent months one of those drugs has wrecked havoc with my physical health and tipped me too close to kidney failure. I knew it was always a risk, but it was a risk worth taking at the time if it were to save my life.
My doctor wants to stop the medication, but for me it is opening up that metaphorical box. She doesn’t know me well enough to understand my fears or my history. Maybe the psychotherapy (now stopped for financial reasons) will have been enough. Maybe I have enough inner strength. But there is a huge…
What if the suicidal thinking comes back? What if my mood deteriorates? What if I can’t make it? How can I save myself (and my family) from going back to that dark, scary and ultimately dangerous place?
I know myself well nowadays. The very good psychotherapist (and my hard work) enabled that within me. I know that if I allow myself, I would find myself back there. Whether that is because of the Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), which was eventually diagnosed, and often contributes suicidality; or whether it’s about the places I’ve been in my life. I don’t know. But I do know that if I open that box then the very real risk is to “do something silly” using the words of others.
What has so far prevented the spiralling back to my box of dark places from happening is not just the medication but also the talk. Mostly the therapy has enabled me to look at all of this in a safe place. But more, those willing to talk have enabled me to understand a different perspective on the journey we went through.
I get that suicide is very difficult to talk about. I would rather not have written this post because it is very difficult to have done so. But if we don’t talk, if I don’t talk, I know all too well that thoughts will take over.
These are just some of the thoughts I had over World Suicide Prevention Week/Day. It’s the kind of Awareness Week that gets us thinking. So, let’s talk about it. I’d love to hear both your reactions to this post and your thinking during this week. What does Suicide Prevention raise for you?
A final word
To write this post around a phrase sometimes used by some of my family, friends and health professionals, when they were desperate to help me, is done with no disrespect or criticism. The unending love and acceptance my family gave me will always mean the world to me. They were in an impossible situation. By my using the phrase here , I have sought to highlight how difficult it is for family members and those close to us.
Thanks for reading
A few Post/Articles I recommend you read:
- World Suicide Prevention Day 2015 (Canvas.com)
- 41 Secrets of Suicide Attempt Survivors (TheMighty.com)
- In the End, There Is Only Room for Love (HuffingtonPost.co.uk)
- You Stick Around (A Letter To Suicidal Teens) (johnpavlovitz.com)
© Cate Reddell and A Canvas Of The Minds 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cate Reddell and A Canvas Of The Minds with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.