Yes, I’ve tried suicide. A number of times and failed each time.
Which mostly means that I’m not very good at trying to kill myself.
Ok, so that’s a bit of macabre humour, but suicide is generally a taboo subject and I’m scared of it, so I thought I’d try to lighten up the mood.
If there was one thing I’m glad I’m incompetent at, it’s this.
A popular media image of suicide is someone found floating in a bathtub of bloody water and rushed to hospital to be saved. By the hero. And then after some embarrassment on the part of the victim and some counseling, all is well in the world.
That hasn’t been my experience at all.
Suicide doesn’t have to be showy. I tried overdoses of over the counter drugs each time, and very little happened except for some truly surreal hallucinations and an upset stomach. My parents and the people around me didn’t even know I was trying to kill myself. They still don’t, and it’s not really something I’m keen on mentioning to them.
The second thing is that just because you want to kill yourself doesn’t mean you are good at it. I’m scared of pain, so I couldn’t cope with razors and slit wrists etc., which is why I tried drugs. And they didn’t work. I wonder how many people quietly try to kill themselves, fail, and then continue on with their lives without anyone else being the wiser.
The third thing was that my suicide attempts weren’t a call for help or attention. I simply didn’t want to continue on, and committing suicide seemed like a viable and reasonable option. I wasn’t trying to attract anyone’s notice, or show how extreme my life had become, or do it for revenge. I just wanted out.
Feelings while Being Suicidal
I’ve only been suicidal when depressed. At the time I was thinking of suicide, I just wanted to not continue on. There was no specific reason, simply that everyday act of living, breathing, thinking, seeing, was too difficult and painful. Raw even. Merely being alive felt hard.
What I wanted to do more than anything else was to sink into a sleep and never wake up. It would be restful, peaceful.
I never felt that I was escaping any specific problem, or that my life was too stressful, or that there was a particular issue that so overwhelmed me that I needed to kill myself over it. Rather, it was life itself that I was trying to get away from.
Did I worry about who I was leaving behind? Not really – my thought processes never got as far as thinking about other people. If I had thought about it, perhaps I wouldn’t have tried at all. I know how devastated the people I would leave behind would be. But depression blocks your ability to think clearly (or at all) and how other people would feel simply never made it into my mind for consideration.
And if I wasn’t thinking about the people, you can be certain I wasn’t thinking about the situation I would be leaving behind.
Now, here’s the scariest part. It felt right. The decision to try to kill myself, the plans I would make to get it done – it all felt sensible, logical, reasonable, right. I was happy I had found a solution to how I was feeling. And that sense of rightness stayed with me through the process of trying to kill myself.
I will not go into any details of what I have done. Suffice to say that each time I tried I failed. The times I did it quietly, I just picked myself up and continued my life, resigned that I would have to continue living. The one time that that family and friends knew about it, I simply refused to talk about it – and I suspect they were too scared to ask for details too.
And of course there is a kicker. Two weeks or two months later, I would be out of my depression episode, and if you asked me then if I wanted to kill myself, I’d look at you as if you were crazy. For me, once the depression passed, the desire to suicide passed as well.
What I Do to Protect Myself
Most of my suicide attempts happened before I was diagnosed. Once I realised that the suicidal thoughts were symptoms of a medical problem and not “the true me,” I took steps to minimise my chances of committing suicide again.
1» The most critical thing I did was to wrap myself in the web of my family connections and imagine how much they would be hurt if I wasn’t around. In one of my more “normal” moods, I would imagine myself committing suicide and imagine what this would do to my parents, my brother, my partner, the people who loved me.
I’d also imagine this when I was mildly depressed and still had some critical thought process left. I hope that by imagining the devastation in advance and feeling how awful it will be, that some residue of this feeling will act as an anchor point when I think of committing suicide.
2» I try to have someone living with me – which seems to help. I now have a housemate because I think my chances of making it drop substantially if I live alone. Yeah, I want to be independent, but sometimes the gung-ho “I can do it alone” independence doesn’t work. You set up the support systems you need.
3» I try to minimise how deep my depression becomes and the anxiety that can go with it. For me thoughts of suicide tend to happen when my anxiety level is between high and very high. If I can reduce the anxiety / depression, I can reduce the chances of becoming suicidal.
Check under the Coping section of my website for ideas on reducing anxiety and stress.
4» The final element is to believe that my life makes a difference. This is not about gathering wealth – it’s about answering the question “Am I a good person?” In many ways my website helps me answer yes to this question, which is why I invest so much time in it.
But I think joining an organisation where I would directly interact with and help other people would work for me. Church organisations, soup kitchens, visiting hospitals, working with animals in need, being a playground monitor, assistance in social programs, even hanging out with a lonely family member – any would work.
As with the first item, I will not feel as if I am a good person when I am depressed. All I can do is to know that I make a difference to others, and to hold on to that knowledge as an anchor point when I am feeling suicidal.
Will I Try Again?
My current thinking is probably. The protective actions above help, but they don’t work one hundred percent of the time, and I have tried suicide since I was diagnosed and put those systems in place.
But I do think that having some protective systems in place is better than having none at all.
What terrifies me the most is how right it feels to try to kill myself when I am in the correct frame of mind (or incorrect frame), and I know that if I feel that way in the future, I will try again. I know I have a decent life these days, but it won’t matter, because it simply won’t be important.
When I was diagnosed in my early thirties, I didn’t think I would make it to be forty. When I turned forty, I didn’t celebrate my birthday, I celebrated that I was still alive.
I’m still fearful. Because I’m better at handling the mood swings, and particularly at avoiding bad depressions, I’ve upped my chances of survival. To me that means that my chances of surviving to 50 are probably only about 5-20% lower than someone who was like me, but not bipolar.
Related to depression and suicide is the ongoing feeling that my life isn’t worth as much as other people’s lives. This feeling exists even when I am not depressed, and I would guess is a reaction to all that has happened to me over the years, rather than a response to any specific event.
The one worry I have about this feeling is that I can put myself in situations that are high risk, with an attitude of “I don’t care if anything happens to me.” Sort of a passive suicide attempt, as it were.
The high risk situations can be anything from walking in risky areas late at night, driving too fast, setting myself up for a fight, bicycling irresponsibly in traffic or doing high risk stunts off road, swimming in dangerous waters, etc. Things which are at the high risk end of normal activities.
Because the feeling is ongoing, there doesn’t seem to be much I can do about it – apart from recognising that it exists and avoiding all high risk situations.
Someone You Know Mentions Suicide
What to Do
Disclaimer: This is NOT intended to be comprehensive. Please also look elsewhere for additional information.
First things first. Suicide has a certain finality to it, so consider anybody who mentions suicide or killing themselves as being at high risk for suicide. Take action, because if you have a choice between (a) being embarrassed for overreacting or (b) going to a funeral – then be embarrassed.
Do not hope that things will sort themselves out, or that it is a passing phase, or the person is not serious. The situation might resolve itself without incident. But then again, it might not.
Unless you are trained in dealing with suicidal people, you are out of your depth. Get help.
If someone mentions they are suicidal, your aim is to (a) make sure that person remains safe and (b) get that person into some sort of professional counseling. To do so
1» Do not panic or get angry. Yes, you might be doing that on the inside, but on the outside try to treat it as a normal conversation (yeah, right). Ask why they want to do so, or what they plan to do. Be supportive rather than upset or angry or dismissive.
It’s okay to change the subject and talk about movies or other stuff. Try not to do the “life is good, why do you want to do this, be positive” thing – that’s usually just irritating.
2» Do not leave the person alone if you can help it. Suicide is a pretty private thing, so your physical presence makes a difference, even if you don’t know what to say next.
Say “I’m not leaving you alone when you are in this mood.” And sleep on a couch if necessary. Or follow them wherever they go.
The person may not be particularly happy that you are tagging around. Shouting or arguing will probably be involved. But sometimes doing the right thing means not listening to what the person wants.
3» Get help. You are out of your depth.
(1) Ask if the person has a psychiatrist or a therapist or a doctor they see. Then ask for the phone number. Then call it immediately. Don’t worry about being polite or if it is 2 am. The reason the person has the phone number for the psychiatrist is for emergencies – and this is an emergency.
(2) Call the person’s partner, or parents or brother / sister or a child. Ask for the phone number if necessary. Because family relationships can be weird, make sure that you are calling someone who is willing to help.
(3) Dial 911 or the standard emergency number or (4) call the operator and ask for an emergency hotline or the local hospital’s psychiatric department.
If you call an emergency line, tell them that your have someone who is potentially suicidal and you would like to know what to do next. Specifically ask if there is a counsellor that you can visit immediately (or in the morning) that your friend can talk with.
(5) Call a friend to come and help you out. By this time you are stressed out too. Having someone to help you make rational decisions is useful.
4» Physically check on their well being. Pass by where they live, or ask someone living close by to do so. You do not need to say that the person is suicidal. Saying that you have “a bad feeling” or that “you are concerned” without giving a specific reason may be enough. Ask the person to knock on their door and make sure everything is ok. Specify they have to see the person.
Never believe it if the person says they are fine. I’ve used that lie too many times and I know how hollow it is. People do not bring up suicide or harming themselves in regular conversation, so assume that things are not going well if it happens to become a topic of conversation.
If you take action, and especially at this point when you involve others, you will feel as if you are overreacting for no good reason. And the person who you are trying to help will probably react strongly (i.e. badly) to whatever action you take. This is when you will feel at your most foolish.
Just remember that you are acting in a situation where you are out of your depth. It is better for you to do the safe thing, no matter how foolish you feel. If the situation eventually turns out to be harmless, well, you will at least have done the right thing.
Remember always, embarrassment is survivable. A suicide attempt may not be.
Also remember, this is a medical problem, not a character problem. If the person complained of having pains in their chest, you wouldn’t wonder if to get in touch with a doctor, you’d just do it. Same here.
It’s also okay to take action in spite of the person’s disapproval or requests for you not to do anything.
In fact, the person will not appreciate the sudden surge of people showing up at their doorstep, or calling them, or being worried about their health. Be prepared for arguments on why you acted the way you did, but stand your ground – if you think someone is in danger of committing suicide or hurting themselves, you are justified in your actions. But also be prepared for an angry person who may not want to talk with you for a while.
Two additional things to look out for. The first one is what is called “cutting” – cut marks or scars on the forearms or the backs of hands, as if they were done with an knife. I did this over a few days during one week of my life – I was checking to see if I could take the pain so that I could move on to cutting my wrists. I was nineteen at the time.
If you see cut signs, I’d recommend that you get the person to counselling immediately. Something is going very wrong.
The second thing is that many of the very medications that we take are dangerous if taken in large enough quantities. For practical reasons, it is not possible to stash them away from us. But I don’t recommend that large quantities be kept around either, and you should be concerned if there suddenly are a lot of tablets around.