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Eighty per cent of people who think about or attempt suicide have sent out a warning sign to those around them , however, few will make a direct request for help to deal with their suicidal thoughts.

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Story 82

Hi, my name is Sandra and I’m a suicide survivor. Depending on how you count them, I’ve made 4 to 7 suicide attempts.

I was 16 when I made my first attempt (pills); six months later I tried again (slit wrists) and ended up in a wonderful juvenile psychiatric ward for a month where I learned some real coping skills to get through the trauma-induced depression that resulted from my trauma-filled childhood. After I got out, I went to an excellent therapist for a few years. She wanted to put me on meds because of my “hyper-ness”, but I refused because meds were for crazy people, not me, and I didn’t want to be medicated and somehow change from who I was to someone the drugs created. She respected my wishes and instead we worked through talk therapy for two years. I worked very, very hard, got significantly better, graduated from high school & therapy, and then moved on to college.
 
When I was 21, I went on a suicide binge and made 3 attempts in 3 days (razor to a bigger vein, pills, and then MORE pills). I was hospitalized, put on suicide watch, and then released after 3 days because I didn’t have insurance. However, I thought I had finally learned my lesson. I really hurt and shocked my friends when I had the binge. I crushed my boyfriend at the time – his brother had died by suicide. I never told my family about it (they were on the other coast – it wasn’t hard to omit this little detail). I just told myself I could never harm myself again and I didn’t… for almost a whole decade.

During my respite from suicide attempts, I worked with a teen suicide prevention program, facilitated peer discussions on how to handle depression and thoughts of self-harm, and attended the funeral of a friend’s sister who had killed herself. Seeing the dazed & mourning throngs of family, friends, co-workers and loved ones at her memorial service reinforced my commitment to ignore the thoughts of self-harm that occasionally tormented my mind. Yet, I remember writing a letter to someone and telling them “once you’ve tried to commit suicide, it is always an option. It never leaves the table.” And that was the problem. Despite my many serious attempts and recoveries, I still thought suicide was an option. It still seemed like a viable choice. I was still sick.

When I was 30, a year after the birth of my first son, in the raging throes of postpartum depression complicated by undiagnosed bipolar disorder, I considered my options and tried to kill myself again (pills). My son was beautiful, pure, happy, and healthy. My postpartum depression/bipolar led me to think I was an unfit mother and needed to remove myself from his life so I didn’t ruin him. In a moment of clarity, I called 911 and they talked to my husband who had no idea why I was handing him the phone. I remember my husband holding our baby boy in one arm while dragging me into the ER with his other. I stayed in the psych ward for 4 days. The psychiatrist asked me if I was bipolar. I said no. I’d never been told I was bipolar so he treated me for depression and PTSD.  In retrospect, I’m baffled by that conversation. Wasn’t it his job to tell me I was bipolar so I could get fixed? Oh, well.

My last attempt, my very last attempt, happened a year later. I was still struggling with postpartum depression. I was taking anti-depressants and trying to find a therapist in our new town, but each anti-depressant only worked for a little while and then I’d have to try a new one. That happens to people with bipolar disorder, if only one pole is treated, the whole system goes into a tailspin. A month before my last attempt, I went on a long-acting birth control, which had hidden mood-destabilizing side effects and my tailspin turned into a tornado.  I suffered a psychotic break. In my psychosis, the thought that guided every second of that break was that I was a terrible mother and would end up destroying my beloved son, he who is first in my heart, just as my mother destroyed me.  I needed to die to make room for my husband to find another wife and mother for our child. I believed that dying was the only truly maternal thing I could do for my son. My distorted thinking led me to believe that if I really loved him, then I had to remove my damaged presence from his life.

My husband found me three hours after my attempt sitting in the garage with the car on & covered in vomit from the 100+ pills I had taken with a few glasses of wine. I was barely breathing and unconscious. When I was brought to the ER, they had to put me on life support; my husband was bewildered by all of the equipment attached to me.

“Why do you have her on all of this?” he asked as more tubes were stuck in my unconscious form.
“Her body is too tired to breathe. If we don’t put her on life support, she’ll die.”

I woke up in ICU a day later scared and confused. I had no idea WHY I had done what I had done. I did know that I had permanently damaged my husband and my friends. His anger was palpable. Their faces were drawn, saddened, angry and bewildered. Even though I had survived my almost lethal attempt, my marriage barely survived it.

After 4 days in the hospital, I was released because the crisis event was clearly over and the psychotic break had done its damage and left. Before I left the hospital, I actively applied for the Partial Hospitalization program they had. I was interviewed and accepted and began Partial a week and a half after my attempt. I was basically alone except for my friends - my amazing, loving, accepting friends. My husband took our son to his parents’ house where he could regroup and re-evaluate life with his wife. During their absence, I worked my butt off to figure out what had happened to me, why it had happened, and how I could get fixed so it would never happen again.

The psychotic break caused by the medications I was taking as prescribed ended up being the turning point for my life. While I attended Partial, dutifully taking notes & practicing the lessons in emotional intelligence I was learning, I connected with a therapist a few towns over and began seeing her twice a week in addition to the four 6-hour days I was spending at Partial. Getting well became my full-time job. The first time I met her, I came to the appointment with papers. I had written out my psychiatric history, my family tree, a timeline of the more pertinent events in my life, and a copy of a legally binding document I had drawn up a few days prior declaring to the state that I would never attempt to self-harm again – to do so would be perjury and punishable by law. I knew she needed my history as part of the intake, but I also told her it was my past and I wasn’t interested in rehashing my past. I wanted to start from Now and do whatever it took to get better. I had also been researching mental illnesses, taken several online assessment tests, compared them with my personal and family history, and told her that I thought I might be bipolar. I didn’t want to be bipolar, but I didn’t care about labels anymore, I just wanted to be well.

She agreed with my approach and, after talking with the psychiatrist at Partial, agreed with my self-diagnosis. She actually showed me her notes from our first meeting. She had written “Bipolar?” on the top of the page.  She and I set to work reprogramming my brain. She was the one who figured out what had caused my psychotic break. She practically leapt out of her chair when she discovered the medications I had been taking. “Of course you had a psychotic break! You were on an anti-depressant, which removes your inhibitions and falsely elevates your mood, and a long-acting birth control with mood destabilizing effects! I never ever let my patients take that birth control. You are not the only one who has attempted suicide after taking it. Furthermore, anti-depressants alone create chaos in bipolars. You need lithium and a mood-stabilizer as well to balance out your poles.” (Note: lithium is often called the anti-suicide medication. There’s something in it that makes death from suicide three times less likely and suicide attempts two times less likely.)

And so my journey to Wellness began. It took 4-7 suicide attempts, 13 years in and out of therapy, and a psychotic break to figure out I was bipolar and therefore, treatable. My teenage reluctance to take meds was replaced by a determination to do and take whatever was needed to calm my inner chaos and earn back my husband and son. My diagnosis set me free. It wasn’t all peaches and cream, I struggled with my own prejudice against mental illness and I didn’t particularly enjoy med changes, but here I am 6 years later with my husband, my son, and our second child who is almost 4 years old. I manage my illness. I work hard to manage my illness. Early on I adopted a philosophy of constant vigilance. I do not let any self-defeating thought go by unchecked, I watch my sleep patterns, my moods, my level of energy, continuously looking for glitches in the Matrix that indicate possible mood changes. When I see mania or depression on the horizon, I take steps to prevent them from occurring. I’m not 100% effective, but my vigilance has averted or lessened many cycles. We teach our sons emotional intelligence and I’m open with them about how Mommy’s feelings get sick sometimes, but I take medicine that is sort of a vitamin for feelings, and I have a feelings doctor, and just like getting a cold isn’t anyone’s fault, it’s nobody’s fault when my feelings get sick.

Which brings me to my Reasons:

Visceral reaction: my primary care doctor summoned me to his office a week after my last attempt. I went quaking in my sneakers.  He came in the room and hugged me for several minutes while I cried on his shoulder and promised I would never do that again. He told me that suicide is an act of self-murder. It is the murder of one’s soul. There is no afterlife when one has killed his or her own soul. His words rang true in my heart. I’ve never thought about suicide in the same way since. He also told me about his discussions with other patients about their depressions. “I ask them if they have thoughts of suicide and they say, ‘NO! Oh my goodness, I could never do that to my family!!’ It is a visceral reaction in them. You need to develop that same reaction.”

I have. I was almost there after surviving my suicidal psychotic break from reality, but I thought and thought about our conversation and gradually came to a point when I realized that, no, just because suicide was once an option for me, that option is no longer on the table. I find it spiritually abhorrent.

My family & my friends: The aftermath of my psychotic break tore down all walls and revealed all truths, not just my own, but the walls and truths of everyone around me. The truths were equalizing in their revelation of commonalities in our humanity. The bonds that were forged as I obsessively recovered and retrained my brain are unbreakable. I watched the looks in their eyes go from fearful, devastated, and furious to accepting, willing, and embracing. I am so grateful that they stood by my side (some with conditions) and gave me the chance to prove myself. Not everyone with a chronic mental illness is so blessed – to both have loved ones like these and to know what a treasure they are. Our relationships are filled with joy & supportiveness and for once the balance is equal and I’m not sucking out everyone’s energy; I’m contributing lots of positive energy. On the days they struggle, I’m there. On the days I struggle (and bipolar makes sure I do every now and then), they are there for me, too. Balance.

Also, when someone dies by suicide, they are spreading the myth that suicide is a viable, reasonable answer to overwhelming turmoil. Children of parents who commit suicide have a 500% greater chance of die by suicide themselves. I. Will. Not. Pass. On. Such. A. Fallacy. To. My. Sons.

Personal Responsibility: I don’t mean to sound all New Agey, but as I came out of my fugue state from my last attempt and realized the extent of the damage I caused, I clearly recognized that the Universe had given me another chance, maybe my last one, to Live. I felt a great debt to the Universe for giving me an opportunity that I wasn’t sure I deserved and I spend every day paying back that debt. I do it by writing, by mentoring others struggling with mental illness, by being available to the needs of my family and my friends, by taking care of myself and loving my soul and its connection with every other living thing. I pay back the debt by caring and advocating for the environment and all of its fantastic flora and fauna. I do something every single day to pay it forward and practice love, really practice the concept of love. Random acts of kindness, along with a lot of letter-writing to my congressional representatives urging them to take better care of the world and pass laws of love, not war and hatred, have become my specialty.

My best girlfriend, who has been my friend since before attempt #3, tells me my debt has been paid back in full, but I don’t ever want to stop paying it. I don’t want to become complacent and take Life for granted. I like feeling responsible for pulling my weight in this Universe; the more I give, the more I feel I belong. My soul belongs here with all of those I hold dear and with the dear ones I haven’t yet met, surrounded by the glorious beauty of Mother Earth. Yes, I know that sounds TOTALLY New Agey, however, knowing my soul belongs somewhere and that I am worthy of breathing the air I share with everyone else has given me a calm centeredness that eluded me back when I thought suicide was always an option. I belong because I want to belong, no one had to give me permission; I needed to embrace the life I was given, the hand I was dealt, and commit to walking on my Wellness Path without too much complaining.

I did give myself a gift as I recovered from bipolar chaos and suicidal ideation – I gave myself permission to be good enough. Letting go of ridiculous self-expectations of perfect parenting, of being an “ideal” wife, and of being just exquisitely flawless in general freed my mind. As long as my kids know they are LOVED unconditionally and thoroughly, fed, watered, cared for, and cherished, I’m doing my job. Everything else is gravy. Not only is my husband my best friend, but he thinks of me as his best friend, too. Clean house and a hot dinner 5 days a week ? Gravy.

Life is good. I’m honored to be living it.


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