I’m going to tell you about an aspect to suicide that I don’t hear people discussing. In the midst of rising advocacy and public education on intervention and care for individuals who are struggling with thoughts of suicide, the rate of suicides increases yearly. There is still so much to learn.
Those of us who have survived our own suicidal ideations need to begin speaking up as much as our health, comfort, and courage allow.
One story may not change much, but all of our stories together can paint a picture of struggles, failures, and success to learn from.
I can tell you how to administer mental health first aid. I can ask the right questions of someone who feels they cannot go on any longer. I can explain, at length, the many nuances to PTSD. What I can’t do is let down my defenses and appear vulnerable.
Have I ever experienced suicidal ideation? Yes. Have I ever told those close to me? No. That fact is going to shock people who know me. Cognitively, I know exactly what I should do. However, rising up from deep within, I have an incredible need to appear as if I have everything under control. I don’t want to be weak. I don’t want to be a burden.
I can tell you that I’m being stupid. I know those words are a direct manifestation of my illness. They are drops of poison fed to me by my battered brain.
Yet, I drink it. As if Amy Bluell, Anne Marie Ames, and over 800,000 people yearly on this great planet were somehow less capable of keeping it all together than me. I tell myself I don’t need to let my weakness show. “I got this.”
People don’t worry about me. I am pretty darn together on the surface, and often on the inside, too. However, when I’m not, it’s ugly. If I say I’m having a rough day, that might be as much of an admission that I’m struggling with my mental health as I can muster. It might actually be a plea. Symptoms of depression? I am still passing them off as being tired. Dissociation? Just trouble thinking straight.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. I believe there are many like me. Folks who have been through the deepest, darkest times, who have barely made it through to once again see a glimmer of light. Folks who still get stuck admitting they need help. Lots of times we ride out the worst days alone and keep moving. Sometimes we are trapped within ourselves.
When I read an obituary of someone who lost their battle with mental illness, the words “struggled with depression” or “experienced PTSD” always pull me in. If everyone knew this, then what happened? How? Will those closest to me be able to see when I’m in crisis?
It’s frightening because self-care is no picnic. It’s not bubble baths or ice cream sundaes. Self-care involves a great deal of planning and attention. It almost always means being careful not to take on too much. It involves knowing when to seek professional help. It requires us to thoroughly understand our illness, and always be one step ahead of it.
There are those of us who lie. To ourselves, to our families. We don’t want to frighten anyone off or burden them. We create our own new reality, we WERE sick, we know how to handle it now, we’re on meds, nothing to see here.
We don’t want to be seen as incompetent or incapable. It would be better just to die. If someone asked me point blank though, “are you having thoughts about hurting yourself?” I would still be able to answer honestly. Even though every other piece of me was incapable of reaching out, I could answer.
There is no magic time frame, no point at which we can absolutely guarantee our continued recovery, but there is an unspoken belief out there that if we seem better, we’re cured. An assumption that we’re okay, like getting over the flu.
Don’t let us fool you. Know about our illness. Learn the warning signs of relapse. Make an agreement with us to check in every week or month. Whatever, just do it. Even though we know what to do to get help, we might not be able to take that step.