Confessions from a Suicide Survivor.
Suicide Thoughts can be Seasonal and Circumstantial
When I woke up in the middle of the night my first thought was how can I go on. I'd like to say that I immediately used mindfulness and mediation techniques and the thoughts passed quickly but they didn't. Instead I went through a number of scenarios where I imagined disappearing and hiding so that I could take my life without affecting anyone else.
I have lived my adult life with the thought of suicide since the age of 14. I did act on it one time when I was 19 . I called for help but the techniques and shaming used by the medical people at that time was enough to guarantee that if I ever did actually want to kill myself I would ensure it was successful and no one would ever know or find me "in time". If you are reading this and have had similar experiences you know what I am talking about. If you know someone who has been through this, try not to judge them. They are already judging themselves.
I am not sure why I have these disturbing thoughts - on the surface I have so much to be thankful for and certainly when I was diagnosed with cancer 11 years ago the first thing I told the doctor was that I didn't have time to die. Death then and suicide now would negatively affect so many people who care about me and most especially my two daughters.
When I reflect on the pattern of when I am most likely to struggle with suicidal thoughts is when I am under financial stress, uncertainty about my professional stability as an employee or self employed person and conflict in meaningful and close relationships are the trigger. It seems that it is also seasonal and Winter/Christmas/short dark days are the times I have the thoughts the most. If Christmas, or an anniversary or dark days are your triggers, figuring out the pattern is helpful. If you have a friend or family member who isolates ask yourslef how you might be able to support them and reach out with compassion.
The biggest problem is being forced not to openly discuss feelings and thoughts with others because they are legally obliged to report me to a medical professional.
As a single mother, when the children were younger, that reporting could have meant the children being placed in a foster home, until I was "better". Whilst the legal mandate is, on the one hand there to protect , it actually can leave myself and others who struggle with these thoughts vulnerable, ashamed, self blaming and isolated. The worst combination of circumstances when suicidal thoughts are raging in our heads..
The Samaritans in the UK and other groups do offer anonymity to callers which is helpful for many. Personally I don't feel like calling a stranger when I find myself plagued by suicide ideation. I really want to be able to talk to someone who knows and loves me to hug me physically or verbally through it.
If, instead of suicidal thoughts I had a broken leg, back pain, or was diagnosed with a chronic medical condition, there would be outpourings of help and tons of support. Suicidal thoughts however remain a dirty little secret, for which I and others risk being judged unstable and selfish.
I have been personally affected by suicide
Managing Suicide Thoughts
What I have learned through dealing with this for over 40 years is that I need to allow myself to be my own care professional. First thing I did today was
- Make a huge pot of tea,
- Engage with some inspirational phrases that I have saved on my phone
- Imagine myself acting on the thoughts and considering the full outcome if I acted on any of the thoughts that were driving me
- Not push myself to do anything other than 100% self care for the time it took for me to come out of the thoughts. This looks different every time such as a TV series marathon, getting out of bed to take a walk, playing scrabble and other games on the internet.
- Write about the things in my life that I had accomplished and are hoping to still accomplish such as being a great mum, friend. Starting a business that could flourish and be a legacy for my children (early stages albeit). Having a family holiday together this Christmas with friends.
Whilst today I managed to get myself out of the thoughts in a couple of hours, there have been times it has taken one or two whole days. Managing a family/professional obligation or other circumstances can mean that I have to make an appointment with myself for self care between "appearing" to make a meal or show upfor a meeting. If my thoughts are so bad that appearing is not feasible, feigning flu is a good option for employers and others - it usually means you are left well alone for a couple of days.
When to get Professional Help
In 2014 I began to have a series of chronic panic attacks that meant I literally could not manage my day to day life. I went to my medical practitioner, agreed to take an anti anxiety for a short period of time and went to see a counsellor. The latter was the most important. Whilst the anti anxiety helped me manage day to day, the counsellor helped me re establish positive and helpful ways of thinking and checking out evidence to support that I have a reason to live and continue. Using a range of different techniques including practical right/left brain exercises and creativity I was able to become stable enough to manage without the anti anxiety medication. Creativity - painting - dance - writing - music - colouring books are all essential and proven methods that work to re-wire our overwhelmed brains when struggling with suicide thoughts.