8 Tips Complex Trauma Survivors Need to Know About Living With Chronic Suicidality
Survivors of complex trauma, defined as recurrent and inescapable traumatic experiences, may struggle with chronic suicidal ideation. Some people living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) may have repeated suicide attempts, others may have passive suicidality, and others may find they lie somewhere on that spectrum of suicidality. This can shift, stay stagnant or become absent for long periods of time before it flares again. After traumatic experiences, it is often a very protective effort for trauma survivors to have a ¨way out¨ or a ¨safety net.¨ This may come in the form of suicidal ideation.
I am a survivor of complex trauma, and I have struggled with chronic suicidal ideation in the context of my complex post-traumatic stress disorder. Often, I felt isolated, alone, alienated, ashamed and guilty because of the trauma I had experienced, and these feelings were twisted and pointed back at myself because that is how I knew how to rationalize my traumatic experiences. I found that suicidal ideation occurred because I felt the world was an unsafe place, and there was no escaping that feeling unless it was through suicide.
When I researched chronic suicidality, there are not a ton of resources for those who struggle with this as a long-term, chronic problem. However, there are a lot of resources for those are acutely suicidal. I decided to put together eight tips and resources I often use to manage my chronic suicidal ideation, in hopes it helps someone who may be in a similar place.
1. Find your safe people.
This has single-handedly been my saving grace countless times. As a complex trauma survivor, my outlook on the world is sometimes clouded with alienation, isolation, shame and a persistent feeling of ¨not belonging¨ in the world. But, there are other people out there who understand the complexities of being a human. There are people in the world who truly do ¨get it,¨ and finding those people was the first step to keeping myself safe. I have a list in my bedroom of five people I can reach out to when the world seems like an unsafe place. I can always trust them to get me out of my house, my mind or my thoughts, and show me the world can be safe, and people can be safe.
2. Create something out of the pain.
You don’t have to be an artist to follow this tip. Just get creating. Paint, write, draw, color, photograph, splatter, rip, carve, burn. (Just make sure you are doing these activities safely!) For me, creating something out of the painful feelings and thoughts I experience was always something I tried to do first and foremost, because looking back at the art you create once the feelings have lessened, it feels like something productive has come from the pain. For some, this can be a way of lessening the guilt of struggling.
3. Go to a safe place.
This is a really important one for those living with complex PTSD, because oftentimes, trauma can make survivors feel like no place is truly safe. If you are able to identify one or two places that do feel safe to you (for me, it’s the beach or the woods) and you are able to spend the day there, that can be just enough to help you get through the pain you are experiencing at the time the suicidal ideation sits in.
4. Weighted blanket.
It can sometimes be difficult to allow yourself comfort when you are struggling with suicidal ideation. I often felt undeserving of the comfort that came with a safe person or a safe place, but putting a weighted blanket on me could give me this feeling of safety without the unwanted thoughts of ¨bothering¨ people. Weighted blankets have helped me through many panic attacks and times of crisis. (Now they make weighted hoodies, too!)
5. Keep notes from your safe people in an accessible location.
I have a pile of notes from my safe people right by my bed. When I begin to feel panicky or depressed, I read through the funny, kind, empathetic, genuine words of my safe people. Often, this is enough to remind me I am cared about, appreciated and not bothering those around me when complex PTSD tells me I am.
6. Making lists.
A skill I have been engaging in recently has been list making. In times of crisis or panic, I will pull out my journal and make lists. Some of the lists I have made frequently have been ¨memories that make life worth living,¨ ¨things I want to accomplish in my life,¨ and ¨things I am proud of in my life.¨ Looking at these on my hard days reminds me of my goals for my life and my future.
7. Going for a walk (preferably with someone else).
When all else fails, I will ask someone I trust to go on a walk with me. This gets me out of my environment and with someone who can hold some of the pain with me, even if it means being quiet and not speaking to them. This is often the comfort I need at the time, even if it’s scary and vulnerable at the time.
8. Finding things to look forward to.
I like to set myself little things to look forward to every few days, kind of like a mini-celebration for myself when I get through a stretch of days. Little things to look forward to could be as little as a cup of coffee, or as big as a concert ticket or special event.
I hope some of these tips and resources can help you when you are struggling to manage chronic suicidal ideation. Remember, your traumatic reactions are not a personality flaw. They are real and valid. You can do this!
Photo by Joyce Huis on Unsplash