What Life Is Actually Like (Immediately) After a Suicide Attempt
As a person who has survived multiple suicide attempts, I always found it odd that there never seemed to be enough resources on “the after” compared to those for “the before.” Don’t get me wrong, suicide prevention is incredibly important. But how do you find the will to live after losing every last bit of hope? Where are all the narratives of those who survived? To me, it always seemed like there was prevention and then the uber success survivor stories detailing life years after. Where are the stories talking about what it’s like right after? Because telling me life years down the line will be much better isn’t cutting it for me when I’m struggling with the now — the after, the immediate after.
My first two attempts were on impulse, one at age 16 and the other at 21. The latter was far more lethal and I was monitored as the early signs of organ failure had already begun. Both post-attempt hospitalizations were traumatizing. The treatment teams were at times racist, insensitive, invalidating and dismissive. But I faked being better just so I could get the hell out of there. Both times I resolved that I needed to try harder to kill myself next time to avoid the hell of hospitalization.
You see, when you’re like me and have had dysthymic depression along with major depressive disorder (this combination is often called “double depression”), borderline personality disorder (BPD), depersonalization, dissociation, PTSD, chronic pain and an eating disorder; living feels like punishment and no matter how much people love you — it doesn’t change that fact. For me, I’ve had a lot of traumas in my life including all kinds of abuse, violence and continued financial stress. That kind of tumultuous life cocktail is suffocating. Each attempt became a lesson in how to kill myself “better” the next time. However, growing up with my warped family that normalized trauma, I learned to blocked all of it away faking happiness and doing my best running on empty. For a while I was good at it — after all, my first and second attempt were five years apart. Unfortunately, you can only run away from your demons for so long with no fuel to go on.
My third attempt involved a week in the ICU and almost three weeks in a psych hospital. This attempt was different. It was meticulously planned daily and only a month after my second attempt. I would have panic attacks at the mere thought that I was alive and had to keep living, dissociating and planning was the only way I could pass the day. I’ve never felt so suffocated in my life. Even with the support of my friends and community, I was drowning.
Once I was transferred to my psych hospital, I remember meeting with my treatment team and how different things were. This time, they were the first ones to realize my normalization of trauma. They saw me when for years, others couldn’t. I remember my main psychiatrist sitting me down and asking me if I knew what had happened. I remember him pointing out how I managed to bring the other patients in my ward together and get everyone to open up. I remember him pointing out how fixated I was on making other people happy and how I seemed to blasé about my miraculous survival. He sat me down, repeatedly telling me I just barely brushed death. He told me if he were to plot my attempts on a graph, it would form an upwards slope with my last attempt miraculously scraping by the mortality line.
“You won’t survive your next one.”
He then spent the next week along with the rest of my treatment team, trying to get me to cry — to break through my internal defense mechanisms I relied on since I was a child just to survive. Finally, I did during week two. I understood what had happened and the seriousness of it. I felt for all my loved ones. But I also cried in mourning of myself — of all the pieces of me I lost along the way for whatever reason. For the first time, I was seen and allowed to mourn for myself.
It’s been almost three years since that summer. In between that time, I was sexually assaulted just a mere five months after my last hospitalization and was academically discharged as an aftereffect. I lost months of memory and became a recluse. It wasn’t until last winter that I began to piece things together. But in an odd way, I’m also better in a lot of ways. I’ve had more time to analyze my lived experiences and the trauma I endured. My treatment team and I are still working on the best treatment along with the perfect psych med cocktail. However, we know what doesn’t work and what does. I can better articulate my needs and I’ve become more confident as a patient.
I’m writing this not to gain pity but to share my story. It’s OK to not be where you want to be. It’s OK to be in this limbo state of not quite actively suicidal but not quite present in living. It’s OK to be struggling. I’m writing this in hopes that more of us share our stories because life after suicide attempt(s) isn’t always amazing mainstream “success” stories. A lot of treatment for mental illness is trial and error with many educated guesses. And when the majority of the stories you hear are the success stories of those years down the line, it can be frustrating and a bit demoralizing. Recovery is not always linear, nor is it neat and orderly. So, those of you in the immediate after, the limbo, the messy recovery — I see you and I hope soon to hear from you.
Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Unsplash