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The Role Dissociation Played in My Suicide Attempt

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September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. This means there are tons of articles being published this month to tell us the warning signs to look for in our loved ones, resources for getting help for yourself or someone you love who is struggling with suicidal thinking. It’s a good idea to take note of those resources and to be aware of what to be on the lookout for, you never know who may need them.

February 1st of this year I renewed my membership in the ranks of those who have survived a suicide attempt. I have bipolar disorder which manifests in me primarily as depression. I had been rapid cycling between hypomania and depression for almost two years. The depressions can get incredibly deep and dark. And I’m not good at reaching out for help, which can make it get even deeper and darker.

Because it is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month I wanted to touch on the stigma of suicide. We all know about it. We’ve heard the comments about suicide being a selfish act, or cowardly, or simply weak. Anyone who has survived an attempt knows they can’t tell just anyone about their attempt. Telling people about our attempts we run the risk that they will no longer trust us, they will be afraid of us, not know how to treat us, they may judge us, will even avoid us. I’ve even had medical professionals react in a way that felt judgmental to me.

The act of killing oneself used to be a crime. That stigma is kept alive when we use the term “commit” to describe suicide, as in self-murder. Those who attempt suicide are frequently accused of attention-seeking. Friends and family often don’t know what to say to either the person who attempted or to the family of the attempter. My husband and I are friends with a couple who we told about my attempt. They handled the information admirably, they didn’t accuse me of anything and they didn’t say anything hurtful. They were mostly just quiet. I had surgery last month (unrelated), and this same couple sent me a get-well card. They hadn’t sent me a card after I got out of the hospital from the attempt. I’m sure it never occurred to them. They didn’t know what to say. We as a society don’t seem to know how to handle suicide attempts.

The night that I attempted was obviously a time of incredible pain. I hurt so badly that I had no idea what to do with the pain. I didn’t know how to hurt that bad. My mind wasn’t able to handle the degree of emotional pain I was in. So, I dissociated. Having C-PTSD, I’m very familiar with dissociation. I clearly remember standing off to the side of myself, watching myself as I went through the steps of the attempt. I wasn’t being selfish. I wasn’t being cowardly or weak. I wasn’t being thoughtless. I just wasn’t there. I was out of my mind. Literally.

The night started with me contacting a crisis text line. Reading the conversation back later was surreal. The person on the support side of the conversation was saying all the right things – sounds like you’re really struggling, you showed a lot of courage by reaching out for help, it sounds like you are really hurting, etc. My responses weren’t responses. I just kept begging the person to make the pain stop. Over and over, I begged, help me. I wasn’t responding to her comments, I couldn’t, I wasn’t there. Instead I was consumed with a pain so big my mind had no idea what to do with it.

I called a friend and told her I was concerned about the Google searches I was doing. I was researching suicide methods and determining if I could do them – did I have the courage? Did I have the supplies or space? She agreed that my searches were concerning and suggested I call my psychiatrist. That sounded like a good idea so I did. The answering service told me he would call in 20 minutes. Those 20 minutes felt like two hours. After 30 minutes I hadn’t heard from him so I called the service back. My doctor called in five minutes. It was 9 p.m. at night and he sounded like I woke him up. I was embarrassed that I had called. I was horrified that I had been so inconsiderate as to impose on his personal time. He made suggestions of things I could do. I agreed to all of them, knowing I would do none of them. All I wanted to do was get off the phone and end the embarrassment.

After that phone call, I think the dissociation was complete. There was no reasoning with myself; I was gone, there was only movement and action. Standing to the side, watching myself with no hesitancy or pause. I was completely sure this was the best thing I could do. It would end my pain. It would allow my husband to stop having to be around me and be dragged down by my endless depressions. He would hurt for a while, but eventually he could pick up his life and move on, better without me. Thinking of my husband, I sent a text to my therapist. I apologized for texting so late (it was around 10 p.m. now) but asked if we could talk for a minute. “It’s kind of important,” I said. He called me immediately. As we talked I explained that I wanted to be sure I was doing the best thing for my husband; I needed to know I was handling this well. I didn’t want to cause my husband any more trouble than necessary. I had already taken the steps, I wasn’t planning anything now, it was already done.

My therapist listened and talked calmly to me. He brought the conversation around to telling me he was legally required to report what I had done. But he gave me choices. He could call emergency services, I could tell my husband (who was in the next room), or he could tell my husband. I chose for him to tell my husband. Meanwhile the crisis text line had contacted the police to come out and do a wellness check on me. The ambulance wasn’t far behind.

Obviously, I survived my attempt. I’m thankful for that. The attempt changed me. There were trauma affects from it, but I had a lot of help working through that and I’m OK. I still cry every time I see an ambulance. I’ve been surprised that one of the biggest things left behind from the attempt is fear. Fear that it got that bad. Fear that the suicidal thoughts got so far I actually acted on them. Fear that I know it could happen again. Because it wasn’t selfishness. It wasn’t cowardice. It wasn’t weakness, it was mental illness.

Getty image by cosveta

Originally published: September 28, 2021
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