Without Hope


Recently I came across an old post from Natasha Tracy’s blog Bipolar Burble called People Who Attempt Suicide Don’t Want To Die.  It’s a post Natasha wrote a couple of years ago and it is written from her own perspective based on her own attempted suicide at a time when she felt completely hopeless.  I don’t want to take away from what she said but the title caught my eye and my initial reaction was ‘I don’t agree with that’.  On taking some time to reflect, I would soften that by saying that I think some people who attempt suicide don’t want to die, but there are some do.

We don’t really talk about suicide or attempted suicides very often.  And aside from not wanting to trigger off thoughts and feelings I think it is hard to talk about because there are so many emotions tied up in it, and perhaps everyone’s experience is different.  So all I want to do here is offer a bit of my story.  It’s not right or wrong, just like what Natasha wrote was not right or wrong.  This is just my story.

The first thing I did was think about New Zealand, partly because there has recently been a move here to free up the reporting of suicides by the media on the basis that perhaps the more we are open about it then the more people will seek out help.  I went to the Suicide Prevention Information New Zealand site.  It has a lot of information but not so much on the reasons people attempt suicide.  What I did find was:

“People who feel suicidal often feel as though they just don’t belong. Feelings of ambivalence about living or dying are often a central focus for those who attempt suicide.”  (1.)

“People who struggle with suicidal thoughts, there is often a debate going on in their head. They’re not actually thinking about being dead, but they’re thinking about bringing an end to an incredible level of pain and distress.” (2.)

So the experts tell me that maybe that’s right.  People don’t want to die.  The thing is that I did.  Maybe some people don’t want to die, but I think that is too simplistic.  Some people who attempt suicide do actually want to die.

Before I go further I need to state that my own experience of attempting suicide relates to some years ago and I do not feel like this now, nor do I have current thoughts of suicide.  That said, I recognise that I have a tendency to revert to that way of thinking very easily.  That’s partly just from having been there, and partly to do with the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) which make it hard to get away from.  This means that there is an ongoing need to be careful, and I work through this with my therapist, as I need to.

I made two major suicide attempts as well as a number of smaller ones.  It would be fair to say that my attempts got bigger and more damaging each time.  In both major cases the hospitals where I was subsequently treated were amazed that I survived.  That said, when I survived I wasn’t relieved, but rather really angry that I had failed.  IT took a long time to get past that anger.

Perhaps in the minor attempts I was simply exhausted by the mental and emotional pain I had been in.  I just wanted it to stop and what I did was not thought out clearly, but was rather desperation.  I accept for those that perhaps I didn’t really want to die.

The major attempts though, I was quite clear that I wanted to die.  I felt completely without hope, and because of that lack, I saw no reason to living.  I couldn’t see how anything could change.  Actually I had been trying to make things change, but I only seemed to get worse.  At the first time I had even resorted to trying Electro Convulsive Treatment (ECT), which I have written about in my post ECT – How It Was For Me.  ECT seemed like a last resort.  The only problem was that it didn’t work ,and so as months went on I became more and more hopeless, and resorted to attempted suicide.

So would I have needed to change to persuade me away from this thinking?  I needed relief from my Depression, I needed an end to the constant battle of Anorexia, and I needed a way out of a relationship that I had no idea of how to get out of it.  I was married, in a mainly Christian environment,  surrounded by Christian friends and family, my husband worked for a Christian organisation… all of whom I assumed would never accept me leaving that marriage.  I was fairly sure my husband would not let me walk away either, and that I would end up stalked by him for the rest of my life.  That’s not because of the person he was but rather because of my experience of being stalked previously over a long period of time (see my post Stalked… But Still Hiding Some Of Me).  The only way to get out of the marriage without bringing shame and disappointment to myself and D, and without lifelong consequences, was to kill myself.  I no longer believed that any of it was possible, and so chose to try to kill myself.  I wanted to be dead.  I was completely without hope. I just wanted to be finished and out of there.  There was no ambivalence by this point (either time).

The reality was that I had severe mental illness.  Both times I was depressed, I had undiagnosed BPD (which would contribute to suicidal thoughts and actions), my body weight and my food intake was so low that my brain wasn’t functioning properly anyway, and the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) brought about by the stalking I had endured was also leading me to make decisions that weren’t logical and weren’t founded on fact.

Basically there was no way I could think straight but that didn’t stop me from making a decision that I wanted to be dead.  If I had been treated as if I didn’t want to die, it’s possible that I wouldn’t have been taken seriously enough.  I’m not saying that a suicide attempt involving ambivalence and a need to just get out of the pain is not serious.  It is, but I think that possibly different tpsychotherapuetic reatment could have ended in a different outcome in the long run.

My gut feeling about this is that you can’t make assumptions where suicide is concerned.  It’s too dangerous because there are so many different possibilities. To assume that People Who Attempt Suicide Don’t Want To Die risks some people being overlooked.  It might be true that some people don’t want to die, but in two instances it wasn’t the case for me, and that suggests to me that it’s not the case for everyone.

Does it matter?  I think it does.  Maybe at the immediate time of the attempt it doesn’t matter, because what matters is saving a life.  But there is a need to come to terms with your suicide attempt, so that you can move on towards wellness.  It took me a long time to move on, and part of that was accepting that my life had been saved contrary to what I wanted.  I needed to be treated as an individual too, who had individual feelings about what happened.  Had my therapist made an assumption about the reason for my attempt, rather than hearing it from me, I would never have felt like I had been heard.  I needed him to hear that I wanted to die.

I can’t unfortunately tell you that ‘we all lived happily ever after’ but obviously I am alive.  About a year after the second attempt I found the courage to leave the relationship that has me so trapped.  That relieved a lot of the distress, although didn’t cure the mental illness.  My husband was clearly unhappy with my decision but did not go on to stalk me, as I feared, and I think looking back now we could both say that it was a good decision to end the marriage.  Some of those people who I was scared of their reaction didn’t react positively (I don’t think they saw the alternatives quite as I did) but most people who mattered stood by me.

I was treated as an individual, rather one of the thousands that attempt suicide each year.  I believe that has been important in helping me to accept what happened and move on.

And on a lighter note to finish, I found this quote below.  I’m wondering what it is about New Zealand that would make the difference, although I agree it’s a great place to live; and I wonder where one goes if one is already in New Zealand?  But I very much like the idea of doing what one was always afraid to do.

“Anyone desperate enough for suicide…should be desperate enough to go to creative extremes to solve problems: elope at midnight, stow away on the boat to New Zealand and start over, do what they always wanted to do but were afraid to try.”

 – Richard Bach


13 thoughts on “Without Hope

  1. very touching. I feel so close to you opon reading this. I mean as a blogger. I have only seen you as happy and uplifting and I never thought about what you must have been through in the past. I’ve probably read a post here and there at first but before I got to know you. I am so sorry that you felt that helpless. I had a period of time where I truly didn’t want to live, but I was afraid to die, afraid of hell and afraid my kids would suffer. I am glad that dispite your intentions, you lived and got out of that marriage, and became my blogger friend. You are an inspiration to me you brighten my day. 🙂

    1. Thanks Carla. I really appreciate your comments. You know if only I had known then what I know today then… maybe it would never have happened. Hindsight is so great. 🙂

    1. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!… I’m almost speechless. And I love the name of this award and that makes it even better. You’ve made my day 🙂

  2. This is a courageous post to write, Cate. I thank you for sharing your experiences with us, and I know it will do a lot of good for people. I know I can relate to it, and I’m sure many others will as well. I have often – over about the last ten years when my symptoms started – seriously thought about suicide and ending my pain. But, during some of those times, I don’t believe I really wanted to die. However, then in 2009 shortly before my initial diagnosis, I was in a place where I did want to die. It was the first time that I actually actively sought ways of how to do it. I would even pray to God that He would take me. Each night I’d hope and pray that I wouldn’t wake up the next day. Those times, I truly wanted to die. I just didn’t have the courage ’cause I didn’t want to hurt my mom and dad (who I love so dearly) and just as Carla above, I also feared the repercussions based on my faith. Thankfully, I’m not in that place right now. Like you, though, I also deal with the thoughts being on my mind often. I discuss it with my therapist whenever they start to become strong enough.

    Thank you again for this post, Cate! It takes a great deal of strength to reflect on these painful memories and experiences, and even more so to share them.

    Take care! 🙂

    1. Thanks Summer and thanks for your honesty. I guess for some of us it will always be an issue but I hope for us that there continue to be reasons to not go down that path. It has been a bit painful to re-access these memories but it’s also been good because I realise how far I have come thanks to an excellent therapist. That really makes all the difference for me.

  3. Ellen

    This is one of those issues I hotly debate in my own mind. When I tried to kill myself I wanted to die, without doubt, and I still feel my back go up when people talk about ambivalence because that didn’t apply to me. But I’m also a psychologist and I understand that from the medical perspective the term is used somewhat differently that we generally think of it. The talk about ambivalence is because that is the part of you that the doctors want to find and encourage. It is not necessarily conscious and it may just refer to your body that threw up the medication, or fought for breath as you were choking, the part that didn’t plan the attempt well enough to avoid discovery, whatever part that let you live, they call ambivalent so that they can nurture it and use it to help you back to wellness. It is not said to minimise your feelings, or to say that you were not serious in trying to die. People die all the time, if it weren’t for a dodgy rope I would be one of them. Like you when I failed I was angry and wanted to try again and I was so frustrated by the people that kept me safe when I deserved to and needed to die. But maybe I can concede that there was a part of me that knew I didn’t want to die, some part that wasn’t so sick, even if I wasn’t aware of it. As I said I debate this in my mind, and struggle to apply it to me.

    1. Thanks for you comments. I totally understand you wanting to hotly debate it. Me too. I think it brings up an issue about doctors/psychologists perspective versus patient perspective. Obviously I come from a patient view but you are caught between the two. It does suggest though that clarification between the two would certainly help a patient come to terms with what they have done. Unfortunately at the time I have to say that no one was interested in helping me to do that and actually I was told I was unrealistic. Thankfully now I have the assistance of a therapist who considers it from my perspective too.

  4. Hi,

    I’m Natasha Tracy, the person who wrote the original post on not wanting to die. My point was less that people “don’t want to die” and more that “people don’t want to live in pain.” So people, naturally, don’t want to live the pain of their lives and see no way out of it without suicide. It’s not the death they want but the end to pain.

    And I would argue that in this case too. You had many part of your life that were weighing on you and many things you wanted out of. But that’s just it, you wanted out of them. If you could have gotten out of them, I’m thinking, you would have preferred that option. The fact that you tried ECT is evidence of the fact that you didn’t want to die – you wanted to feel better.

    I don’t believe in lumping everyone together and if a person really doesn’t identify with that, then I wouldn’t paint them with that brush just because it’s convenient. However, when we look deep down inside, I believe it’s pretty accurate in most cases.

    – Natasha Tracy

    1. Thanks for your comments Natasha. Let me first say that I certainly didn’t mean to be critical of what you wrote, and I apologise if you thought I was. I understand your point of view completely but actually in those situations I actually did want to die. Ending the pain was not enough for me at that time. Yes I tried ECT but that was some months earlier. I guess all I was trying to do was to put across my personal experience and that for each person, reality is different. Cate

  5. I’m really glad you got over such a tough time. I can only imagine the pain you must have went through. You’re such a strong person! I think the quote is just perfect.

  6. Pingback: Borrowed Hope | Infinite Sadness… or what?

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