Seeking… Opinions

Caution:  This post contains discussion of suicide attempts and their effect on those close to the person who attempts.  However the post contains no details of specific suicide attempts and no images.  Please know that I am in no way offended if you choose not to read this post.

Sometimes it’s really necessary to gather the opinions of others  in order to find a way forward.  That’s where I’m at right now.

Recently someone in my life expected me to visit, and when I didn’t, she got worried.  I had said a visit would be unlikely because I was sick (fibromyalgia) but that was in some way misheard.  Next thing I get a phone call asking me whether I was killing myself.  She jumped to a conclusion that because I hadn’t visited, then I must be in the process of committing suicide.

At the time, my mental health was pretty good.  I certainly hadn’t been entertaining the thought of suicide or any sort of harm to myself.  It was my physical health that was the issue but I simply had to ride that out.  I had given the person no reason to think I was in danger, and she later agreed that there was no reason for her to be so concerned.  But I recognise that something must have triggered her worry.

I was pretty surprised by the concern she expressed.  I thought, “where did that come from?”  I knew that somehow I had to get my head around it and understand where she was coming from in order to be able to address her concern.

Jump back 16 years and I was clearly labelled by my psychiatrist and mental health workers as having “chronic suicidal ideation“.  That is, suicide was something I was pretty much constantly thinking about and planning.  I had a number of suicide attempts across a period of maybe four years, including two very large and ‘serious’ attempts (actually all attempts are serious).  Even when I stopped making attempts (the last was 16 years ago) I continued to have those chronic thoughts for a number of years yet.  It seemed no amount of therapy, ECT, medication or hospitalisation would shift the thoughts.  Even though I wasn’t actively trying to kill myself, I was still very much thinking about it.

Time has changed that though.  As I have written here previously, I have found some hope and purpose for living.  I am not having suicidal thoughts any more, although certainly there are still the tough times.

The person who raised concern for me the other day lived through all of this, although at a geographical distance.  I don’t in any way want to undermine the effect that my actions, and what she knew of my thoughts, had on her or other people close to me.  I know she (and others) literally waited for ‘the’ phone call, and at one stage she had every reason to believe she had got it.  That must be an incredibly painful way to live your life, not knowing what would happen next.

I suspect that the history of all my attempts and chronic thoughts had a much bigger impact on my family and close friends than I ever thought.  I was after all, caught up in my own hell and, at the time, had little appreciation of theirs.  Not because I didn’t care about what my actions were doing but simply because I was drowning in my own stuff.

A psychiatrist once told me that in his opinion, once you had carried chronic suicidal thoughts with you, that it isn’t something you could completely put behind you.  What I’m wondering is whether it is also impossible for loved ones to put behind them?

After all that happened to me all those years ago, am I always going to have a ‘suicide risk‘ label hanging around my neck (in the minds of those who love me)?

I want to say “can’t we put this in the past and move on?”  But maybe it’s not so easy.  Maybe they see the words ‘mental illness’, which will always be in some way part of my life, and continue to live in fear of getting ‘that‘ phone call.  Maybe when they expect me to turn up and don’t, they automatically now think ‘this is it‘?  I really hate the thought that they live in such fear for me, even after all these years, but is it something impossible to let go of for them?

I’ve never been in the situation my family were in for so long when I was chronically suicidal, but I want to see it from their perspective.  I admit I was just a bit affronted when I got this phone call.  I thought ‘can’t we let this go?’, ‘at what point do I become free to move on from that time in my life?‘ and ‘are we always going to have this hanging over us?‘.  To me, I want this to be the past, but is that too hard or even impossible for those who had to stand by and watch (and wait for the phone call)?.

So I’m wondering what you think?  Maybe you’ve been in the same situation as me.  Then again, maybe you’ve been a family member/friend who had to watch as your loved one went through this.  Or maybe you’ve got yet another perspective.

I know suicide as a subject is really difficult to discuss for all of us, and if you can’t or don’t want to, then that’s fine.   I just want to try to understand whether my loved ones will always carry this fear with them.  And is it something that is possible to resolve?

PS.  Please understand that I have absolutely no criticism of my family or others who loved me through this period of my life, and I have no desire to hurt them beyond what I have already caused.  I know enough to know that it was an incredibly difficult journey for them, as it also was for me.  I appreciate, beyond words, that they stood beside me at all.

“Time does not heal wounds. It’s a body’s ritual that does. The instinctual cleansing with rain or other waters, the application of salves. Despite the sting. Even neglected, the body begins to take care. To repair itself. Blood clots, tissues regenerate, flesh scars. Soon, the thin white line is the only evidence of the pain. It is the body, not time. Time does nothing except create distance between the body and that which caused it harm.”

― T. Greenwood


18 thoughts on “Seeking… Opinions

  1. I have been going through a period of stability (other than some minor ups and downs) for almost a year. My parents and boyfriend are still extremely vigilant about any sign I might be getting manic or depressed. I have never had a suicide attempt, but have spent years having serious problems with suicidal ideation. Any time this comes up, my family, my mom in particular, begins to worry that I’m coming up with a plan. I don’t really think this worry ever goes away for them, although since it is 16 years since your last attempt, I would think the pressure would ease some, but it is possible it will stay in people’s minds forever. When we talk about suicide, something that most people never think about, we put ourselves in an “at-risk” category (or rather, people put us in that category) and it seems they will be forever worried that this path will be taken again.

    1. Hi Rose, thanks for your comments. I really appreciate them. You make a really good point that suicide is something that most people never consider, let alone having to face ongoing ideation. I’ve had people say to me before that they couldn’t even imagine having those thoughts. So to face it in terms of a family member or other loved one must be incredibly traumatic and very hard to move on from. I suspect you are right that it will always be in their minds. The difficult thing I find is that then I feel like I’m not trusted. Maybe it’s me that has to let go of that. Hey I’m really glad you’ve got some stability right now. Long may it last!

  2. I don’t know the answer to your question. I have never attempted suicide. However, since my son died, people have been concerned that I will. If I don’t answer phone calls or emails, it seems (to me) that they jump to the conclusion that I have harmed or attempted to harm myself. It reached the point that I told one family member to chill and leave me alone. I didn’t need them calling the police or emergency just because I didn’t call them back within 10 minutes.
    On the other side of the subject, I have not been close to anyone who has made suicide attempts, so I have no reference point. My only experience has been my son’s death by suicide and he had not made any attempts in the past. Nor did he have any mental or emotional problems of which anyone was aware.

    1. Hi Katherine, Thanks for replying to this. I imagine it’s not the easiest topic for you to consider even though both yours and Donald’s journey has been very different from mine. It must be really frustrating to have people constantly questioning you like that. You certainly didn’t need the added pressure of the Police turning up (something I have also had in the past). I know it’s really difficult for others to know what to do, or how to gauge what if anything is necessary but to add that to your grief must be a little like a slap in the face. I hope it’s ok to say that, but slap me back if not. Sometimes we just need to be left alone, don’t we?

  3. I wonder if family and loved ones ‘get over’ it when we finally do. I’m not sure I would agree with that Psychiatrist saying we never fully put those suicidal thoughts behind us. For me, while I may not necessarily be suicidal, whenever I hit a black spot, that act, as an option, is always lurking around in the background. I believe, through long and difficult therapy, that negative ideation will fade into the distant past…. perhaps that is the time when loved ones can finally relax.

    1. Hi Cat, Yeah, I’m beginning to think that maybe family and loved ones don’t ever get over it and I need to remember that for them, the experience was a trauma in itself. And don’t we know how difficult trauma is to pass. As for the Psychiatrist, I think I’m with you. I certainly didn’t find it very helpful at the time. I think what he was trying to say is that most people never even consider the idea of suicide. It just doesn’t feature for them but when we’ve lived it for so long, it leaves the mind open to it. But as you say, I’d like to think I can pass that point. Ass to whether my family can, I don’t know yet.

      1. From experience, I tend to believe that we overcome personal trauma sooner – much sooner – than our loved ones. Sometimes, I used to wonder if they were actually more traumatised than I was. I think by actually living the trauma, we kinda become desensitised to the true horror of it.
        As someone living with BPD, I have evidently failed to see other people’s views. As I understand it, this is a major symptom for most people with BPD. The fact you are “mentalizing”; being aware of their feelings, is perhaps a huge stepping-stone in your own recovery.
        Rubbish to the Psychiatrist. Yes, when we are ill, that ideation is almost like part of the mechanism/package; if we’ve been there before, then those neuro-pathways must still be present. How often do we think suicide without really being serious about it? As I already said, I believe, we do definitely pass that mental thinking and if we work hard, there are opportunities that help us rise above it all.
        At that point, there must be something about our persona that loved ones see. Perhaps that is their turning point. In saying all that, I also believe that there comes a time when they need to trust our assurances. Yes, of course, they will harbour doubt whenever they don’t hear from us, but they need to be able to keep that under control because it is the last thing we wish to remember.
        Not sure if that makes sense, but it does to me! ;0)

      2. Your words ring very true to me, Cat. Overcoming trauma sooner is not something I had ever thought of (perhaps me with BPD too not seeing others views) but it makes some sense. I guess in some ways we become desensitised to the horror but we also know it all. We’re not trying to guess what happened and rely on what they hear from us. Not to mention that we are more likely to have had help through some type of therapy. My family never had therapy to handle what they went through with me. Maybe it would have helped. Then again maybe they’ll want to hit me over the head for that idea. 😉

  4. sumegoinvicte

    I have had suicidal thoughts, even a plan but never attempted suicide. Of my close family and friends I’ve only ever admitted that to my partner and only because he was there when the doctor asked. On the other hand I have been the person terrified to get home and find my mother dead when I was in school and constantly waiting for that phone call when I was in university. She died of alcoholic related liver failure in the end. I have been able to forgive her but the pain of her suicide attempts still hurt me even though she has been dead for ten years, but that said it probably kept me alive because having been through it I couldn’t do that to my partner. I know this isn’t likely what you want to hear but the pain and memory of those times is likely to stay with your family even 16 years later and at any time that they see you struggling for what ever reason they may well jump to conclusions. That doesn’t mean they haven’t forgiven and mostly moved on, only that they care about you and have a long memory.

    1. Thank you so much for your comments. I really appreciate your perspective although I recognise it must be a very difficult thing to write about. Your perspective means much to me because you have been in the situation from both angles. I admire your strength in being able to work through it all without harming yourself. That’s fantastic, although I recognise that it doesn’t take away the thoughts. Actually what you say, is what I want to hear. Maybe somehow I want my family, etc to let me off the hook but I appreciate hearing what it must be like for them to live through. So thank you.

      1. sumegoinvicte

        You say that you somehow want your family to let you off the hook, that kind of implies fault. It’s not your fault that you were ill, it took me a long time to realize that it wasn’t my mums fault but I got there eventually (the word forgiveness doesn’t imply she was at fault only that I was hurt) . I can only imagine it was difficult in her shoes as most of the messages she received from the family and the messages that I was exposed to as a teenager and bought into were that it was her fault. Unfortunately even with the most supportive family in the world (which mine wasn’t) the general perception of mental illness in society is that it is somehow the persons fault, if they just tried harder to get on with life etc. Its kind of hard not to blame yourself when this is the message being received. In an ideal world I would have been able to have spoken out about the thoughts I was having and received the support I needed at that time, but I didn’t think that was a smart move. I was lucky the mixed episode I was experiencing, that caused suicidal thoughts, only lasted in a severe form for a couple of days, the outcome may have been very different had they lasted longer. Suicide is very difficult which ever side you’re on, to a large extent due to the stigma and misunderstanding surrounding it, hopefully in the future things will be different.

      2. Thanks. You’re so right. I don’t think I even stopped to think what I was saying but you’re right. Fault isn’t an issue. Thank you so much for pointing that out to me. I really appreciate it because it changes my whole way of recovering from the thoughts and the actions.

  5. John Richardson

    I think she loves you very much. I also appreciate to some extent what she must be feeling. Years ago my step father told me he was depressed and that sometimes he thought about putting a gun to his head and ending it all. I was in my early 30’s and didn’t know how to respond and felt like he must be kidding. A year or two later he shot himself to death. His birthday had come and gone and nobody had told him happy birthday and he had received no birthday cards. At the time my mom found him she was baking him a birthday cake. She had recently lost her father. He and my step dad’s birthday were within a couple of days of each other. Mom had gotten their birthdays confused. The day after he killed himself 4 or 5 birthday cards arrived in the mail from his family in Ohio. He was a gentle, kind and loving man. He has been missed by all that knew him. He had issues and they were complicated but I have replayed my conversation with him many times in my mind and wished that I had done something with the information he had given me that might have changed the situation or said something profound to help him move away from these thoughts of suicide. As humans, we make many mistakes. When we do err it’s best to err on the side of love. I’m glad she loves you Cate. Forgive her for misreading that chill that was running down her spine and hug her the next time you see her. God Bless!

    1. Thanks for sharing that with me John. I appreciate your openness because it does help me to understand what my family experienced. It just goes to show that we have little idea of what other people go through, and it’s good to pause and remember before reacting. Thanks.

  6. I think one of the challenges is that we are generally very secretive about our illness and very good at covering it up. Even those close to me are never quite sure how I am feeling…have I had a bad day or am I depressed. How often do you see it in news articles…we had no idea s/he was depressed.

    1. Hi Ellie, I think that is a very good point, that they don’t know what we are feeling. Probably it is often a very good thing too, although I accept that it makes it difficult for them to know exactly where we are at. And you’re quite right. So often in the news we here that no one knew a thing. Thanks for your comment.

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