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