Without Hope

CAUTION: THIS POST RELATES TO THE ISSUE OF ATTEMPTED
SUICIDE AND THEREFORE MAY WARRANT CAUTION WHEN READ.

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

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‘Losing’ my Religion (Passions Profile Challenge #5)

“I judge a religion as being good or bad based on whether its adherents
become better people as a result of practicing it.” 
~Joe Mullally

“This is my simple religion.  There is no need for temples;
no need for
complicated philosophy.  Our own brain, our own
heart is our temple;
the philosophy is kindness.”
~Dalai Lama

Regularly irrelevant, judgemental, inaccessible… that is my experience of Christianity.

That doesn’t mean though, that I don’t see that for many people it is relevant, accepting and accessible.  For some people, Christianity has saved their lives, and setting aside my own experience, I think that’s great.  The thing is though, that I’m not just talking about Christianity.  You’ll have to excuse me for referring mostly to that, because that is where my knowledge and my experience comes from, but what I am passionate about is that all religion should be relevant, non-judgemental and accessible to all people.

I was raised as a Christian.  My father was a minister, so everything revolved around the church.  At some point (as a teen) I made a decision that Christianity was my religion too, rather than being simply what my parents believed.  That is, until I was 28 years old when I came to a conclusion that really changed my whole life.  I think it was a bit challenging for both my family and my friends (many of them being Christians) too.  I decided church wasn’t for me.

That was a radical change.  For a long time I just didn’t want to know about religion.  I felt I had been judged and deemed unacceptable by something that I had previously regarded as my life.  It wasn’t just a ‘church on Sunday’ thing for me.  It was a 24/7 way of life.  I read my Bible everyday, I prayed, I was involved in a range of church activities.  And I stopped it all.

I guess for me my mental illness was the deciding factor.  My illness wasn’t accepted by some people, who seemed to regard it as a product of sin.  I was told by people that my illness was because I didn’t have enough faith in God.  I was also told by friends that using any type of psychology (I was seeing a clinical psychologist at the time) was evil.  Actually I was even given a book telling exactly why I shouldn’t use any form of psychological medicine.  I never read the book, and I have long since thrown it out (in the rubbish) because I couldn’t bear the thought of someone picking it up and concluding they were evil too.  I was also told that because my maternal grandfather had been a Freemason most of his life, this was an evil influence on me and so my mental illness was his fault.  Thankfully he had died by this time so he never knew of this because I know he loved me and he would have been devastated.  By the way he was also a Christian.  I’m sure other criticisms and judgements were cast my way too.  I’m just glad I have either forgotten them, or never heard them

Because I was almost overly sensitive at the time, I took those judgements, from perhaps a few, as being from all Christians.  That was hardly fair of me.  But in the occasional times I have ventured back my sense of being judged was still there.  If it wasn’t me being judged, it was other people I could see being judged, and actually that was even more angry making than what was thrown my direction.

When I see people being ignored because they’re different from the norm, when I see gay people told they’re not welcome or they can’t live with the person they love, when I see gay ministers being told they can’t minister anymore.  I just think that’s wrong.  When particular cultures are judged as evil, I think that is wrong.  One thing I learnt very early in my experience of religion was to “let the one who has never fallen cast the first stone” (John 8:7).  It’s not my place to judge, nor is it the place of any other human being to judge, because we have all got things wrong and none of us are perfect.

I know people who would scoff at my attitude, and that’s okay.  The thing for me is that each person can believe their truth but they don’t need to criticise, or condemn someone else’s truth.  I still believe in a Christian God, although it took a long time before I could accept it after the judgements I’d had thrown at me.  That’s my belief but it doesn’t make anyone else’s belief in another religion invalid.

Some of what I see leads me to think that some of religion is not relevant.  In my own city, which has been devastated by earthquakes recently I am struck by the intense arguments there have been over the demolition of Christ Church Cathedral (consecrated in 1881), and the subsequent arguments over replacing it with a temporary (10 year) building until they can decide what is appropriate long term.  I have my own views on the arguments that are continuing and some of the crazy things that have been happening, but it makes me so sad that a great fuss is made of spending millions of dollars on a  building for worship when the reality is that because of the earthquake damage we have a great shortage of homes.  Some may say I’m being simplistic, but I don’t think simplicity is a bad thing.  Surely we need to address the basic needs of the people before worrying about a building to worship in.  The city has survived for about 16 months without a Cathedral, so why can’t we continue to survive without it and use the money to make sure people have housing.  That would be relevance.

I worked for a charitable trust associated with a church a few years ago.  I wasn’t involved in the church but was basically the front person for both the trust, which provided social services to the community, and the church, from Monday to Friday.  Many people came in for a range of reasons but mostly it was to meet their basic needs.  They needed food from the foodbank, a meal, and social activity and interaction. It seemed to me that not many people were too interested in the fact that this was a church, until their basic needs got meet, and they felt accepted.  Interestingly a number of different religions used the premises for various activities that some might say weren’t Christian.  I think it was great, although I admit that it took me a while to reach that conclusion, and that is because I had my mind trained to think there was only one true faith and everything else was evil.  I don’t believe that now.

Having something to believe in is important, but I think that when you’re really struggling to meet your basic needs, barely hanging onto life, there just isn’t time or energy into thinking about that stuff.  What matters is where my next meal is coming from, or how do I shut up the goddamned voices in my head.  I think we are wasting time and effort if we think that those people are not holy, are not faithful (to which ever religion is relevant).  Singing hymns just doesn’t cut it when there are real needs out there.  And I don’t want a part of it.

That said, I know what I believe and will do my best to practise accordingly without casting judgement on others.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury,pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

(Prayer of St Francis of Assisi)


Preacher’s Kid (no preaching included!)

sharperiron.orgMy first labels came as I was born.  But my next big one, which had an enormous impact on my life, came at the age of three.  Recently kiwi Oscar winner Bret McKenzie said that one of the reasons for his success was that his parents encouraged him to chase his dream.  He said that in New Zealand you could chase, and have your dream.  My father chased his dream in 1968.  He has recently died but he would said he was following his calling.  I still think it was a dream, maybe as well as a calling.

Until then my father had worked as a furnishing factory manager in Christchurch, where I now live but he always knew he wanted to be a Baptist minister.  So when the opportunity came my parents grabbed the dream and shifted us all to Kawerau, a small town (near Rotorua) in the North Island of New Zealand, so that he could become the minister of the local Baptist church.  My two older brothers and I became P.K.’s (preacher’s or pastor’s kids).

Life changed significantly, and while many times I hated being a preacher’s kid I still know that my life was better than many could hope for.  The first thing that strikes me is that Dad wasn’t around a lot.  In this first church he worked there voluntarily and was also employed full-time at the local paper mill (where most of the town’s people worked).  So he was busy.  Not just two services on Sunday, but mid-week Bible studies, visiting church people, running ‘Bible-in-Schools’ at the local primary schools, and all the other jobs that a preacher takes on.  As a child I don’t actually remember Dad being around for a lot of the time.  That said, he was always my hero and I always knew he loved me.  Mum kept things running at home.  I guess that is what she saw her dream, or calling to be – to support Dad in his dream.

Shifting north to this small town meant moving away from extended family, including grandparents and cousins.  I really never got to know any of them well as a result.  I wish I had more involvement with my grandparents.  By the time I was old enough to not feel scared of these older, strange people it was pretty much too late to really know them, and have them know me.

In place of that extended family were the people of the church.  As P.K.’s our family was the church.  Every four or so years we shifted to a new church, in a new town, and the process started again of getting to know these people.  Some of the older church people took on a kind of ‘grandparent role’ and I have good memories of some of these people who at the time meant more to me than my real grandparents.  In New Zealand we have a Maori word ‘whanau’ which is an extended family who usually live together.  From a young age I regarded my whanau as the church people, and not my real relatives.  While I missed out on my own relatives I am lucky to have had some very special people impact my life.

At that young age being a P.K. didn’t have a big impact on me but we shifted to a new church in a new city of Auckland when I was seven.  One of the costs of being a P.K. was having to make new friends, over and over again.  I did that ok this time but found there were limitations on me because of my father’s role.  There was what I call an expectation to be perfect while an assumption I was evil… and this really stayed with me until I left home.  What I mean is that some people expected that because I was the preacher’s kid then I would be perfectly well-behaved.  I wasn’t.  At the same time some people had this assumption that preacher’s kids were all terrible.  Again I wasn’t that bad.  Somehow preacher’s kids had a reputation for going off the rails, failing at school and ending up pregnant and unmarried.  My first clash with this was at the age of nine when I was locked out of my friend’s house because her parents assumed me to be a bad influence on their child.  If anything, if was the other way around, but because I was the P.K. I was judged unfairly and was not allowed to play that day.  Other times I was allowed in the house so maybe they just didn’t like Dad’s preaching that day.

We shifted again when I was 12, this time to Wellington.  This time I didn’t handle the change and actually looking back I would now say that I was extremely depressed, perhaps my first depression.  It was a very hard time for me.  Again I had to leave my friends, again I had to leave those people in the church who had become like grandparents to me.  All because my parents were following their dream (calling) but really it was not something I wanted at all.

As a teenager I came up against unwanted attention of some men in the church who had their eye fixed on the preacher’s daughter.  Again it was unwanted and at times scary.  At the time my parents only knew the slightest detail, partly because by now I had learned to keep everything to myself.  It grew into prolonged stalking which continued long after my parents had chased another dream (calling).  My life became no longer my own as two men with a common obsession left with me a lasting distrust of men.  More about that another day, but for now it is enough to say that this could be attributed to being the P.K.

So what did all this do to my own Christian faith?  Obviously I was raised as a Christian, went to church and everything related to church.  I learnt my memory verses and read my Bible, and believed in God.  As long as my mental health survived, my commitment to Christianity survived.  But as a P.K. I had seen some particularly ugly things done in the name of Christianity.  I was already concerned about the way churches portray and practise their faith, and when times got hard for me it was harder to blindly accept that everything was good, that God loved me and that other Christians really did care.  Perhaps to my parents dismay I left the church when I couldn’t find acceptance of where I was at – mentally ill and suicidal.

As a P.K. you see everything that goes on in a church and some of it aint pretty.  I got put off when I saw how some people were treated by other people, and actually that has left me with a firm belief in fairness, equality and not judging other people.  So perhaps being a P.K. was a good thing because it has made me a different person.  What I have missed out on is the moving around.  The friends I have known for the longest, I met at 12.  I don’t know anyone from before that and I sometimes wish I could still hang out with my friends from kindergarten or the like.  I just don’t have roots that go right back.