‘People are tip-toeing around me’

American Association of Suicidology
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“Life hurts,” the emailed comment began.

What followed is the note that we’ve posted below. It’s a simple, clear description of what it can feel like after an attempt. It also points out so well the need for resources for family, friends and colleagues of attempt survivors that we immediately wanted to publish it.

“Of course you have my permission to post it on the site,” Toni replied. She was more than happy to share her story and even agreed to use her full name, though we decided on just her first name for now. (She can yell at us if she likes … or write another post later on.)

“I really just want to help, and I don’t even know what that means yet,” Toni added. We hope that her voice will help push for some badly needed guidance for the loved ones who are often our first and most constant layer of support. How should they react? What should they do or say? What about as time moves on from the crisis? As she explains here, the people around us can be as bewildered or angry as we are.

Obviously, if you know of good online resources to address this, let us know:

I am a 47-year-old woman, and I attempted to end my life on May 14 of this year. For as long as I can remember I have suffered from depression, which has become increasingly severe over the years. I feel I can no longer function in this life under the emotional pain and distress I feel. I have been in therapy and on various medications for at least 25 years. I have become increasingly isolated, and my world has narrowed dramatically as I try to hide my pain from people in my life. I used alcohol for many years to numb my emotional pain, but eventually it stopped working and ultimately led to chaotic and painful behavior that led to feelings of shame, guilt and remorse, which in turn have made this life a very painful experience. As a result of my addiction and my depression, I have destroyed many, and fractured all, of the relationships in my life. I have destroyed what was a very successful career. I have dropped out of a master’s program and have created a dire financial situation in my life.

My decision to leave this life of pain and misery was based on my belief that life will never be any different than it is right now. The longer I live, the more people I hurt and become a burden to. I do have some people in my life that love me, but despite their love they just don’t understand this black coffin of pain that I live in. Family and friends have offered well-meaning advice over the years, but unfortunately, even this compounds my emotional state. I am utterly unable to “pull myself up by my bootstraps,” “think only positive thoughts,” “exercise to raise your endorphin levels,” “live in the moment,” etc. The shame and self-loathing I feel for being unable to manage my emotional state is crippling.
In May, I decided that I could no longer tolerate the pain, and I took several bottles of pills that I had stockpiled for just this purpose. I washed them down with white wine. I live alone, and the last thing I remember was lying on my couch.  I hadn’t counted on a neighbor finding me on my stairs. I have no memory of leaving my living room.

My next memory is of coming to in the ICU. I was intubated. My hands were restrained with weighted mitts to prevent me pulling on my trach tube. I was heavily sedated and not really sure of what was going on. I could not stay awake, and my understanding is that for several days I was in and out of consciousness. My daughter was told that I may never wake up. When I did wake up enough to understand the situation, the only thing I felt was absolute rage. If I could have screamed, I would have. I did not want to be alive and felt only anger and despair that I had failed to die.

For the next several days, I remained in the ICU. My daughter was there regularly, as were people from my 12-step support group, and my mother traveled from Ireland to be with me and to support my daughter. The nurses in the ICU remarked several times that I was lucky to have so many people in my life to love and support me. Of course they were right, but as the enormity of the pain I had caused everyone registered with me, my guilt, shame and anger increased also. I had sent my family and friends into a tailspin, and it was obvious that I caused tremendous pain and chaos in their lives. I really thought that when I died people would probably be upset, but after a period of grieving they would move on with their life, which would be easier because I wouldn’t be there to cause any more pain or distress.

I spent several days on the psychiatric unit at the hospital when I was discharged from the ICU. During my stay on the locked ward, my mom and my daughter visited every day. My mom was absolutely distraught and told me that if I had died it would have destroyed her life. My daughter, although supportive, was angry also and told me that if I had died she would have to live with the belief that it was her fault. She thought that I didn’t love her.
My friends and group members expressed that they felt hurt, anger and sadness by my actions. So, despite my best efforts to die in order that I would not cause this kind of pain, I failed.

At this time, I am in tremendous pain and shame. People are tip-toeing around me or avoiding me completely. My mom calls just about every day now. I know she is calling to check up on me. She tells me to let her know if I am having a rough day, to talk to her. Thanks to technology, I can see the pain in her face when she sees me upset and crying or with big dark circles under my eyes because I can’t sleep anymore. It breaks my heart to see the pain I have caused her. She has told me that the only thing she wants from me is for me to be happy. I want to be happy too, and I feel so much pain because I can’t give my mom what she wants. I want to avoid her so she can’t see the pain I’m in, but I know that if she doesn’t hear from me that she will be anxious and worry. She is coming to stay at the end of this month, and I am looking forward to seeing her, but at the same time I am panicked, too. I don’t think I have the strength to put a brave face on it, but I also need to not cause her further pain.

My daughter has said she has lost her trust in me and will need time to try to repair our relationship. I have a new granddaughter that unfortunately I only get to see infrequently because my daughter has distanced herself from me. Our interactions are tentative and superficial at this time. We have not really discussed what happened. We are going to start therapy together to see if we can somehow repair our relationship. My son-in-law, according to my daughter, is very angry with me also. He won’t even look me in the eye when we speak now.

My best friend was initially very supportive and spent a lot of time with my daughter and my mom. However, I have not heard from her now for a month. I fear that my actions have destroyed that relationship. She hasn’t even responded to messages I have sent her just to say hi and ask how she’s doing. While I understand that she may need this distance right now, I can’t help but feel a sense of betrayal. When I was in the hospital, she promised that she would be there for me always.

My group members have reached out to me and welcomed me back to meetings. I have a hard time attending, though, as I feel shame and guilt about my suicide attempt. Another group member attempted suicide a few weeks after I did, and several group members expressed how angry they are at him. Still others have engaged in spiteful gossip about him. I can’t help but think that some may have reacted the same way to me. I also wonder if my actions triggered the actions of the other group member, and there is guilt, shame and fear attached to that thought, too.

At this point in time, I do not consider myself a survivor. For me, a survivor is someone that has endured pain or suffering but has come out on the other side of it. I am not there yet. I cry daily. I feel so depressed and anxious all the time. Because of the financial mess I have created, I have had to return to work. Trying to work , trying to get up every day, trying to shower and get dressed, trying to hide my feelings and regulate my emotions, trying to repair relationships, trying to build back trust, trying to pay bills, do housework, go to meetings, go to therapy is so exhausting, and I am so overwhelmed. I am right where I was in May, but I have managed to accumulate even more layers of pain. I also have lost the option of suicide as a way to end my pain because I have seen what it would do to my family and friends, and I don’t want to cause them that anguish. I’m not living, and I can’t die.

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Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.

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