When I asked myself what picture to put at the top of a post about suicide, I drew a serious f-ing blank. What do you put there? Everything seems too depressing, too wanky, or too glib. So, here you go, the photographic equivalent of the Hamster on a Piano video. Enjoy.
It took me five minutes just to write that sentence, but it’s true. I can’t even go into the details of those 24 hours. But I can go into what life has been like afterward.... And maybe before, too. Let’s start with before.
Before that 24 hours, I turned up to the emergency room at a hospital. It belongs to Peninsula Health. It was, quite, simply, awful. It was not the amount of time I waited in the ER waiting room – which was about 12 hours – but the way I was treated while I waited and after I was admitted. Of course I know this now in retrospect better than I knew it at the time.
Because I had self-admitted, I signed myself out, went home, and attempted to take my life.
Then comes the 24 hours we’re not going to talk about.
Then comes the ‘after’.
I don’t think I can talk much about the days immediately after, either. Except to say that a small group of friends and family gave me a lot of love and support at that time. I’m extraordinarily grateful to them.
Here’s the bits I *can* bring myself to talk about. I made an appointment with my psychiatrist. I had cancelled our last one, because I was, you know, in the hospital at the time (and they’re kinda fussy about you signing yourself out to go to the other side of town and back). I went to see him, and he had a bit of a diatribe about whether I was ‘serious’ about my treatment. Again, perhaps I was difficult to deal with or something, but in retrospect I realise that his behaviour was inexcusable for dealing with a patient a few days out of a suicide attempt. I was so upset I walked out of the appointment, paid the startled receptionist in tears, and left.
'pulling yourself up by your bootstraps' is bullshit
What does that saying mean anyway? Where are the straps in boots? Regardless, somehow, I picked myself up. More accurately, I would say that I hoisted myself out of a deep, muddy hole, and dragged myself up a hill. Under about 2Gs of gravity. Somehow I had found an immense, untapped source of strength.
That source of strength was my husband.
I saw what it did to him to see me like that. I can’t talk about it. But I saw what it was doing to him, and I made it my first priority in life to get better. More important than job, than weight loss, than friends, than family. Getting better became an absolute goal, as non-negotiable a goal as finding water in a desert. I would do whatever it took. I would make it better for James.
(At this point, some people will say that ‘you should do these things for yourself, not for someone else’. Those people have never been suicidal.)
Even with Medicare’s coverage, I spend about $2600 out of pocket each year seeing my therapist. Add roughly $75 a month for medication, and I spend about $3500 per year out of pocket managing this condition.
It is worth every cent.
People talk to me about the difficulty of affording mental health care. I do get that it’s tough. For me, though, this is survival. I need this treatment as much as I need food, water and shelter. I imagine it’s like the cost of diabetics taking insulin: Yeah, it sucks, but I would, you know, possibly die without it, and funerals aren’t cheap either.
He’s completely across town, which in Melbourne is a real pain in the ass. He only sees clients during business hours. I don’t care. At every job I have had since 2011, I have stipulated that I will be away for a couple of hours on Wednesdays. It is not up for negotiation.
how hoisting myself out of that hole changed me forever
Over time, it has become something I do for myself as well, but it has caused a shift in how I see the otherwise wanky-sounding concept of ‘self-care’. Taking care of myself is one of the most important ways I can express my love for my husband. My post-suicide life has taught me how much he loves me, and how important it is to him that I take care of my body and my self. Self care is not wanky. It's survival.
It’s been interesting to see how that relatively small shift has changed me. It’s akin to a tiny shift in the angle of a laser which, over enough distance, creates a massive difference in where that laser is pointing: It’s a small change, but very deep down.
I’m still an asshole sometimes. I’m far from perfect, but my post-suicide life has definitely made me a better person:
- I don’t cling to friendships that give me no joy or closeness. I seek out new ones. My readiness to drop friends I don’t like has oddly helped me make a lot of friendships I’m happier with. It’s awesome.
- I’m profoundly aware that I’ll die eventually. I think about the stuff I don’t want to miss out on before that time, and seek them out. I ignore any feelings of obligation to do things that aren’t on that list.
- I take chances in relationships, and in jobs. I tell people what I think, what I need and how I feel. It feels risky, but there’s not really anything that other people can do to me that’s worth the risk of regretting my silence later.
- I look out for people around me. I’m pretty shy, but I ask them if they need help, or need a friend, and risk the odd looks that come from someone who is startled that I asked. I think back to 2011 Ashley, and I think how much she needed a friend. I try to be that friend to others now. I tell people about my mood disorder and my anxiety disorder, because I want other people to know that they’re not alone, and because I think it’s important to normalise what is really a very common problem.
- I’m much more persistent in pursuing the things I (really, truly) want. I want to exercise more, and I fail at that goal fairly regularly. But now, I don’t give up. I always get back in the pool when I can, no matter how many times I have tried and failed to make it a regular activity. I’ve become a lot more resilient to failures that way.
- I still make lots of mistakes, but I’m happy to accept that I’ve made them – which is a strangely big change. I’m willing to apologise more.
- I still feel sad, and angry, and resentful sometimes. So I cry, and I vent, and I let myself sit with those feelings. Happiness and gratitude are great emotions, but not realistic all the time.
In contrast, I don’t tend to tell people about my suicide attempt. But I want to. I don’t want to regret my silence later.
I don't have a profound way to finish this post
I don’t recommend suicide attempts as a pathway to better living. Seriously. It was a suck-fest. It’s just my story. It’s a story of a mental health care system that it profoundly under-resourced; a story of a startling lack of compassion from some people, and of a startling amount of kindness from others. It’s a story of isolation, of love, and of the hardest task I have ever set myself.
I suppose my ending is really this: If you read my story, my life, with any more depth than a scan, I’ll feel a little less alone. If you talk with me about it, I’ll feel less alone still. Maybe for some of you, reading my story will help you feel less alone, too. I hope so.
But, yeah, if you’re thinking about suicide, that’s a problem. I think the problem in great part is the feeling that no one is there for you. Let me tell you in no uncertain terms that this feeling is a lie. It feels so powerfully, profoundly true right now that there is no one you can turn to. They’re all busy, they don’t care, you can’t trust them, etc. But it is a lie your brain is telling you. You just have to get out of this place, this moment, this hole. It will be hard as hell, but there is someone in this world who loves you enough for it to matter that you get out of this moment. Otherwise you will hurt that person, and they will keep hurting for the rest of their life. It's a real dick move. Here’s what you do to avoid it.
Start by calling your therapist/social worker/psychiatrist person. (I’m going to use the word ‘therapist’ as a catch-all here.) Tell them it’s urgent; it’s a crisis. They’re trained for this stuff. They won’t freak out. They will know what to do.
Start with Lifeline, if you don’t have a therapist. If you don’t have a therapist of some sort, your next order of business is to get one. This is now more important than work, your dentist’s appointment, your kid’s soccer game, or anything else you have on. Cancel, get someone else to fill in, visit BeyondBlue and search for your area. When you call, tell whoever it is that it’s urgent. I would recommend this 1000% over rocking up to the hospital. Get hold of a therapist.
If one therapist or receptionist is a jerk to you, forget them, and call the next one on your list. Getting support is your number-one priority, and you can’t afford to suffer assholes.
You need an appointment at the minimum. Next, you need somewhere safe to go. Home, a family member’s house or friend’s house, or the hospital. As with therapists, if one friend or family member is a jerk to you, forget them and move on to someone else, or to the hospital.
That’s all I’m going to say about it here. I don’t recommend continuing to read this article now. Focus on those steps above.