What does it mean to be a suicide survivor? How has this helped me in the mental health field?
I will never forget the day I woke up in the hospital after my attempt. It was horrifying. I knew right away what had happened and how I attempted to change the trajectory of my life with one action. I asked the world how I was still here. There is no way I could have made it. If I’m still here, then why? I did have an out-of-body experience when I was pronounced dead where I realized all the people I would leave behind. Afterwards, so many racing questions and the flashbacks, ohhhh the flashbacks. Those never end and they still continue to this day.
I made my attempt when I was 17 and I’m now 34 years of age. I keep thinking maybe I will get over this. Maybe the flashbacks will end. They haven’t. I traumatized myself. I traumatized myself. I remember being in that state of giving up and it didn’t feel like there was another option but now I regret that decision. I wish I hadn’t done it. I sometimes feel this pressure to do really well with my life because I survived. I have to prove I deserve to be here, right?
It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I deserve to be here no matter how many times I attempted and there was many. My battle with mental health has been a long one and I felt overwhelmed too many times. I keep coming back to this thought. I had traumatized myself and why??? I have experienced a lot of trauma and here I am, putting more trauma on myself. This was the hardest thing to come to terms with. Can I even trust myself? What if there are long term health effects from all these attempts? What will I do? All those questions torture me.
I wish I could tell you that the attempts stopped when I had traumatized myself at 17 years old but they didn’t. The thing is, that was my way of suffering outside the way I was in the inside. It made sense of a situation that didn’t make sense. In Nova Scotia where I am from, mental health is ignored and not talked about. I reached out for help but the door was shut on me. I was not well and no one could really help me. I felt lost a lot. It was here I realized that the mental health system was flawed. This is an important turning point for me in lighting a fire under my ass.
These experiences shaped me into an amazing social worker because I see how flawed the system is and I actively work against that. I can recognize right away when a system is oppressing someone. So I’m happy for the strengths I got there. It has also been helpful for me to identify when someone is really suffering and in need of mental health support. I know that face, I know that pain, I know those tears. It may not be the same experience but I feel an automatic kinship when I see these signs.
When I see these signs, I search for that will to live, that reason for living. I feel everyone has that even if they don’t feel that they do. There is always some anchor in the deep sea of life. Find it and hold on to it for them. It’s a precious thing and they need someone to show it to them. Show it to them when it gets dark. Find this anchor before the deep sea becomes stormy and it’s hard to find. Don’t wait until the darkness comes, find it while it’s light and easy to look for.
A lot of people don’t know how to support someone who is suicidal. If you can’t talk about mental health, you will not be a good support to someone in this state if they are in crisis and needing mental health support. Find someone who they can talk to open and honestly. Whether this person is a mutual friend or someone through a crisis line. Even if you don’t understand, listening is ALWAYS helpful. Just listen. If they trust you and want you to listen, then listen.
A lot of people who have had loved ones die by suicide have a hard time making sense of why someone might do this. The person is not weak or selfish, they have been fighting for a long time and couldn’t do it anymore. The amount of human suffering we go through to get to that point, I can’t describe in words. It’s insurmountable. I still blame a flawed mental health system that turns us more into prisoners or exiles then it does to protect us.
I wish for more community based mental health support initiates, all people being connected to trauma informed therapists for free or low cost, and safety planning for all (we know the police aren’t always the harm reduction option for folx forced into marginalized status in this society). I know this sounds like a pipe dream but it actually could be a reality. Community oriented care has always been the answer.
For those who are suffering and the darkness has come, hold on to your anchor or find your anchor, stay here with us! Create a safety plan with some loved ones on how they can support when it gets darker. Designate a trusted and safe person or people in your life as someone to reach out to. Make a list of crisis lines you could call in case you can’t reach anyone. When it gets darker, reach out to that person or people. If you can’t reach them, pull out your list of crisis lines. I know you don’t want to talk to a stranger but believe me when I say, you don’t want to be on this end, I promise you. Much over 90% of us regret it. You can believe me or not, but things can actually get better. Just hold on. Please.
Here is an incredible website full of stories of people who had survived their suicide attempt and are glad that they did: https://www.today.com/specials/suicide-attempt-survivors/