When I was in my mid-20s a friend told me about a woman she knew who suffered from manic-depression (it wasn’t called Bipolar Disorder yet). She had 5 kids or something. Her illness had gotten the better of her and she killed herself. I think it was an overdose. I remember feeling angry. I told my friend that she had no business killing herself. She had children who depended on her. She had a husband who loved her. She devastated and destroyed an entire family – hers. What a selfish act, I decided.
It’s 2 decades later,In a wondrous irony I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder 10 years earlier. Five years ago I slashed my right wrist. I dug in pretty deep. It really hurt. A lot. Then the blood starting flowing. It doesn’t gush or spray like in the movies but it seeps out fast in a large amount, like water pouring from a drinking fountain. It was quite bright. I only hit a vein and that is supposedly oxygen-deprived blood, so supposedly it should be a dark red. Not so. Mine was scarlet as could be. I’m sure if it was mixed with arterial blood I wouldn’t know the difference. Thing is, I didn’t dig deep enough. Had I gone about 2 more cm I would have hit the artery and it would have been all over. It doesn’t take long when you get at the artery.
After the shock and sense of surprise wears off, particularly after a first attempt, you may feel a sense of loss and grief. Your life as you knew it is over, that sense of the idyllic is gone, and you may wonder if life will be good again. You CAN go on to lead a happy healthy life even after an attempted suicide.
Actually I didn’t feel loss and grief, and I didn’t wonder if my life would be good again because I knew it wouldn’t. Three people betrayed me all in the span of 24 hours and it was more than I could bear. If there was any idyllic I wasn’t aware of it.
My brother accompanied me to the hospital. Five hours to get stitched and counselled. I don’t remember how he found out. I know I didn’t call him. I told him he could leave me, just drop me off and I’d be fine but he insisted on staying. How’s that for a great brother? He was very calm and practical with the nurse, asking questions such as where could I be hospitalized for the night. Contrary to the doctor she told me Toronto General Hospital didn’t have a psych ward and so it didn’t have any beds. She was wrong. They found me one in the emergency area. It had a glass wall and a bed. It was kind of cool. If my bro was upset he didn’t show it.
Family members may feel guilt, anger at the person who made the attempt, anxiety and a sense of insecurity, shame, powerlessness, a sense of betrayal.
I never processed what my family must have been feeling until now, years later. I was too self-absorbed and too ill. If there was any true anxiety I didn’t witness it. My father made a telling comment to me about a year ago. He said he worried about me sometimes in case I “hurt myself again.” He told me I had “no idea how upset the family had been.” It still didn’t register.
My heart nearly stopped when I saw the blood pouring from my arm (pun). It was frightening. I didn’t expect it to scare me like that. I didn’t suck at the blood like people do sometimes in the movies (I think). I remember thinking “that’s what I’m talking about.” I got up from the dark staircase where I sat and hurried back to my apartment. I pulled a belt from my robe and wrapped it around my wrist. To this day I do not know why I did that. I truly wanted to die. My boyfriend and I parted ways abruptly and cruelly the night before. A friend of mine screamed at me over the phone, accusing me of trying to take her boyfriend. Other stuff had gone on and I couldn’t stand my life anymore. I was crying and scratching at my arms and face and pulling at my hair earlier in the day. I wrote in large letters I Want to Kill Myself on large pieces of cardboard, which for some reason were in my apartment. I couldn’t stop the anguish. Make. It. Stop. was all I could think. And so I did.
You may also be thinking that you should have known, or you should have done something to prevent the attempt. Keep in mind that you are not responsible for the actions of other people. Suicidal people can be very good at keeping secrets and their feelings to themselves. Frequently the family members are the last people to know.
You know the last part was mostly true. Two good friends and three former friends knew about the attempt before my family did. I know my sister-in-law felt guilty that she skip her exams at school the next day to stay home with me. I’m glad she didn’t. She didn’t owe me that. She didn’t owe me possibly failing her course or having to postpone her test.
A nurse looked at my wrist and said “what have you done to yourself, girl?“ I felt like saying “what has my life done to me?” Like some suicides (or wannabes) I blamed anyone and anything but me. The medic wanted me to stay overnight in the hospital for observation but I insisted on leaving. I had to get back home to the place I opened my wrist.I had to clean up the blood on the staircase. I had to be there in case he came to my door and said he was sorry for the terrible thing he’d done. It does sound like self-pity but believe me it isn’t. When you are at that stage in your head and your life you can’t think about family or friends or anything you have going for you. None of that exists. You just want to die.
The suicide attempt can be a wake up call. While this is a traumatic event, change can be a catalyst for improvement in yourself, your life and your relationships.
Over time this became true although I wouldn’t have expected that from a serious suicide attempt would come a better life and improved relationships. THis didn’t happen overnight and there was still frustration within my family. I never did deal with most of the issues head-on. I simply ran away from them. I’ve always been a runner.
Your loved one is home, now what? You may be wondering if you will be responsible for his or her safety. Some people will want to distance themselves from the loved one and immerse themselves in other projects or work, to try to forget what happened. Other people will want to hover and constantly check on the loved one and not leave the person alone at all. Ultimately it is your loved one’s responsibility to keep him or herself safe, but he or she will need your help.
My other brother came to see me in rehab. We went out for a cup of tea and I had a cookie (as usual). He told me that until I proved to the family I could be trusted and that I was a responsible adult I would need to be supervised carefully. I also couldn’t live in the city until that day arrived. I was very lucky to have a family like mine. I would have died without them. I really did choose to stay on the straight and narrow. I didn’t have to. I could have been lured back into the darker side of existence, gotten caught up with another terribly inept and abusive man and simply succumbed to defeat. I didn’t. That came from within me.
Try not to focus only on the act itself. What else was or is going on in the person’s life that may have precipitated the attempt? Do they abuse alcohol or drugs?
I’m not angry at the mother of five with Bipolar Disorder who killed herself 20 years ago. I have a kid. I get her. No one did focus on the act itself. They support my success after rehab. They opened their doors to me and they let me make my own choices. I haven’t tried again and I never will. I hope.
BTW, people don’t slash their wrists. That’s a misnomer. You slash your wrist. You dig deep enough one of them should do it.