Recently I was invited to contribute to an online site for survivors of suicide attempts. After I completed that essay, the editor asked me how my family and friends were with me and I was with them after the incident. What did I do to help them deal with what happened and what did they do to help me. Here is what I wrote:
After the attempt, when my children and I came to live with my parents, I was afraid they would treat me like they were scared to leave me alone. They were at first, and I was okay with reassuring them and checking in to make sure that they felt secure that I was going to be okay. As the days and weeks passed, they began to check in on me less and less. I was still diligent about letting them know where I was and when I would be back. My parents had a few questions, and I let them know there wasn’t much of anything that was off limits, although I knew my parents wouldn’t want to know details about the attempt, nor did they want to know how sad I have been, and they definitely did not want to see the wounds and bruises.
My mother kept blaming herself. She felt like she should have known that I was deeply depressed, but I told her that I purposely avoided seeing close friends and family because not only was I not feeling up to being social much, but when I was around people, it was draining to pretend I was okay. And if she had managed to see beyond my act, I would have just denied it was true, and if she had insisted I would have just gotten angry at her. I wanted her to understand there was truly nothing she could have done.
My older daughter is 16 and was told what happened. I spoke to her on the phone within the hour of fully waking up in the ICU. I knew the second I began to dial the phone that I may have lost my children forever. I can understand because they almost lost me, and they had no one else to blame for that. Children need a reason for something that big. I told her that I love her very much and that I know she must be confused, angry and sad, but that I was going to be okay. This was a scary thing that happened, but it was only going to lead to me getting better. I assured her I was still the same Mommy that had always taken good care of her, and I would make sure I would do a better job of taking care of myself from that day on. She didn’t want to talk more after that, and that was okay. I bought books about survivors of suicide and read them to understand more about how the people around me would be feeling. And I told my older daughter therapy was there for her when she was ready.
Most important, I am working to show her that what I have is an illness, not unlike the cancer that has also run in our family. It is not something to be ashamed of, as long as I am getting treatment that works for me. It is the secrecy and stigma that kept me from asking for help before, and I do not want my children to feel the same shame and hopelessness I did if someday they inherit this brain condition from me.
I met my boyfriend after my attempt. I told him on our third date. He is a successful professional who is very ‘normal’ and ‘together,’ and I felt for sure he would walk away, but he didn’t. He only said that he admired me for being able to come back from something like that. I share with him my thoughts about being open with people about my condition, and he is very supportive. When I start to feel like I have to tell him about some of the dark thoughts I used to have, about not being able to be around guns or sharp knives, and my feeling that I wouldn’t live to be an old woman, he only tells me that he trusts me and knows how hard I am working to get better, and changes the subject to happier things like our future. I never thought I would find someone to love me. Especially not after what I did!
To sum up what I have come to understand about what to convey to loved ones, reassure them that you are okay (make sure you are doing everything you can to BE okay) and if you are not okay, tell them, and let them know you will tell them if you need help. Point them in the right direction in terms of resources to get help for you (my family has a list of websites and my doctor’s and therapist’s numbers and email addresses). Most important, let them know it is okay to talk about it. That is the ONLY thing we can do to make this world better for people like us. The more people who talk about it, the less people who will harm themselves.