What My Experience Being Suicidal Taught Me — and What It Can Teach You, Too

Photo by Dev Asangbam on Unsplash

Note from the Editor: Please welcome the Bipolar Parent back from my hiatus! I will be posting weekly personal, informative pieces on how to manage your bipolar disorder on Friday mornings. I hope that these posts will help you deal with depressive or manic episodes, and that you’ll be able to stabilize soon. 

I wish you well!

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Trigger Warning: This post contains a discussions of suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, please:

  • Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255
  • Text TALK to 741741
  • Or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.

For a post with a list of domestic crisis lines, click here. For a post with a list of international crisis lines, click here.

What My Experience Being Suicidal Taught Me — and What It Can Teach You, Too

During my pregnancy with my son, I was so miserable, I not only almost ended my life, but his, too.

I was lonely and isolated, having moved 1500 miles away from my family and friends. I endured morning sickness for nine months straight and vomited so much, I lost 30 pounds rather than gaining any weight, putting me on a forced bed rest for six months.

And I was suffering from an undiagnosed bipolar depressive episode. At that time, I couldn’t handle just drifting from day to day in an interminable fog. I wasn’t able to make basic decisions, like what to eat or whether to shower. And it wasn’t like I wanted to die, I just couldn’t live anymore.

After I made an attempt on my life, trying to drown myself in the bath immediately after my son was born, things got better. I committed myself to a mental hospital where I was stabilized on medication and asked to create a Suicide Prevention Safety Plan.

If you’ve faced suicidal thoughts and have no desire to return to that place or even if you suffer from depression and think you might be suicidal, one powerful preventative action you can take is to create one of these plans.

The plan is a written set of steps to follow if you start to think of harming yourself. The benefit to making a suicide prevention plan is simple: following pre-determined steps is much, much easier than trying to figure out your next moves when you’re actively suicidal.

September 5th-11th is National Suicide Prevention Week, an annual campaign in the United States to raise awareness about suicide prevention techniques and the triggers of suicide. The week also tries to reduce the stigma surrounding suicide and normalize steps to prevent suicide and improve mental health. What better time to make a Suicide Prevention Safety Plan?

Are you ready to develop your plan? Find a template of the Brown Stanley Safety Plan, a plan recommended by the Suicide Prevention Lifeline website, here.

Have you printed your plan? Great. Here’s some information to include.

Warning Signs

Familiarize yourself with the warning signs of suicide, both in general and specifically how they manifest to you. The first step in making a plan is to write down your warning signs. During what sorts of moods and situations do you find yourself thinking about self-harm? List three to five experiences that lead you down dark paths.

Being a woman with bipolar disorder, I have a few warning signs for when I’m sliding into a depressive episodes and may end up facing suicidal thoughts that I added to my plan. The first and most obvious one is a total lack of self-care. I usually drink up to 144 ounces of water a day, shower daily, and eat three meals. When I stop doing any of those, it’s time for me to take a look at whether I’m sliding into a depression.

Other warning signs are more subtle. I may feel tired all the time and can’t get out of bed, or I may feel weepy and more emotional than usual. One notable sign that’s very specific to me is that I’m no longer creative. Writing flows through my blood; I adore informing my readers or tugging on their heartstrings or both, and when writing becomes a chore and I start dreading it, that sends off klaxons in my brain that let me know I need to take action to get on a more even keel.

Think hard about specific triggers that you may have for depression or suicidal thoughts. List them here.

Self-Care Techniques

Next, write down three to five self-care techniques. What can you do for yourself that will help you re-center? List out physical activities that calm you down, like taking a nap, getting a snack, or even something as simple as brushing your teeth. For a long list of self-care techniques, click here.

My personal plan from the hospital didn’t have this section, but because I love self-care, I think it’s a great one. One of the quickest and easiest ways for me to feel better about myself is to take a brief, hot shower. If I can’t do that because I’m too busy with my four-year-old, then I wash my face and arms, brush my hair, and apply deodorant, all of which takes less than five minutes.

Another self-care tactic I use is to eat a healthy snack, like a yogurt or a piece of cheese or, if I have time, some sautéed zucchini squash. Yet another self-care tactic I like is to go outside and breathe in some fresh air, which helps me re-center and realize that life isn’t all about my problems.

Think about what helps you the most in the moment. List your specific self-care techniques here.

Distractions

Step three is to write down three to five names and numbers of people who are good distractions for you. Who can you rely on to cheer you up with something other than focusing on yourself? If you have no one, write down social situations or place where you feel calm instead, such as in a library.

I wrote down my sister’s number. When my brain is screaming at me that I’m worthless, she can always acknowledge my pain and cheer me up by reminding me that I am valuable as a person to her specifically.

I also tap my online friends. I can message them with something like, “My brain is being mean to me and here’s why,” and they can respond whenever they’re available with virtual hugs and advice on the challenges I may be facing.

Think hard about trusted people in your life that you can rely on. If you do not have any, think about places with people that you can go to instead, like a park.

People You Can Ask for Help

After you write down distractions, write down three to five names and numbers of people you can ask for help. I know it’s hard to think of people who are genuinely interested in your problems and can help you. You may feel as if you have no friends. But think hard. There are likely people out there who want to help you.

This is where I wrote down my husband’s number, as he’s the person closest to me. It’s saved in my phone and I have it memorized, but he is the one who needs to know that I’m thinking of these things so he can tailor his approach, and possibly call in the big guns for me, such as:

Professionals or Agencies

Step five is to list out the names and numbers of doctors and addresses of crisis centers that you can go to in times of trouble. If you have a therapist, list him or her here. (If you need help finding a therapist, click here.) If you have a psychiatrist, this is where he or she needs to be. (For help getting a psychiatric evaluation, click here.) Write down the crisis center numbers and addresses as well. Then write down a suicide hotline for your country.

At the time of my hospitalization, I did not have a psychiatrist, but I did have a therapist. I wrote her number down, and then I wrote down the information for the psychiatrist that the hospital referred me to.

I filled this plan out at a discharge appointment with a doctor, so they were there to help me figure out what numbers to write down. But the crisis centers in your area are only a simple Google search away.

Making the Environment Safe

If you’ve followed all the steps in your plan up to this point, having called the professionals to help you with your suicidal thoughts, you need to make your environment safe until they can help you. What this means is that when making your plan, you need to joy down the two most effective ways to ensure your safety.

Be it withdrawing from other people or putting yourself among them, make sure these instructions resonate with you. You need to be able to take these steps, and if you’re on step six already and you’ve already called your doctors or an emergency number, then keep yourself from acting rashly. Take away anything that will help you enact your suicide plan to the best of your ability. Call a friend to help (step four) and ask them to remove temptations from your home, like knives or pills.

For my plan, I wrote down that I needed to secure child care for my infant son. I didn’t want to do anything to hurt him or even leave him behind in a place where he could get hurt, so making my environment safe was all about making the environment safe for him, too.

Reason

Finally, write down the most important positive aspect of your life. What is the one thing worth living for? What is your reason not to give up? What’s the driving force of your life that you would hate to leave behind? Hopefully the reason comes to you quickly, but if not, take some time to think hard and figure something out.

At the time of my hospitalization, my clear reason for living was to take care of my newborn. I printed a picture of him from the hospital’s computer, writing on the bottom, “The Reason I Am Here!” in bold, black and red markers.

Focusing on the care of my son helped me survive through suicidal thoughts.

Find your reason.

Conclusion

My experience with suicidal thoughts gave me the tools to use if I ever found myself in a situation again, such as if my medication ever stopped working or external or internal factors sent me back into a deep depression. The Suicide Prevention Safety Plan is one of those tools.

Now I am a happy, stable woman who happens to have a mental illness, one which I treat with a combination of medication, talk therapy, and self-care. While I’ve had hypomanic and depressive episodes in the interim years since my son’s birth, they’ve been nothing like my deep, debilitating depression during my pregnancy.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have learned how to manage my mental illness, but I still follow my plan when I need it.

I would highly recommend filling out a Suicide Prevention Safety Plan to use as one of the tools to help yourself. It will not only benefit you, but it’ll also benefit your loved ones as well. No one wants you to hurt yourself. And filling out a plan when you’re not in a time of crisis will help you know what to do when a problem hits.

Fill out the plan and place it in a spot where you and your loved ones can find it in times of trouble. You may not be able to prevent thoughts of self-harm but you can take steps to prevent yourself from leaving your life behind.

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How to Support Someone Who Has Experienced the Death of a Loved One by Suicide

Photo by K. Mitch Hodge of Unsplash.com. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Trigger warning: This post contains a discussions of suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, please call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.

When a loved one dies by suicide, the survivors are shattered. Facing a death by suicide can easily overwhelm a survivor with grief. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2018, suicide claimed the lives of over 48,000 American people. In 1999, U.S. Senator Harry Reid, reeling from the suicide of his father, introduced a resolution that created International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. 

Also known as Survivor Day, the awareness day was intended for those who survived the loss of a loved one to suicide to come together for support and healing. Survivor Day always falls on the Saturday before American Thanksgiving (November 21, 2020), as the holidays are difficult for many suicide loss survivors.

But how can you slupport a friend who is dealing with the poignant loss of a loved one by suicide? 

Be There and Listen

One of the best ways to support a friend whose loved one died by suicide is to simply be there for them. Your friend will be suffering a world of conflicting emotions such as grief, anger, and helplessness, and they will need you to listen to their anxious worries. 

Listening to your friend’s concerns means trying not to offer solutions to their problems. Most people who are overwhelmed by grief don’t want to listen to advice you can give them. They simply want you to listen.

Ask how they feel. Don’t assume you know how the bereaved person feels on any given day; they might feel differently from moment to moment. 

The Dos and Don’ts of What to Say

Oftentimes when dealing with a grieving friend, we want to say the right thing. As it turns out, there are a few good things to say and a lot of bad things to say. Here are the dos and don’ts of what to say.

The Dos:

  • Do tell them that you love them and are thinking of them. Let them know you will be there for them no matter what.
  • Do tell them that you are sorry for their loss. You can and should of course offer your condolences.
  • Do tell them that you want to listen to stories about their loved one. Do reminisce with your friend. If you have good memories of their loved one, share those memories with them.

The Don’ts:

  • Don’t tell them that you understand their pain. Even if you’ve been through a similar situation, everyone’s grief is different. 
  • Don’t tell them that they’ll get over it soon. You do not know when your friend will recover from the loss of their loved one, if ever. Don’t presume to know when their grieving cycle will finish.
  • Don’t tell them they are lucky to have other loved ones, especially children. Nothing will substitute for the loved one they have lost.

If you are with someone who is grieving but you don’t know what to say, you don’t have to say anything. Simply placing your arms around your friend’s shoulders and letting them cry in silence can help them feel less alone.

And remember: Finding the right words to say is less important than simply listening.

Don’t Judge

Grief makes people do ridiculous things. In the course of their grief, your friend may want to rail against God, or scream about the deceased not getting help, or yell at anyone and everyone who failed their loved one. 

Let your friend scream. Let them say whatever they want to say without judging them or trying to offer them advice. Don’t show off your skills in psychology. Your friend will need you to be there for them, not lecture them.

Tell them, “I love you and I am here for you.” In their moments of difficulty, calm, non-judgemental acceptance can be incredibly powerful. 

Be Available

Night time can be particularly difficult for survivors of suicide loss. Your friend may struggle with their sleep. They may need a listening ear at three in the morning. 

Keep your phone on. Your friend may feel awkward or tell you that they won’t call, but when it comes to long nights, they may need you to be available at any time of the day for them.

Try to let them wake you up with grace. Their grief won’t be a permanent thing–they’ll only need you temporarily. But do be there for them.

Remember Your Friend Throughout the Year

Your friend will undoubtedly find that the first year after the loss of their loved one is difficult. And about two weeks after the loved one dies, most of the cards and flowers and well wishers dissipate. 

Don’t forget your friend. Send them a note on the month markers–for example, if their loved one died on the 6th of March, then the 6th of April may be difficult, as well as the 6th of May, and so on. 

Other important dates to remember are birthdays and special holidays that the deceased loved, especially Christmas and the other holidays in the November-December-January season. If your friend lost a spouse, the anniversary of their wedding date is incredibly important to remember.

Send your friend a note or give them a call on these important days. Let them know you are thinking of them and their loved one hasn’t been forgotten.

Watch for Warning Signs

After the death of a loved one, your friend may spiral into a deep depression. If your friend exhibits any of the warning signs of suicide themselves, encourage them to talk to a mental health professional.

Watch for these warning signs, especially up to two months after the death:

  • Extreme focus on the death
  • Declining grades or work performance
  • Lack of concern for personal welfare
  • Isolation
  • Excessive alcohol or drug use
  • Anhedonia – the lack of pleasure in normal activities
  • Hopelessness
  • Extreme and persistent anger, bitterness, or guilt
  • Talking about needing to escape the pain
  • Neglect of personal hygiene
  • Planning a suicide attempt

If your friend is acting strangely and trying to say goodbye to their life, they may be planning a suicide attempt. If you suspect that they will act on their plan, call 911 immediately.

Conclusion

People who are grieving will never “get over”  their loss. They will constantly have a loved-one-shaped hole in their life. The best you can do to support them is to help them begin to heal.

Be there for your friend, listen actively and ask them how they feel, don’t judge them, be available anytime, remember them throughout the year, and watch for warning signs of deeper problems.

You can help your friend who is suffering suicide loss. You can be there for them.

I wish you well in your journey.

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