Happy and Suicidal
It’s been nearly a year since Robin Williams killed himself in his California home. Nearly a year since my news feeds and e-mails were filled with renewed interest in stories from around the world about those struggling with depression and suicide. Nearly a year since my own suicide attempt.
Even now, while I sit in my tiny living room in front of the TV watching a Hannibal marathon, I’m not really sure exactly what I want to say. Or why anyone would care. But that doesn’t matter now — I know I have to get this out, once and for all.
My name is Natalie, and I am suicidal.
It’s amazing how difficult it is to say three simple words. I. Am. Suicidal. Those words inspire so many different emotions in people, depending on their own situations.
Sometimes it’s trepidation — uh oh, it’s Natalie being crazy again. (Yeah, thanks you jerks)
Sometimes it’s blind panic — why haven’t you said anything before?!? (Because you get that look on your face.)
Sometimes it’s straight up fear — how can I ever leave you alone again? (You can. Deal with it.)
Sometimes it’s ignorance — you just want attention, your life isn’t even that bad. (I know, my life isn’t as bad as some people, DUH. That doesn’t make what I feel any less valid.)
And sometimes, it’s just what you need: understanding — That sounds awful. I’m sorry. I’ve been there. Do you want to talk? How can I help?
And make no mistake: if you are thinking about the words “I am suicidal” in a serious, non-ironic sort of way, you need help. Immediately.
People with BPD are like people with third degree burns over 90% of their bodies. Lacking emotional skin, they feel agony at the slightest touch or movement. –Dr. Marsha Linehan
On the outside, everything looks great. I have an amazing daughter. I have a job I love that pays the bills. I own a house. I come from a loving, supportive family and I’ve never been abused. I’m an only child, a millennial whose family benefited from the middle-class prosperity of the 1990s. I enjoy video games, superheroes, movies, TV, blah blah blah.
Under all that, the other me is hiding. The “emotional” me. The monster-me clawing my chest to get out and screaming inside my brain. We all have our own monsters — sometimes it’s anxiety, sometimes depression, or maybe OCD or PTSD, or sometimes a combination, or maybe just a secret we have to live with. My monster is BPD, a personality disorder (as opposed to a “mood disorder”) characterized among other things by an inability to regulate emotions and severe reactions to real or perceived abandonment. The Brits call it “emotion dysregulation disorder” and I kind of like that better, considering the only thing people know about BPD, if anything, is what they saw via Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. (After my diagnosis, I did begin to see her character’s actions in a new, more sympathetic light. But I digress.) BPD is thought to be a combination of nurture AND nature — a sort of perfect storm of conditions developed through childhood and adolescence, then reinforced by biology and trial and error. People with BDP do not have the skills to regulate our emotions, because we never learned how.
I could go on and on and on about how I feel on a day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute basis, but it’s always changing. Some days are better than others. Some days I feel like I am okay, and that I will be okay, and the future isn’t so bleak.
Some days I’m so depressed I can’t get out of bed.
Some days I’m so depressed I don’t eat.
Some days I’m so depressed I don’t talk to anyone.
Some days I’m so depressed I go out shopping and spend more money than I have.
Some days I’m so depressed I’ll get drunk and fuck whoever is willing.
Some days I’m so depressed I cut myself.
Some days I’m so depressed I seriously consider driving my car full speed in to a concrete barrier.
Cutting, or any kind of self-harm, is one of those taboo topics that no one really wants to discuss, but it’s a key component of BPD. When most people think of cutting, I think they think of teenagers desperate for attention, not a 32-year-old professional and mother. And while cutting is a “cry for help,” that doesn’t mean it should be ignored or invalidated. It doesn’t mean the person, no matter the age, is trying to manipulate someone into getting their way. It’s different for everyone. Sometimes cutting just allows the person to feel something, rather than the dead numbness of depression.
For me, cutting means I’m in so much pain emotionally and mentally, I need something physical, a physical pain to focus on to calm my mind. It works. Really well.
It can also be fatal. It’s extremely easy to cut deeper than you intend.
My suicide attempt last June wasn’t exactly thought through or done “correctly” or planned. In fact, as attempts go it was pretty useless, and my brain often judges me for not really “going for it”. I’d been contemplating it for a while, but it was a particular encounter that pushed me over the edge. I wanted to make a point. I wanted to stop the pain. I wanted, as my therapist puts it, to get my needs met after feeling so invalidated and abandoned. Maybe this sounds manipulative and attention-seeking. It’s not — it’s a backwards, un-mindful way of expressing exhaustion and pain when you can’t bring yourself to be strong anymore.
The ambulance came very quickly and took its time getting me to the hospital. I puked up a lot of the pills on the way, and had a seizure in the ER. I spent the night in the psych ward, but when the doctor came in to shake his finger at me and ask me if I “really meant it,” through the fog of the drugs I took I mumbled that no, I didn’t really mean it, please don’t hate me, just send me home, I’ll be good now. I was not committed, and did not experience what Blake Grandon did (everyone considering suicide should read what he went through). I slept for two days.
It’s so hard to ask for help. But if you’re suicidal, help is what you need.
Once you ask for help, it’s kind of annoying to deal with people’s reactions. Doctors misdiagnose. Medication doesn’t always work. Therapists and doctors (and sometimes friends and family) condescend. Family denies or becomes overly involved. Friends and coworkers simply don’t understand. Society judges.
You’ll end up comforting those who love you, which is weird and confusing and exhausting.
I’ve been to therapists that have betrayed my trust. I’ve had therapists that completely ignore what I’m trying to say, or hear what they want to hear. One psychologist I went to for a while spent most of our hour-long sessions talking about herself. (I also know how expensive therapy can be — co-pays alone for biweekly therapy cost me $320/month. I know how lucky I am to be able to barely afford this, because most people can’t. But my opinion on the dysfunction that is the American mental health care system is a conversation for another time.) If you ask for help and end up at a therapist you hate, find another if you can and keep trying. If the medication you’re prescribed isn’t helping or is making you worse, be open with your doctor about it. Be patient… medication and therapy take time to get right, and no one can read your mind or know exactly what you’re feeling except you.
I actually don’t really know how much my meds help me. I’ve been on them so long that I’ve forgotten what I feel without them. I’m not ashamed of that — it’s just the truth. But that’s something I’ll deal with down the line. And I do know that my therapy is helping tremendously. Taking suicide off the table as an option or a way out can change your perspective, change your view of your choices.
But it’s more than that. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) has taught me that I am not my emotions. I may feel every emotion all the time, sometimes to a physically painful degree, but what I feel and think isn’t necessarily reality. I’ve learned to check facts before jumping to conclusions. I’ve learned that I don’t always have to be right in order to get approval. I’ve learned that I have control over my emotions, and when I don’t, I’ve learned new ways of coping and tolerating the pain I feel.
But most importantly, I’ve learned I’m not alone. There are many people out there like me, who struggle on a daily basis simply to live because their brains function in a slightly different way.
I’ve always found it incredibly annoying when people (even my therapist) tell me to think about all the things I’d miss if I successfully committed suicide. Isn’t that the whole point?! But these last few weeks have proved to me that there really is a lot to live for — from the “unimportant” like Age of Ultron, Jurassic World, and the Batman: Arkham Knight game, to the “life changing” like watching my daughter turn 6 and graduate kindergarten.
Every day is different, and most days are a struggle. But I am still here, I am still living. And this time, I don’t feel so alone.
If you know someone dealing with depression or suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273–8255.