I didn’t know this week is Suicide Prevention week, but I found out when I read one of my favorite trauma treatment blogs: Dr. Kathleen Young, Treating Trauma in Tuscon.
In my experience, suicide attempts are traumatic experiences. Suicidal ideation itself is traumatic. The amount of distress that leads up to that point is one kind of trauma, but the ideation and planning and most certainly the attempt to carry it out is traumatic as well. Helping another through a suicidal crisis can also be traumatic.
I know very intimately that the power behind those dark feelings is enormous sometimes.
Dr. Young wrote earlier this week something really poignant.
What do you think when you hear “You Cannot Be Replaced”? If you are depressed or if you are struggling with shame and self-blame following traumatic events you may have a hard time believing this. Your negative self-talk (or punitive dissociated parts) may tell you that you do not matter, that friends and family would be better off with out you. I want you to know that these negative beliefs are simply not true. They are lies born of pain and internalized from the abuse of others. You do matter, and nothing about suicide can make the world a better place.
And one line really speaks to me about negative self-talk: They are lies born of pain and internalized from the abuse of others.
Having embarked on my own healing journey from childhood and relationship trauma, I believe this to be true, though in the downward spiral of shame and self-blame, I would not have believed it.
I sought to understand my own suicidal ideations. What really happens when one gets to that point?
Tony Salvatore writes on his page about The Suicide Paradigm:
Suicide is the outcome of neurobiological and psychological breakdown. Becoming suicidal is a process that begins in severe stress and pain generated by a serious life crisis.
Stress and pain increase as the crisis, or the perception of it, worsens. As this happens, control and self-esteem deteriorate. Depression may be a cause or a side effect of the process.
Suicidality occurs when the stress induces psychological pain so unbearable that death is seen as the only relief. Prior to this point the individual is at risk of becoming suicidal. Beyond it the individual is at risk of completing suicide. Becoming suicidal is a crisis that causes traumatic stress.
Ingrained beliefs and values may cause an individual to be stigmatized by their own suicidality. This leads to shame and guilt. These cause alienation from self and withdrawal from others, which are also drivers.
Suicidality entails changes in brain chemistry and physiology. Suicidal individuals manifest various chemical imbalances. Most notable is depleted serotonin, a neurotransmitter that inhibits self-harm. This is a neurological threshold and those near or beyond it must be treated with medications.
There is no choice. Suicidal individuals are beset by suffering that is distracting and disabling. Suicidality is a state of total pain which limits options to enduring or ending utter agony.
I’ve never been medicated for suicidal ideation (mostly because I’ve been trying to handle the matter privately and I have a real problem with the side effects of pharmaceuticals), though currently now I’m self-treating with St. John’s Wort. I am not advocating or denying the necessity of either, but I do know how pernicious the beast is, which is why I am choosing to use the herbal supplement for a while as I build my toolbox of resources. Every time I do battle with the beast, I’m left with extreme fatigue that interferes. The whole process takes a period of recovery.
Salvatore goes on to write that suicide is a misnomer. What the suicidal person really wants is an end to the pain. Penacide is a more accurate label for this process. I think the distinction is critical. I don’t want my body to die, and certainly my children would suffer tremendously if I was gone, but the pain becomes so much greater than the ability I have to overcome it at times. Humans are natural problem-solvers. If we are to grow in self-confidence, we need appropriately challenging problems to solve. But too many problems or problems that are too challenging to handle alone overwhelms and reduces the sense of self-efficacy (the measure of the belief in one’s own ability to complete tasks and reach goals).
When I was younger, I could handle life challenges, reasonably well, even coming from a very difficult childhood. But I decided to quit my laboratory job and raise my daughters – a task my education didn’t prepare me for.
Then add onto that my husband’s life challenges (layoffs, depression, alcohol over-use), financial problems, and my daughters’ life challenges (social and emotional), pretty soon I was overwhelmed and losing the ability to complete tasks and reach goals. It soon became evident I could not do this alone. Yet alone I was for a long while.
And I’ve learned something else that is little known about recovery from suicidal attempts and ideations: there is a reason why it’s hard to recover from being suicidal. David Conroy writes:
People who suffered suicidal conditions, particularly conditions that were chronic, recurrent, or included one or more attempts, may also be victims of PTSD. According to its definition, PTSD may result when a person suffers an event or situation that is outside the range of normal experience, exceeds the individuals perceived ability to meet its demands, and poses a serious threat to the loss of life.
Suicidal people meet the formal criteria for PTSD. Severe and prolonged suicidal pain is not something that most people suffer. People in suicidal crises feel that they are at the breaking point of what they can cope with. Since 30,000 people die by suicide each year in the United States, it is a condition that poses a serious threat to the loss of life.
Many of us are haunted by memories of acute crises, acts of self-injury, or extended periods of severe depression. Like citizens of a besieged city, we lived through periods of time in which we had a realistic and unrelenting fear that we would soon be dead. We suffer PTSD simply from having been suicidal, independently of whatever particular traumas may have contributed to our becoming suicidal, such as abuse during childhood or exposure to the violent death of someone else. Our suicide PTSD is also distinct from whatever traumatic events may happen as a result of being suicidal, such as involuntary hospitalization or job discrimination. Undoubtedly, most of us suffered many types of traumatic events in our lives, and these events and their consequences need to be addressed in recovery. But the suicidal crises themselves may be events that induce PTSD.
Penacide is triggered by overwhelming traumatic experiences…and the process itself becomes another trauma.
So, what helps? I think the answer is different for everyone. For me, a few years back I began the hard work of healing childhood and relationship trauma. The journey has been very difficult at times. I’ve compiled a list of resources I’ve used.
I’ve learned, for me, the act of living, I mean TRULY living, not just existing and going through the motions, is an act of courage. Love itself is an act of bravery. I wrote this to a friend of mine just the other day:
The way I lived…and loved…is what invited in pain…and loss.
And I don’t think I can so easily dismiss the fact that it is this openness to experience left wounds that are still, to this day, very tender.
I didn’t know how to live and love in ways that won’t end up inviting more pain. So I spent time NOT living. And holding back love.
I just got finished reading The Wild Within: Adventures in Nature and Animal Teachings, by Paul Rezendes. It’s not just a book about Nature and animal tracking, but also a spiritual guide to track in the very elusive inner wilderness, where I’d come to that realization above. Rezendes writes:
When people experience the kind of hurt and pain we have been talking about, they sometimes suppress and reject that pain and find it very hard to love again. But if I want to fully and completely experience the joys of Paulette, if I want to embrace her fully, I can’t just embrace half of her. If I want to experience all of life fully and completely, I can’t embrace half of life. In order to love, I have to embrace the joy and the pain all at the same time. Otherwise, I’m holding back something, afraid I might be hurt, not letting myself go completely because I’m afraid that she might be taken away.
I’m still not there yet. I’m still afraid to open my heart up again fully and risk pain. But at least I’m aware of it, and I can set my intention to learn how to do so, and I know I have some strategies in place to use when I get scared. I’m learning how to walk again after life brought me to my knees at times.
I hope this helps someone. I truly do.
You are precious.
And you can not be replaced.