Flirting with Suicide

Warning: This post has strong themes of suicide and self-injury within. It may contain potential triggers. Reader discretion is advised.

Suicide is a major, preventable public health problem. In 2007, it was the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S., accounting for 34,598 deaths.1

An estimated 11 attempted suicides occur per every suicide death.1

Essentially, statistics indicate that there are 380,578 reported cases of attempted suicide each year.  Personally, I see this as a gross underestimate.  The botched attempts are the ones that end up in the hospital.  But what about the folks who take a handful of pills, pass out, and wake up like nothing happened the very next day?  It is in my personal experience, as a person who has never ended up hospitalized by a suicide attempt, that I would jump that number up by at least 20 times the amount of completed suicides.

Today is suicide prevention day.  And today, I wanted to bare my soul and share my sordid past with suicide attempts.

Is suicide common among children and young people?

In 2007, suicide was the third leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24.1 Of every 100,000 young people in each age group, the following number died by suicide:1

  • Children ages 10 to 14 — 0.9 per 100,000
  • Adolescents ages 15 to 19 — 6.9 per 100,000
  • Young adults ages 20 to 24 — 12.7 per 100,000

I started in the earliest age group.  I was a deeply troubled young teenager.  I have only written about this in a personal journal, but I feel it’s time to share.

It was a warm March Friday, humid after a fresh rain.  I was rather excited for that Friday, because it would have been the first Friday I was released from my grounding since January.  It was the truth that my grades had slipped into the toilet.  But, so had my mental health.  I dressed in my funeral best daily.  Every single day was a day that I had wished, nay, prayed for death.  Only a merciful God would release me from this suffering, I thought constantly.  And as a result of my downward spiral, I felt the entire verbally abusive arsenal my parents had to offer.

Another bad progress report.  I was failing math and gym.  Truthfully, I wasn’t good at math.  And what teenage girl in the entire world wants to be seen in front of all of her peers in a swimsuit?  My “excuses” fell on deaf ears.  This warranted more time in isolation.  I begged.  I pleaded.  Just this one Friday, and then I will begrudgingly accept my punishment.  I had surely earned it, after all.

I was berated for not trying hard enough.  “Are you lazy or stupid?  I can’t decide anymore.”  The words stung, like a clean slap across the face.  I lost my temper and started to storm up the stairs.  I called back to my father, “You’re an asshole.”

“Get your little ass back down here!”

I glanced backward to see the furious, crazy look in his eyes.  But, I was beyond caring.  I was beyond fear anymore.  I continued up the stairs as he screamed after me.  Do your worst.

“You little bitch, come down here and face me!” he challenged.

I did.  He grabbed my by my collar and snatched me up so close to his face that he spat every angry word at me.  “Come on.  Take a shot.  The first one is free.”

I knew better.  If I were to take the shot, that would justify any beating I would have received after that.  I was only 4’9″, and he towered over me at a grand 6’3″.  I was a little girl in comparison to this adult man.  I stared into his eyes defiantly, gnashed teeth and a snarl.  I never lost his gaze in that moment.  I refused.

With one twist of his arm, he dragged me down the last three stairs.  Violently, he pulled me into the air by my collar and thrust me into the kitchen wall.  I was terrified, but I would never show it.  I would not give him the satisfaction.  I looked behind him to see my mother standing there, doing nothing to help me.  She looked at me with these vindictive eyes and a satisfied face.  He screamed in my face about disrespect, what an ungrateful piece of shit I was, and how I didn’t even deserve all of the things they had given me.  I started to lose my air as my collar choked me.  I panicked, as I started to black out.  His words faded.  I closed my eyes.

Thud.  He dropped me three feet to the floor, and I hit the ground hard.  I crumpled onto myself as he stormed off.  I looked up at my mother who was looking down at me.  And without a word, she walked away.  My last hope of salvation had betrayed me.  And I curled into a ball and cried.

(This part I have to omit because it is going to be in a future installation of “The Friday Confessional”.)

After I had been dragged home, I took refuge in my room.  All hope was lost.  There was no escape.  There was no one who could save me from this.  There was only one way out.

I went into the medicine cabinet and grabbed an entire bottle of Advil and another of Tylenol.  I washed it down with another bottle of Nyquil and waited on the edge of the bathtub.  This was going to be my way out.  If God wasn’t going to come to my rescue, and the authorities felt this was a gross exaggeration of the truth, then I would take matters into my own hands.  Let me be damned to eternal hell.  It couldn’t be much worse than this.

I filled the tub and waited some more.  I undressed.  This should make the cleanup convenient, I thought to myself.  I sure didn’t want my death to be a major inconvenience.   Everyone would celebrate my departure.  Everyone would be happier without me.

Botched.  I woke up a few hours later and crawled into my bed for warmth.  And I slept for over 24 hours.  No one took any kind of note at the missing medications or my inexplicable hypersomnia.

That was the first in dozens of attempts to take my own life.  At the young age of thirteen.  The idea of suffering the abuse and neglect of my parents for the next five years until I was a legal adult was too much to bear.  And I was absolutely convinced that I would be dead by my seventeenth birthday at the rate I was going.  I had tried so many times that I eventually started calling it, “Flirting with Suicide”, just because there was something of a romance between it and me.

And every single attempt was the best I could possibly manage with the materials provided.  I suppose a person can call that parasuicidal if they choose.  Maybe it was.  I’m not sure anymore.

I’m nearly twenty-eight now.  All of that was nearly fifteen years ago.  And the last time I attempted suicide was over a year ago, a few days before I started writing As the Pendulum Swings.  In that year, I learned that I had a relapse back into a more serious cervical cancer.  And it dawned on me that there was a possibility that I could one day die from it.  I had resigned myself to life.  If I couldn’t die on my own terms, a survivor of multiple attempts, then I would live.

In the end, I chose to live.

What are some risk factors for nonfatal suicide attempts?

  • As noted, an estimated 11 nonfatal suicide attempts occur per every suicide death. Men and the elderly are more likely to have fatal attempts than are women and youth.1
  • Risk factors for nonfatal suicide attempts by adults include depression and other mental disorders, alcohol and other substance abuse and separation or divorce.5,6
  • Risk factors for attempted suicide by youth include depression, alcohol or other drug-use disorder, physical or sexual abuse, and disruptive behavior.6,7
  • Most suicide attempts are expressions of extreme distress, not harmless bids for attention. A person who appears suicidal should not be left alone and needs immediate mental-health treatment.

Educate yourselves.  Realize that every suicide attempt is serious and should be treated immediately.  Realize that suicidal gestures, ideation, and plans are all extremely serious and significant.  And find the courage to find yourself, a family member, or a friend immediate treatment.  Suicide is completely preventable when people are educated.

Thank you for reading.  Take care.

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Disorder and Love: What We Do and Don’t Know

“Just because somebody doesn’t love you the way you want them to, doesn’t mean they don’t love you with everything they got” –Author Unknown

Mental health disorders have a way of putting blinders on a person. I have to say, there are a lot of things in this world that I miss. Whether it’s because I’m wrapped up in my own head, or I have one of the different shades of the multiple pairs of glasses I don on, I know that my own perceptions are often distorted. In short, I miss things. Sometimes, I miss very important things.

I am not one to take a hint. So, one of those subtle things, such as love, often slip past me or whiz over my head.

How do we love?

The Family Furnace

Brofenbrenner was completely correct in his ecological systems. The microsystem is the core for each and every one of us. In early development, it is the only system that exists. The people that system is composed of represent an entire world. And as we grow, it is those impressions that we take with us. Every person in our microsystem becomes an archetype for others we encounter in other systems that build as we grow beyond the microsystem.

As we are living beings, there is no end to our growth and development. There is only an early learning window where we build our foundations of understanding about the way the world functions around us, and the social rules and norms of our society. That is why children are prone to generalization. On our way to becoming adults, we sculpt the fine detail from our experience and observation.  Brofenbrenner did not take into consideration that mental development does not cease simply because physical development has come to a close.

Microsystems. Family and caretakers.  The core to each and every one of our worlds.  “Mother is the name for God on the lips and hearts of of all children.”The Crow.  But, what is a mother?  What is a family?  Does a mother represent our ideas of maternal figures who nurture, love, and protect?  Is a family a clan to which we pledge our allegiance, find recognition of ourselves, and find camaraderie within?  Are these people in our primary microsystem truly representative of ourselves and our families?

I have been limiting conversations with my parents to a few times a week.  In truth, there is not much in the way of substance to talk about.  It is more of a touchstone to alleviate the fear of abandonment.  On their side.  I have never been in the business of burning bridges, no matter what troubled places and people they are filled with.

The topic of the house came up in conversation.  Conversations with family members are tricky business, brimming with subtext, doublespeak, and hidden agenda.  Recall the old adage, “Honesty is the best policy”?  A proverb says, “Be careful what you say and protect your life. A careless talker destroys himself.”  My preference leans toward the proverb. I have taken myself down by revealing my hand too soon.

My mother’s overeagerness gave me a glimpse of her hand far before she anticipated. She asked when we’d be completely moved out. Bad choice of words. Rather than asking us when we’d be finished moving, she’s rushing us out the door. Why? She was vague. I asked if a few more weeks would be a problem. Not a problem, because it probably won’t happen until September, if at all.

Confirmed. There are plans. She refuses to tell me, because she knows she is going to backstab me. She wants to retain deniability and spousal blame. Why not? It has been a family custom longer than either of us has even been alive combined.

She slipped in her earlier lament about how my brother has to go on vacation and how it’s such a financial detriment. “I don’t know how I’m going to pay the mortgages.” More than one. Exposing a five year old lie. I offered to take over the mortgage, because I suspected they were misappropriating funds and not actually paying the mortgage. Not possible, the mortgage for the two deeds is singular. Guess not.

Originally, I had a sense of dread that the move would pull the puppet strings around my throat. When it ceased to do so, I felt liberated. I had never felt so free. It was not fleeing, not like when I was younger. It was moving on. No strings. I was a real woman after all.

Until that very moment, when the last nearly three decades came into perfect clarity.

This was the moment. I yanked those strings right back. “I hope you know we’re taking the furnace.”

There was never a tantrum in recorded history, short of a monarch, quite like that. She attempted every angle to envoke something in mem. Guilt. How could you do this to me? Shame. Where would you even put it? Fear. Your father would never let me speak to you again. Pity. What will we do in the winter?

What did I do in the winter of ’06? I was living there. It rose nothing but cold resentment. All questions to which I answered, “I never paid for it. My FIL did. It’s his, not mine.”

The realization of my own subtext hidden between the lines had yet to emerge.

Meanwhile, my husband had stayed up all night, exchanging emails with his aunt, and toning down her grandiose ideas for remodeling. I spent the morning anxious about his lack of sleep, and consumed with dread over the threat of another manic episode. I was actually angry with him for letting her keep him up on a work night, or maybe not being forthcoming with me.

Really, I was upset that we were even entertaining the idea of taking money from her. The anxieties that rose did not have roots surrounding my husband. They bubbled from a deep, dark insecure crevice. It was a place so primal, that it went almost completely unrecognized by my conscious mind.

Family had somehow become synonymous with pain.

I ended my conversation with my mother and plunged into writing. I could detail each wrong. I won’t. The ending comments were these: ” They took every opportunity to hold my head under the water. Out of jealousy. Out of greed. Out of fear that I’d leave them one day, and do better with my life and for myself.”

Anxiously facing another winter without heat, my FIL put a sizable dent in his credit card to purchase and ship a furnace. When we were almost to the point of starvation, my MIL purchased us food and brought it to our home. After the accident that totalled our completely purchased car, they lent us theirs. When that car died, they helped us get through the down payment. Everytime T.D. (my son) needed clothing, they helped us find a way. When I faced having to drop out of college due to financial constraints, his aunt bailed me out.

It wasn’t centric to money, as it seems. My mother refused the honor of standing at my side when I had T.D. My MIL took her place. When Zen (husband) had a complete breakdown, his mother tried to tend to him and help him get care. My FIL gives my husband career advice and instructions to repair things. My MIL has picked up the phone in the middle of the night, just because I didn’t know who else to call.

I sat outside of Zen’s aunt’s childhood home with a cigarette filled with emotion and confusion. Neither of us carry her blood or her family name. I am a damaged girl, with a limited career, from a bad neighborhood. I have no tangible value. Why would she and the rest of her family be so enthused to have have us here?

I couldn’t believe how simple the answer is. Out of love. Because, it doesn’t matter what lineage you originate from. All that really matters is the familial love that one person can feel for another, and the kind of relationships you want to have with each other. If you want love, all you have to do is open up to receive love. And the rest follows.

Theories on the Development of Disorder

When something, an emotion, an urge, an impulse, is so severely suppressed that a person becomes oppressed, we can often observe extreme opposite reactions. This is consistent with the laws of physics and the universe, “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” Except, one thing. I believe when it comes to emotions and behaviors, the opposing reaction is more like equal plus. The plus being an x-value holding place for a value with the meaning “a little more.” Determining that exact value in numerical terms may be difficult, since there is no numerical value for emotions.

It basically conveys the message that the situation perpetuates itself. Any potential absence of behavior or action can still be perceived as a positive value. Inaction can still be considered an action in this case, because there isn’t really such a thing as a complete absence of behavior.

This is potentially a huge factor in mental illness. Obviously, we are aware of the psychological damage abuse and neglect in childhood can cause, even throughout adulthood. It is thought to manifest in anxiety disorders, particularly Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. However, that does not account for people who did not experience what is typically considered childhood trauma.

Even as adults, we are susceptible to psychological damage. This is a fact that is well established through research involving war veteran and victims of sexual assault. However, we only consider extreme forms of trauma as something qualifies as such. Such is also true of childhood trauma.

Other qualifying trauma often happens over a period of time, and goes consciously unrecognized. This does not mean that it is also subconsciously unrecognized as well. In fact, the subconscious is likely keenly aware, but unable to translate to the conscious mind.

Once the conscious mind becomes aware that there is something amiss, the traumatizing behavior seems commonplace. The person has likely become desensitized to what was once a subtle, but generally constant external stressor. By then, it becomes internalized and often mistaken as an internal stressor.

Those are the seeds for maladaptive behaviors in both children and adults. At this point, unhealthy coping mechanisms have already been adopted as part of a person’s behavioral repertoire. This is directly the result of an extreme reaction to the accumulation of what may be considered subtle long term stressor(s).

The maladaptive behaviors are recognized as such, and perpetuate trauma through mistreatment of oneself. It can be behaviorally observed by an unusual response to certain unpleasant stimuli. Unfortunately, the subject is often unaware that their responses are abnormal. By the time it is either pointed out or realized by oneself, the original cause is well buried under layers of self-abuse / neglect.

The result of this is much larger than anxiety disorders. It reaches out to grab behaviors typical of a variety of psychological disorders. Behavior repertoires are often observed in personality disorders and mood disorders. it would stand to reason this is true, due to the nature of long-term external stressors, particularly subtle abuse and neglect.