sweetmusic_27: A biohazard symbol (biohazard)
Survivor Day 2016

November 19 is International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day.  It's a day when people affected by suicide loss get together and share stories, share hope, share memories and coping strategies, and generally look to each other for understanding and support. You can find out more about it at https://afsp.org/find-support/ive-lost-someone/survivor-day/ .

I choose to spend this day each year raising awareness about suicide, and  I do this by sharing my mother's story (http://sweetmusic-27.livejournal.com/105130.html) and by sharing facts about suicide itself.  In the past, I've written about my mother's suicide, I've written tipsheets for talking to friends who are suicidal, I've written about uncomfortable truths and busting myths and dispelling taboos.  But I've never written about my experience as someone with suicidal ideation.  I've been afraid to do so, partly because I'm not looking for sympathy or advice, and partly because it's scary to share your mental health status with the world.

I first experienced severe suicidal ideation at eighteen, when I went away to college to get a nursing degree.  Before then, I'd fought stress by sinking into my studies and music.  When I was in college, it was my studies that were making me miserable, and I had no time for music.  I was beginning to realize that maybe a nursing degree wasn't for me, and I sank into depression.  I slept a lot, and I cried a lot.  I was looking down the wide, central staircase of my dorm building when it occurred to me that most people wouldn't look at that staircase and long for relief, and think of jumping.  It was one of the realizations that got me to look into counseling.

Eventually, my college therapist suggested medication.  I fought the idea.  I thought I should just be able to shake it off on my own.  "And should diabetics just 'get over it' and make their own insulin?" she asked.  I went home and did some internet searches.  One search led me to a list of things to avoid saying to people with depression.  Things like 'shake it off,' and 'just get over it,' and 'go outside, you'll feel better.'  I saw how many of those messages I had internalized, and when I came back for my next appointment, I agreed to a prescription of an anti-depressant, and I tried that for about a month and a half.  It didn't work for me, but my sister took me aside and suggested I try a different one, which worked for her, and perhaps our genetics would mean that I saw a similar effect.  I tried it.  It helped.

Over the last ten years, my suicidal ideation has fallen into three categories: barely-noticeable, sudden but mild, and moderate.

Barely-noticeable suicidal thoughts are like a news ticker streaming by at the bottom of a screen.  I know it's there, but it's easy to ignore.  These are thoughts that come up when I see a sharp object, look out a window of a tall building, or drive a car.  I unwillingly visualize cutting myself with that object, jumping out the window, or crashing the car.  These thoughts happen to me every day.

Sudden but mild suicidal thoughts happen at odd times, but the example I usually use is when I'm at the grocery store late at night.  Nobody else is around, I'm almost done with my shopping, and I remember I need ham.  I walk by the refrigerator case and there are twenty different options for ham, and I'm tired, and I thought I was almost done, and there's no reason for there to be this many different kinds of ham in the world.  "There's no reason for anything.  Why am I here?  I shouldn't be here.  I should just go."  Then I close my eyes, stick out my hand, and pick up the first kind of ham I touch, and get out of there.  The thought passes.

Moderate suicidal thoughts happen rarely.  It's only when I'm having a low period, where I'm depressed for a couple of days to a week.  I don't want to do anything, or I do, but I can't muster up the energy.  I don't feel loved, I don't feel important, suicide pops up as an obvious choice, I push the thought aside, and keep fighting.  Fighting is boring and difficult and I hate it.  The judging specter in the back of my mind thinks it's ridiculous that I'm even trying.  After a few days, the fog clears and I don't feel that way anymore.

Since I don't have severe suicidal ideation anymore, I thought that this was the best I could do.  I've been in a really good place otherwise - I have a good sense of humor, a career that drives me, a great support network, health insurance, and an understanding psychiatrist.  I'm very, very lucky.  But some months ago, I sat down with my psychiatrist and we talked about my low periods.  She said, "I know you feel like you're in a good place.  But I think we can do better.  I'd like you to think about adding a medication to the one you're already taking."

It took three months of side effects and zeroing in on the correct dose, but now my suicidal ideation is just... gone.  I don't have moderate thoughts, I don't have mild thoughts, I don't have barely-noticeable thoughts.  It's a little weird that they're gone, to be honest.  It's possible that they'll come back, or that I'll still have low periods where they reoccur, but when they do, I'll be ready.  I've been fighting them most of my life.

Every person's story is different; every person's suicidal ideation is different.  But that's how it is for me, and I'm willing to step up and talk about it.  Every time you share this post or other information on suicide, you help to fight the stigma, break the taboo, and dispel the myths. Feel free to link back to this. Feel free to comment here with other links and resources and stories. Feel free to talk to me about suicide. Feel free to comment anonymously on this post (trolling and hate speech will be deleted).
sweetmusic_27: A biohazard symbol (biohazard)
Five Uncomfortable Truths About Suicidality

Every year, I post on this topic.  Every year, I want to make mental issues and suicide a little more visible, a little more normal, if only around my little corner of the internet.

Suicide is the act of taking one's own life, and suicidality - the tendency toward or risk of suicide - is an illness like any other. Some people have this sickness temporarily, others fight it their whole lives. In my family, it's hereditary. All too often, it's fatal. It takes over your mind and body and you die from it. When that happens, as a society, we tend not to talk about it too much. It’s a very quiet killer, rendered quieter by stigma, taboo, awkwardness, and misconceptions.

1. It has happened to someone you know.  Around 20-24 percent of adolescents age 12-17 report suicidal ideation.  If you know five people, that means someone you know seriously considered suicide.  It's the eleventh leading cause of death in the United States, and tenth in 2013.  You likely know someone who has lost a loved one to suicide.  People just don't mention it.  We've been taught that it's inappropriate to air dirty laundry, and mental health is dirty laundry.  But 18.5% of adults have a mental illness currently or within the past year, and around 90% of people who commit suicide have a mental illness.

2.  It's not like they show it on TV.  We are often shown someone whose life falls apart, who gets deeply sad, and then winds up clinging to some outcropping on the twentieth floor, crying and being talked down by someone right next to them.

It's not  always a big dramatic realization, or someone whose life has fallen apart.  It's different for everyone, certainly, but many of those affected by depression to the point of suicidality talk about how numb they feel, about how difficult, how not-worth-it things seem.  Yes, some experience a traumatic event - my grandfather, for instance, lost his business and shot himself - and that pain or loss overshadows everything.  But for some, suicidal ideation is more of a constant, a background hum that may get louder or softer, but doesn't go away for months or years.

It doesn't usually happen on the ledge of a building, either.  In 2013, 51.5% of suicide deaths were by firearm, 24.5% by suffocation/hanging, and 16.1% by poison.  Jumping gets lumped into the remaining eight percent.

On TV, the person in crisis gets talked down, and then everything is fine for them forever.  Meanwhile, in the real world, about 20% of people who commit suicide have made a previous attempt.  Mental issues don't just go away in the length of a forty-two minute episode of a drama show.  Therapy, coping strategies, and medication take time and work.

3.  Kids get suicidal.  Not just teens - even three-year-olds experience suicidal thoughts and make attempts.  This is a difficult and painful truth, but ignoring and dismissing it because it causes us discomfort means that suicidal youth are less likely to be taken seriously.  There is research on the subject going back years and years.  It is real.  Suicidal children know what they are doing and generally even the young ones, like the preschoolers in the 1984 Rosenthal and Rosenthal study linked above, understand the permanence of death.

4. There are big differences between self-medicating, self-harm, and suicidality.  They can be related, but when we can't talk about any of them openly, we can't untangle the differences.

Lots of people self-medicate in one form or another.  People will use what substances are available to them, and they will use what gives them results, from the socially innocuous caffeine, sugar, tobacco, and alcohol all the way up to heroin and oxycodone, or any other drug.  People who are hurting will seek out things that help them feel better.  People using drugs in dangerous ways may be suicidal, or they may just be willing to accept the risks to start to feel better in a desperate situation.

Self-harm often gets confused with suicidality, because cutting can look like attempted wrist-slashing, or because jokes about emo kids have become pervasive, or simply because we have a taboo against self-harm.  But it can be a way of self-soothing that is found all across our primate family.  Monkeys under stress, in pain, or with a history of trauma self-bite in ways very similar to humans who self-harm, and show reduced heart-rate and better coping.  The urge to self-harm is a very basic part of us that is more complicated than just being a warning sign.

These behaviors may be related to suicidality, and may be methods of self-treating depression or other mental issues, but they're not the same thing; our unwillingness to talk about any of those three topics because they fall under the shameful umbrella of "hurting yourself" isn't helping.

5. You can do something about it.  This is possibly the most uncomfortable truth of all.  There's knowing facts and figures, and then there's internalizing that information and acting upon it in a way that challenges us to face stigma and taboo.  That's huge, and it's scary.  But there are ways to help.  Talking about suicide does not cause someone to be suicidal. If you're worried about someone, it is safe to bring up the topic of suicide.  If someone brings up the topic of suicide with you, you have already done the right thing. All you need to do next is take a deep breath and let that person talk.  "Suicide" is a scary word, but talking about it doesn't kill you, and being ready to listen might help someone live.

Every time you share this post or other information on suicide, you help to fight the stigma, break the taboo, and dispel the myths. Feel free to link back to this. Feel free to comment here with other links and resources and stories. Feel free to talk to me about suicide. Feel free to comment anonymously on this post (trolling and hate speech will be deleted).

sweetmusic_27: A biohazard symbol (biohazard)
November 22 is International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day.


Four years ago, my mother committed suicide. I still struggle coming to terms not only with her death, but with my family's wider history of suicide. My maternal grandfather and great-uncle died by suicide, my sister made an attempt, and I have struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts since puberty.

When I talk about these things, people shy away. It's a frightening subject, but if we want to help people who are suicidal, we need to understand what suicide really means, how it works, and how to respond to people contemplating it. Remember, talking about suicide does not cause someone to be suicidal. If you're worried about someone, it is safe to bring up the topic of suicide.

Suicide is the act of taking one's own life, and suicidality - the tendency toward or risk of suicide - is an illness like any other. Some people have this sickness temporarily, others fight it their whole lives. In my family, it's hereditary. All too often, it's fatal. It takes over your mind and body and you die from it. When that happens, as a society, we tend not to talk about it too much. It’s a very quiet killer, rendered quieter by stigma, taboo, awkwardness, and misconceptions.

Suicide is not selfish. Imagine that your thoughts and emotions make up a house. My mother's mental house faded around the edges. Room by room, the space available to her shrank until she was left a hallway, trapped in a narrow place. It's not that she was thinking of herself; it's that she couldn't think of anyone, anything.

It’s nobody’s fault when this medical condition takes hold. As many as one in six people become seriously suicidal at some point in their lives. While it is not directly caused by depression, anxiety, drug use, or other risk factors, about 90% of suicidal people have mental issues that involve or worsen seriously suicidal thoughts. These issues can be treated.

If someone brings up the topic of suicide with you, don't panic. Don’t lecture, and don’t make demands. Start by listening. Someone reaching out to you is a very good sign. First of all, it means they trust you. Second, if an individual is sharing these thoughts with you, there is something stopping or delaying them from completing suicide. It is safe to ask, "What's stopping you, and how can we focus on that?"

Here are some other “do’s” and “don’ts” for such a conversation. We all need to be ready to support our friends and family.

Do try to have the conversation in private. Don't promise to keep the contents of the conversation private, though. It's important that you be willing to get help if someone you know is in crisis.

Do try to say something, even if it's "wow, I'm sorry," or "well, crap." You don’t have to instantly become a perfect therapist. A friend of mine reached out to some of her friends, and they reacted with silence. "You could have heard a pin drop," she told me. "Nobody said a thing." It made her feel distanced, alone.

If the person you're talking to mentions a certain means of committing suicide, it's safe to bring up ways to remove or limit that means. "Do you want me to keep your gun for a while? Do you keep ammo in the house?" "When you say you're thinking about swallowing pills, are they pills you have? Can you get someone to dose out a week at a time instead of having the whole bottle around?" "You mentioned slitting your wrists. Is looking at knives or razors hard for you? I can come over and help you get those things out of the house for a while. Want to go shopping for an electric shaver together?" Bringing this up is not harmful and will not give anyone ideas. Don't press for action, just let them know there are options.

Later, check back in. Be ready for things not to suddenly be better. The mental issues surrounding suicidality don't go away quickly. If you can, try to communicate that it's okay to still be struggling.

There are many resources for those who are suicidal or talking to people who are considering suicide. America's Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and anyone in crisis can use their online chat to talk to a counselor. Similarly, IMAlive is an online chat-based Hopeline staffed by trained volunteers, and the Kristin Brooks Hope Center's Hopeline phone number is 1-800-442-HOPE (4673).

If you're suicidal, there are people who can help. If you are not, the odds are that somebody in your life will be or has been before, and you can still help by being willing to educate yourself and others, and being willing to say the word "suicide."

When someone brings up thoughts of suicide to you, you have already done something right. You’re the one they trust, you’re the one who feels safe. "Suicide" is a scary word, but talking about it doesn't kill you, and being ready to listen might help someone live.

Every time you share this post or other information on suicide, you help to fight the stigma, break the taboo, and dispel the myths. Feel free to link back to this. Feel free to comment here with other links and resources and stories. Feel free to talk to me about suicide. Feel free to comment anonymously on this post (trolling and hate speech will be deleted).
sweetmusic_27: A biohazard symbol (biohazard)
November 23th is International Survivors of Suicide Day.

Pretty terrible-sounding holiday, huh. This is an updated post that might look familiar to some of you who have seen it the last couple of years In general, I try to keep my posts upbeat and not get too political or activist-y. However, this day and what it means is very important to me, and I'd be grateful if you read, shared, or just thought about these issues, just for a few minutes. I make this post annually on November 19th because that was the date of my first ISOS Day - it's always on a Saturday.

I know this is a difficult topic. )

This is my story. )

Resources. )

Thank you for reading. I know that this is a confusing and difficult subject, but I feel it’s one that people should be able to talk about. Today, I’ve decided that “people” starts with me. I hope you'll decide that "people" starts with you, too: Feel free to link back to this. Feel free to comment here with other links and resources and stories. Feel free to talk to me about suicide. Feel free to comment anonymously on this post (trolling and hate speech will be deleted).
sweetmusic_27: A biohazard symbol (biohazard)
November 19th is International Survivors of Suicide Day.

Pretty terrible-sounding holiday, huh. This is an updated post that might look familiar to some of you who saw it last year.

I know this is a difficult topic. )

This is my story. )

Resources. )

Thank you for reading. I know that this is a confusing and difficult subject, but I feel it’s one that people should be able to talk about. Today, I’ve decided that “people” starts with me. I’m sorry I didn’t feel comfortable saying all of this earlier. And finally, the scary parts: Feel free to link back to this. Feel free to comment here with other links and resources and stories. Feel free to talk to me about suicide. Feel free to comment anonymously on this post (trolling and hate speech will be deleted).
sweetmusic_27: A biohazard symbol (biohazard)
November 19th is International Survivors of Suicide Day.

Pretty terrible-sounding holiday, huh.

I know this is a difficult topic. )

This is my story. )

Resources. )

Thank you for reading. I know that this is a confusing and difficult subject, but I feel it’s one that people should be able to talk about. Today, I’ve decided that “people” starts with me. I’m sorry I didn’t feel comfortable saying all of this earlier. And finally, the scary parts: Feel free to link back to this. Feel free to talk to me about suicide. Feel free to comment anonymously on this post (trolling and hate speech will be deleted).

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