The last time I tried to kill myself I needed 14 stitches. The time before that, I was in a coma for almost a week. Each time I felt emotional pain to such a degree that I was convinced I wouldn’t survive it. Each time I made a decision. Because it is a decision. And it is never the right one but in the moment, it feels like it is decided for you.
This week is Suicide Prevention Week. Every year approximately 4000 Canadians die from suicide. This is important. We need to talk. I’ll start.
After my second suicide attempt, I started to wake from the coma to the feel of something soft and wet on my lips. I slowly and laboriously opened my eyes and the world came back to me, bit by bit. A hand. A nurse. She was holding a small sponge on a stick, wet with mouthwash. I opened my eyes fully and took in the room. I realized I would live. My mind tried to piece together what had happened. A volatile relationship. A terrible fight. Hopelessness. A decision.
It all came back to me. I frantically searched the house and took everything I could find; pain killers, prescriptions, cold and flu medicine; maybe 300 pills. And half a bottle of whiskey. My body had no time to reject the drugs before it started shutting down. The room was spinning in wide circles around my head and I had trouble standing up. Everything was a blur. I thought I felt like I wanted to vomit but I really just felt sharp pains in my stomach. I heard a knock on the door. My mother was coming over with my aunt and, when they got to the front door, I tried to meet them there to unlock it. I stumbled across the kitchen and the living room. I eventually made it to the entrance hall and collapsed on the tiles. My body fell into the erratic shaking of a seizure. I could hear my mother frantically trying to get the door open and calling me to unlock it. I had lost control of my body, I was still conscious but felt like a rag doll. I bit my tongue. There was now blood covering the floor around me as my head cracked against the tiles. That is the last thing I remember.
When I woke up nearly a week later, I thought of myself mid-seizure, in a pool of blood. I thought of my mother standing there as the paramedics cut through my favorite sweater and shocked me back to life. I lay in that hospital bed with wires and tubes coming out of me like an extension of my blood vessels, like my insides on the outside for all to see. Several in each arm and one sewn right into my femoral artery. Once again, the ugliest parts of me were on display. I felt shame, I felt relief and I felt fear. Shame at what I perceived to be my weakness but also partially shame at not having died. Like death was the only true way to prove it wasn’t a cry for attention. But despite the fact that it is an attempt to make the pain end, it is also always a cry for attention. “Pay attention to my pain. I need support, I need treatment. Pay attention to what I need.” I felt relief at being alive but also fear for the same thing. What if the pain never stopped?
I spent several weeks in the ICU. I remember asking a nurse the first night after I had woken up if I would die after all. I was in so much pain. The damage to my body was extensive, and the damage to my throat from being intubated for several days made it extremely painful to speak, let alone breathe. I could not walk, I was confined to the bed. After a week or two a physiotherapist came once a day to help me walk again.
All those scars, those wires and IVs, they were here because I was here to be healed. I counted them every day. Every morning I woke up and counted the IVs and tubes, taking inventory. I took comfort in explaining to myself how dire my situation was. See all these tubes and wires? I’m sick. There is a reason the pain is unbearable. It is not because I am weak. I am sick.
Suicide is not romantic. Suicide isn’t gently drifting off to sleep and then being remembered as a martyr, or angel gone too soon. Suicide hurts. It hurts everyone. Suicide is messy, violent, dangerous.
But it is preventable. There is help if one just reached out for it. No, I shouldn’t say “just”. I shouldn’t dismiss asking for help like it’s the easiest thing in the world. IT can be almost impossible. It can be daunting, it can be scary. And that fear can be paralyzing. Stigma, judgment and shame stop us from reaching out for help. But the more we talk about suicide, the more we can break down stigma and make it easier for people to ask for help.
I am now grateful that I survived my suicide attempt. I know I can give that pain, that struggle a positive meaning.
There is pain, there is mental illness, there is trauma. We will never eliminate suicidal thoughts. We can, however, ensure that anyone experiencing them feels safe opening up about it. That everyone experiencing them gets support. Talk about it. Check in on people. Don’t be shocked or scared of discussing suicide. Use the word out loud, don’t shy away. Be open, non-judgmental and a safe space. You could save a life.