Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Factor X. Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010.
"Suicide is a particularly awful way to die: the mental suffering leading up to it is usually prolonged, intense, and unpalliated. There is no morphine equivalent to ease the acute pain, and death not uncommonly is violent and grisly." – Kay Redfield Jamison
Lately I’ve been wondering what makes us unique. And by “us,” I’m referring to those of us who have attempted to end our lives.
The American Society of Suicidology exists to study people like “us.” They are able to name risk factors for suicide: mental illness, especially bipolar disorder and schizophrenia; low self-esteem; perfectionism; history of loss (unemployment, foreclosure, divorce); gender (women make more attempts, men complete the act more often); recent exposure to another’s suicide; old age or terminal illness.
But what they can’t seem to explain – what no one can – is what I call Factor X: that one quality that gives us the ability to ignore, and override, the brain’s overwhelming desire for self-preservation. You see, MOST people that have a mental illness, MOST people with low self-esteem, MOST perfectionists, and MOST people who have suffered a loss don’t take that action. There is something different about us. What is it?
As I continue on this road to recovery, this Factor X bothers me more and more, and I’ve been trying to find the answer. One researcher believes it is the willingness to undergo physical pain and detach from it, and had found a connection between people who self-injure or otherwise abuse their bodies and people who attempt suicide. People who are suicidal have a high pain threshold, he says.
This doesn’t ring true for me. Other than my battle with dermatillomania, there is nothing in my background or personality to suggest that I like pain, nor that I can handle it better than other people. In fact, I would suggest that the opposite is true. I’m a wuss.
Right now I’m reading “How I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill Me” by Susan Rose Blauner, who made a number of suicide attempts before she decided she wanted to live after all. Blauner developed a system to overcome what had become an addiction to suicidal ideation.
This does sound like the way my brain thinks. I experience certain “triggers,” and my brain’s automatic response is, “I want to be dead.” Blauner says it’s actually OK to have suicidal thoughts – the task to learn not to act on them, and to substitute those thoughts with more realistic and nurturing ones.
But I’m halfway through the book and I still can’t find out why some of us have actually converted our thoughts into actions, when the vast majority of people who have suicidal thoughts have not.
I’ve heard many people say, “I don’t have the GUTS to commit suicide.” Is Factor X really some kind of courage? If so, why didn’t I go mountain-climbing instead?
Understanding leads to control. I want to understand what makes me different, because it’s frightening that Factor X is a part of me.