“Wisdom is nothing more than healed pain.” –Robert Gary Lee
Not long after I started the Suicide Attempt Survivors page, I received the following PM:
“In the fall of 2006, after an undiagnosed two month depression, I jumped in front of an Amtrak Acela high speed train and survived, losing an arm and a leg in the process. I'm now diagnosed Bipolar and treating it medically and by talking openly about how I'm doing on a daily basis.”
I read the author’s words again and again. Was he really saying what I thought he was saying? He actually is a double amputee today because of his attempt on his life? Every morning he wakes up and must deal with the reality of what he has lost? My God.
Probably most of us, when we attempted suicide, didn’t stop to think about our bodies would be like if we survived. I know I didn’t. In addition to vomiting for hours and being so agitated I almost had to be held down (despite swallowing 30 Valium), I experienced a loss of hearing for about 36 hours; the deafness was a result of aspirin overdose and could have been permanent.
Another thing that could have been permanent was damage to my liver from the Tylenol OD. I spent more than 12 hours hooked up to an IV of N-acetylcysteine to literally cleanse my liver. I had no clue that death from Tylenol overdose is actually excruciatingly painful and lengthy, caused by the liver shutting down.
But the thing that doesn’t ever let me forget is the scarring on my wrists. The scars from the cutting and the stitches are over a year and a half old, and they are as light as they are ever going to get. Objectively, they probably aren’t extremely noticeable – but to me they are like giant neon signs, announcing to the world, “I’M UNSTABLE.”
Bracelets only partially cover my scars. I worry about shaking hands with people in the professional world; I can’t always wear long sleeves. Every time I look at my arms, my mind shoots back in time, triggering fear and shame.
A friend of mine attempted suicide by slicing his jugular vein; unless he wears a turtleneck, his history is there for all to see. An acquaintance of the family attempted to shoot himself; bizarrely, he blew off part of his foot. People who attempt to hang themselves, or who swallow Draino, or who jump from high places, will face varying degrees of disfiguration and disability of they survive.
Psychiatrist Herbert Hendin suggests that sometimes a self-inflicted permanent injury is "therapeutic" in the sense that it satisfies a need for self-punishment. That might be true for some, but not for me. I detest the scars on my arms. I’m fastidious about my appearance, but despite my outfit, hairdo or makeup, the scars are always there, reminding me that one day, I lost control – and warning me that I have the capability of being a danger to myself. I carry the battle scars of a fight that I don’t want to remember.