Thursday, December 23, 2010

Alive for the holidays. Thursday, December 23, 2010.

“I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It's not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.” – Linus van Pelt

Have you heard the one about the suicide rate going up at Christmas? Turns out it’s not true. Actually, springtime sees a larger share of suicides.

There’s a number of reasons why so many of us believe the “fact” that the holidays spark suicidal urges. For one thing, the holiday blues are real, especially for those that lack connections to friends and family. Use of alcohol goes up. And the exposure to so much conspicuous material consumption can make people facing economic hard times feel even more hopeless.

But good things happen during the holidays. More people volunteer to help those in need, and more people reach out to those who feel marginalized. For all the bad press Christmas receives, there really IS a holiday spirit, and maybe that’s why – despite all the stress and booze – the suicide rate actually doesn’t increase.

Most families I know (including my own) received fewer cards this year than usual. I’m guessing that it’s a reflection of hard times. This Christmas, our nation has an unfathomable number of people hungry, homeless and sick. These are the very people Christians believe that Jesus, whose birthday we are celebrating, held in the highest honor.

Somehow, Jesus’ birthday became about reindeer and snowmen and presents under a tree, but the true meaning of Christmas is about God’s birth inside our hearts.

Most of the people reading this blog came close to not being here to observe this holiday. At some point (or points) in the past, you decided that your life was not worth living. Your suffering was so great that you believed the only way to end it was to not be alive. You may have come to believe this even if you believe in God. You may have felt God had abandoned you. Maybe you still feel this way.

If no one reaches out to you in your need this holiday, consider reaching out to someone else. I believe that God is within us, whether or not we perceive him. Whether or not you believe in God or practice a faith tradition, and whatever your situation, my wish for you is that you experience a sense of divine peace this holiday. You are alive.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Great bodily harm. Wednesday, December 22, 2010.

“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.