Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Secrets no one told you

“Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” – Benjamin Franklin

This morning I lay down – cold and cramping – on a medical examination table, my bladder filled past capacity, as an ultrasound was taken to see how quickly my kidneys are dying.

There’s no emergency here. When he diagnosed me with third stage renal disease, the doctor was clear that decades could pass before I might suffer ill effects from a slow shut-down of my kidneys, which are now working at 42% capacity. People donate kidneys, after all. They’re a hardy part of the human body.

I’ve not blogged on “Death to Life” for about six months – since my second “anniversary” of my suicide attempt. During that time, I’ve worked to distance myself from that particular period in my personal history. I’ve thrown myself into my work (both paid and volunteer). I’ve rebuilt trust with friends and family that I hurt – or that I felt hurt me – when my illness was at its peak. I’ve forged new and healing relationships.

But just as I’m forced to remember that day every morning as I put on the bracelets that hide the scars on my wrists, today’s examination was a reminder that I’ve survived a suicide attempt. Unlike surviving cancer or a heart attack, it was a “survival” I didn’t celebrate at the time. It was a “survival” against my will. And with each passing week, I grow more and more estranged from that part of myself. What was I thinking? What can I do to be certain I’ll never think that way again?

You see plenty of suicides on TV and in the movies. But there are things about suicide that no one tells you. Even those of us who have tried and “failed” rarely speak of these things amongst ourselves.

But if you’re considering suicide, I’ll break the silence and tell you some of the things that I found out, which no one else will tell you:

If you attempt suicide, chances are overwhelming that you will survive. There are more than 20 attempts for every “successful” suicide. So when you wake up alive – as you most likely will – you’ll be faced with a whole new set of problems that you didn’t have before.

If you slit your wrists, you probably will not die (even if you swallow a bottle of aspirin first and slice your arteries the “right” way). Instead, you will have scars for life that will make you feel embarrassed and ashamed.

If you overdose, you will probably throw up (even if you take anti-nausea medicine and take the pills with food). If you don’t throw up while conscious, you’ll throw up when you’re unconscious; either way, your body will reject the pills. That’s what your body is designed to do.

If you overdose on acetaminophen (Tylenol), you will damage your liver. “Good,” you think? Think again. Dying from liver damage takes days, even a week. You’ll still wake up alive – you’ll just have to suffer for a long time.

If you OD on Tylenol and are discovered and rescued by emergency personnel within 8 hours, you will be hooked up to an IV of N-acetylcysteine. For 24 hours, this antidote will drip into your body, and you won’t know until the next day whether you will live or die.

If you OD on other medications, such as sleeping pills, lithium or ibuprofen, you will damage your kidneys and other vital organs. This damage may not manifest for months or years, but it will be with you the rest of your life.

In the ICU, if you are agitated and fight against medical treatment, you will be restrained either chemically, manually or both. Decisions will be made for you. You will not have control over the outcome.

During the first 24 hours, especially if you ingested multiple medications, you will be confused and panicky. You won’t know day from night. You won’t recognize people. You will be cold and hungry. But medical personnel will not be sympathetic. They are accustomed to caring for patients who wish to live. They won’t feel sorry for you.

If you attempt to sleep, you will be awakened each hour. Each time, you’ll be asked three questions: “What is your name?” “Do you know why you are here?” and “Are you going to attempt suicide again?” (The correct response to the last question is “no.”) The questions will be barked out as if you’re being interrogated (which, really, you are). The people interrogating you won’t feel sorry for you, either.

Once you pass the critical stage medically, you get to go to the psych ward. You won’t think you belong there, but that’s where they will put you. First, though, they’ll go through your financial situation. You’ll be informed the cost is $1,500 per day. Even if you have insurance, you’ll be out, at the very least, a grand for the ICU. And even though you have the legal right to refuse treatment, they’ll make it very hard for you to leave – whether you can afford to be there or not.

You’ll be in the psych ward at least three days. If you have a job, and you want to keep it, you’ll have to come up with a good excuse for your employer. And once you return to work, you’ll have to worry every day that you’ll be found out. You’ll have a better reception coming out as someone with AIDS than as a survivor of suicide.

In the psych ward, you’ll be at the bottom of the pecking order. Like child molesters in prison, suicide attempters are the objects of scorn. Everyone else wants to stay alive; you did something stupid to wind up dead. And what’s more, you “failed.”

No one will ask why you attempted. No one will try to understand your state of mind. No one will acknowledge your pain. Instead you’ll be asked to focus on “coping methods” and “behavioral therapy” techniques.

You’ll be given printouts to help you label your emotions (Anxious! Mad! Sad!). And you’ll be required to attend classes where you paint pencil boxes and glue beads on to purses. It won’t matter if you have a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and Journalism. It won’t matter that you have a higher-than-average IQ. You’ll feel condescended to … and you’ll be right.

But the worst is yet to come, because eventually – after you’ve convinced a board of staff members that you’re “no longer a danger to yourself” (even if you lie) – you’ll go home. There you will face your husband, wife, mother, father, siblings, children and friends.

This is the biggest secret no one will tell you: Your homecoming won’t be like in the movies. Your loved ones will feel angry, hurt, and betrayed. People will think you are selfish and uncaring. Some will think you did it just for attention. Others will think you’re weak. Some will avoid you completely. Others will pretend to accept you, but they’ll avoid certain topics that might “trigger” you.

They’ll edit their speech to make sure no suicide jokes slip out. And if you live with them, they won’t trust you. They’ll take the razors out of the bathroom, and if you’re in the bedroom too long, they’ll ask why. Do you like your independence? If you attempt suicide, you will lose it. Guaranteed.

These are some of the lessons I learned from my attempt. I hope you remember them the next time the thought of suicide crosses your mind. If you’re like me, the urge won’t disappear overnight; in fact, it will continue to pop up again and again. But when I review the list of secrets I’ve disclosed, I’m reminded that suicide isn’t the “easy way out.” It’s the hardest way there is.


  1. Wow Alizah,

    What a powerful post! I am so glad you wrote about this aspect, it's something I've encountered a few times, but as you say, it's not often discussed. This gives everyone a very good idea of what is in store for them should they attempt and survive. Something I'm sure many don't think about. Thank you for being so forthcoming and sharing your secrets, it will help many.

    I for one am so glad you are still with us sharing your many experiences to help educate others to make a better decision armed with the facts.

    Take care, Barb

  2. I think it's so damn barbaric that in this day and age those who attempt suicide are still treated with so little compassion. We wouldn't be attempting suicide if we were happy and well balanced and all, right? Abra-ca-duh!
    I live with very high suicide ideation much of the time but the planning level is not that high. I do have the scars on my wrists from past attempts which in retrospect were not full-on suicide attempts but para-suicides combined with self-harm issues. All of these are cries for help but people are treated like pariahs when they ask for help. Fuck this! Something's gotta give!
    All I can do is wish you well in the situation with your kidneys, and in general. Thank you for posting this. Much love.

  3. I was inspired to write a post of my own on my widely read blog so my 666 trillion fans could read it. I hope you don't mind! I was really struck by some of the things you wrote, and it made me mad all over again about how backasswards the so called mental health profession still is in this day and age.

  4. Aliza, you have me in tears. Not only because I tried and survived, but because I still know people who consider suicide an option. I hope you don't mind that I am sharing this with them. Much love <3 !

  5. Hmmm?? Not all true. Yep! Suicide for me. Hope it's a success 2nd time round.

  6. Hi there, I'm co-editing a book on suicide, made up of writings by people who have personal experience (as I do). Would you be interested in contributing something? You can email me on b.stone AT shef.ac.uk

  7. I woud like to share my story. My brother commited suicide, My newphew did aswell, I over dosed 6 months ago I was on life support and in a coma, Wel the doctor told everyone I had 1 foot in the grave and I was most likely not to make it. I dd make it and now I am in horriable pain due to something that happened to my foot while I was at the hospital I now can limp on it, But no one knows whats wrong. 'm going to the foot doctor. This pain is hell. It don't always work the way you plan it. If you are thinking about it. Do not, You could live and be worse off. There is help out there. Thanks for letting me add my story.

    1. Sorry for so many typos. They did give me some pain meds. I also have to think a few I think while on life support and in a coma I have a little memory loss.

      Cherie Kuebler.

  8. Unbelievable!!!! Thanks so much for another perspective to what so many NEVER consider!

  9. Nice of you to join us, Brian… Meagan, Jim gave us the evil eye as we slipped back in, “try to be a little more punctual in future would you?” he studied us both as we settled into our seats, he was always on the lookout for the rehab romance syndrome, but there was nothing like that between Meagan and me…

    We were just two lost souls with a similar intent, adrift on an ocean of fear, castaways clinging to refuse at sea, treading dark waters, unable to be, seeking oblivion, praying for sleep, creatures without rudders alone on the deep, spirits dissolving as memories unfold, flash backs and images swamping our souls, lost in a time warp between new and old, pressed between pages from a story long told, group sessions and lectures flying over our heads, memories and nightmares and hospital beds, histories and stories and pasts drained away, professional smiles set the course of each day, twisting and turning away from the known, running in silence from lives we’d disowned, remembering lost childhoods we’d once known as ours, trawling through darkness looking for stars, grasping for meaning, or for words that might heal, a hurt and a terror and a pain that’s so real, torn from the known world that holds others in place, trailing dark secrets past some therapist’s face, dining with strangers, no voices, no sound, floating with fish who’ve already drowned, meditations and lectures from minds without souls, twisting and turning past ancient lost goals, awakening each morning to a world full of dread, Gods lost and demons surrounding each bed, group time and tears raining to a tiled floor, heaven and hell lurks behind each closed door, never knowing the place where the ending begins, talking to lunatics about personal things, hunched over in meetings alien and cold, lying in a small bed abandoned and old, clinging on to beliefs that have already failed, soul dead to hoping that something remains, lost to a world rushing by every day, reality fading as time slips away, where goes the meaning, what’s the use of a friend, does the darkness keep going? or is this how it ends, degraded and useless, lost and betrayed, paying for crimes that others had made, sinking and dying beneath professional smiles, searching for meaning through the eyes of a child, I won’t pray anymore now, you have what you need, I’m broken and beaten and down on my knees, you talk of a savior, as if it were real, you say he’s all loving, but that’s not how it feels, is this some sort of madness, your belief in a god, there is nothing at all between us and the sod, if there was a creator, if he were conscious at all, why is he waiting, why not get done with us all? Get it over with now God, please let it all end, if you remember me Jesus, if I once was your friend, please let me go now Lord, please let it all end…

    They found Meagan two weeks later hanging from a rope in the bedroom of her home; she’d slipped away as quietly as she’d lived, never having believed she had the right to be here. She was twenty-seven years old when she hung herself, a victim of crimes committed many years before.
    This is taken from a book about my own attempted suicide. brianoraleigh@hotmail.com