“When you say a situation or a person is hopeless, you are slamming the door in the face of God.” – Charles L. Allen
Today, my world is a “thin place”– in which death and life are much closer together than usual, and in which the ordinary takes on new meaning. It is May 27, and exactly two years ago today, I tried to end my life.
My suicide attempt was neither frivolous nor trivial. I didn’t do it to “get attention,” to make a statement, or to cause my loved ones to feel guilty. I did not expect to be rescued, and I didn’t anticipate “waking up alive.”
I didn’t do it because my life felt meaningless, or because I felt no one loved me (although I did believe, emphatically, that my family would be better off without me). Neither alcohol nor drugs were factors. My religious faith; my career success; my degree in psychology; and my roles as wife, mother and daughter did not insulate me.
A toxic amalgamation of factors had been assaulting me: the near-bankruptcy of my employer, and the financial stress that caused; a series of bad decisions by my doctor regarding medication; and a high degree of conflict at home. But the absolute trigger was something called a “bipolar mixed state” – a relatively rare, but incomparably deadly, emotional and biological condition.
Johns Hopkins psychiatry professor and author Kay Redfield Jamison, who is herself bipolar, writes about the “mixed state” in “Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide.”
“The violent agitation of some suicidally depressed patients is impossible to comprehend unless it is intimately observed or personally experienced … The patients often try to starve themselves, to hang themselves, to cut their arteries; they beg that they be burned, buried alive. The most virulent [symptoms] for suicide is the mixed of depressed mood, morbid thinking, and a “wired,” agitated level of energy. It is singularly and dangerously uncomfortable.”
Poet Anne Sexton referred to it as an unhinging agitation, an “almost terrible energy.” Edgar Allen Poe wrote of it, “I CANNOT LIVE… I [must] subdue this fearful agitation, which if continued, will either destroy my life or drive my hopelessly mad.” Researcher Jan A. Fawcett MD called the mixed state particularly risky because the person “…is experiencing severe anxiety, such as anxious thoughts [he] can't stop.”
This is precisely how it feels. It’s not simply a state of mind that can be changed by choice, will, or faith. Journaling “cognitive distortions,” taking a brisk walk, “trying to look at the bright side…” none of these will make it go away. Loved ones may be neglected, but self-absorption is the result – not the cause – of the mixed state. It is an illness. And a potentially terminal one.
I haven’t been blogging regularly for a couple of months. I’ve been really busy (a good thing), but also, there have been things I’ve needed to think about more than write about. Recently, I’ve moved ahead in some really good ways. I’ve communicated some things with my parents that needed to be said, and I’ve gotten some reassurance and validation regarding an old friendship that has brought healing into my present life.
In other ways, I’m not as far along as I’d like. I still have anxieties about the future that invade my thoughts and make me feel hopeless. I still feel terribly distant from God. And like most suicide attempt survivors, I find that thoughts of self-harm can be comforting, almost addicting, if things threaten to go bad.
But over the past year, I know I’ve helped others in their healing journey, and they have helped me. I’m only two years along the path. Recovery takes time and effort. Today, I’m willing to provide as much of those as I can.