Monday, September 13, 2010

Suicide: An Individual AND a Family Crisis

" I am a 36 year old disabled woman who has been variously labeled "fat", "crazy", and "a hippie weirdo." I now try to embrace labels that others use in an attempt to "shame" me into being someone more "acceptable". I am passionate about issues of race/racism, criminal (in)justice, fat acceptance, and mental health advocacy. I blog at My Name Is JuJuBe and Inside JuJuBe and I am on the team at The Intersection of Madness and Reality

Two years ago, GA took a bottle of heparin (a blood thinner) from the veterinary program at her job. She kept it stored in her home, and took it with her when she moved to a new location. She also took the needles needed to inject the medication. She told no one that she had procured this item. She had a plan in mind for it.

One night last May, she injected herself with the heparin. She then tied a noose out of an electrical cord and fastened it to her shower door. She proceeded to use a straight razor to slit her wrists vertically up to her elbow. The blade was dull, so she had to make several cuts. She bled so much that the blood soaked through a 6 inch couch cushion. She then went to her bed and waited to die.

The noose in her bathroom was there in case she did not bleed out and needed to resort to another method to end her life. However, she was so weak from blood loss that she was unable to walk to the bathroom. In fact, during the night, when she had to urinate, she had to crawl across her apartment to reach the toilet. Miraculously, she survived until morning.
In the morning, she called a coworker to let them know she would not be coming into work. When the coworker asked her what was wrong, GA began to cry. She confessed to her coworker that she had cut herself, but said that she did not need or want to go to the hospital. Her coworker insisted on checking on her anyway, and when she went to her apartment, found her weak and unable to walk without assistance. The apartment was covered with blood. GA was taken to the hospital. She was lucky to be alive.

Telling GA's story is difficult for me. I am shaking and tears are forming in my eyes. This story is personal to me. GA is my younger sister.

I had NO IDEA my sister was suicidal until I received a phone call from her coworker telling me she was in the emergency room because she had "cut herself". I did not know if she was trying to die, or if she was just engaging in self mutilation or "cutting" (a behavior with which I am intimately familiar). I knew my sister had been on medication for depression for several years, but I had no idea of the intensity and depth of her despair.

I was the one who had been in and out of hospitals. I was the one who had been in multiple mental health treatment programs. I was the one every thought they had to look out for. So, we all missed the fact that my sister was obviously in a lot of pain.

My sister's suicide attempt changed my life. It changed the life of everyone in my family. It changed the way we related to each other. It changed the things we thought we knew, the things we took for granted. After my sister tried to take her own life, I wanted to do everything I could to "save" her. When she was in the hospital for a week following her suicide attempt, I visited as often as I could, to the point that she had to tell me it was overwhelming to her. I brought her gifts, food, bottled water, stuffed animals, books, anything I could think of that she would need or want.

When she was released, I was in (s)mothering mode. I tried to get her to stay with me, but that only lasted a few days, because it was too claustrophobic for her. So, I would stay at my house during the day and spend nights on her sofa, until I felt safe leaving her alone. And even then, I called her EVERY DAY, multiple times. If she did not answer the phone, I became extremely anxious, and if I did not hear back from her within an hour or two, I would call my father and ask him to go and check on her.

A month later, my worst nightmare came true. I got a call from my father telling me that my sister was once again in the emergency room, this time having emergency surgery. She had attempted to slit her own throat. I remember walking through the hallway of the hospital having a full blown panic attack. My father was trying to calm me down, thinking I was going to fall out from a heart attack. Again, thankfully, GA pulled through. When we spoke to her after the surgery, she said that my mother (who passed on in 2001) was her guardian angel looking after her and saving her life.

Since my sister tried to take her own life, I have attempted to develop a closer bond with her. I had always attempt to be close with her in the past, but she was always sort of distant, she never liked anyone to get to intimate. But, since this all happened, she has allowed me into her life more than before. I do not know if it is because she recognizes how much her actions impacted me, and thus saw how much I really love and care about her or because she realizes that being emotionally distant from everyone was not getting her where she needed to be in order to thrive, but either way, I am glad that she is accepting my friendship.

I did not recognize that my sister was suicidal because I thought that any signs would present the same way signs of depression and despair presented in me. And, when it came to treatment, I tried to get my sister to follow the same protocol that I followed when I was in distress. But, that did not work for her. She had to find her own path towards mental health. Her method's of coping are not the same as mine, and I have to realize that since we are individuals, we have different ways or responding to stimuli. I try to keep that in mind when I interact with my sister. I no longer try to FORCE her to speak about what is on her mind. I stopped trying to get her to follow the same treatment path that worked for me. I have come to the conclusion that all I can do is offer myself as a resource, give her all the support that I can, and WAIT for her to come to me. I cannot force her to confide in me. I cannot make the decision as to how she should treat her OWN mental health issues.

I think that is one of the most important lessons that you can learn as someone who loves an individual who has attempted suicide. The more you try to force them to tell you how they feel, the more they may feel tempted to run in the opposite direction. As a family member of someone who is depressed or suicidal, it is important to keep them safe above all, but also to ALLOW THEM to determine their own treatment protocol. THEY know what is in their best interest, and once they are past the urge to self destruct, THEY can best determine how any sort of treatment program should proceed.

I only wish I had recognized some sign in advance, that it did not have to take something so dramatic for us to come together and develop a stronger bond. Sometimes, I fear that I will get that dreaded phone call that my sister has attempted to take her life again, this time successfully. I hope that call never comes. It is hard enough to live without my mother, I do not want to have to live without my sister as well.



Suicide is a major health issue in the United States. In 2007 (the most recent year statistics are available) suicide was the TENTH leading cause of death in the country. There are approximately 11 suicide deaths per 100,000 people in this country. And for every successful suicide, there are 11 unsuccessful attempts. That is a lot of people in a lot of pain.

    Research shows that risk factors for suicide include:

    * depression and other mental disorders, or a substance-abuse disorder (often in combination with other mental disorders). More than 90 percent of people who die by suicide have these risk factors
    * prior suicide attempt
    * family history of mental disorder or substance abuse
    * family history of suicide
    * family violence, including physical or sexual abuse
    * firearms in the home, the method used in more than half of suicides
    * incarceration
    * exposure to the suicidal behavior of others, such as family members, peers, or media figures

Source

If you are someone you love needs IMMEDIATE assistance with suicidal thoughts or behavior, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. Someone can answer your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also call Hopeline at 1-800-SUICIDE