Suicide. What an awful combination of letters that manage to hold such unbearable pain.
Three weeks ago, I sat in my therapist’s office and the words, “I can’t get what I did out of my head,” rattle off my tongue. I’ve attempted suicide before, self-harm has been a vicious cycle in my life no matter how extensive the measure. After being out of residential treatment for over a month now, I’ve had a lot more time to center my life around other things beyond my wellness. Being so treatment oriented these past few years have definitely clinicalized my life a lot. R.D. Laing even writes, “Science often scandalizes our experiences.”
“Science often scandalizes our experiences.”R.D. Laing
I think that being treated and supported in the context of someone with mental illness often makes normal human experiences become scandalized phenomenons. Normal worries about life circumstances translate to anxiety symptoms in a psychiatrist’s room. Irritability suddenly carries more depth than just having a pet peeve when disclosing things to a therapist. While I am grateful for the affirming work my treatment team does for me, being in treatment and under medication for so long has become my new “norm”. It feels like I am always looking for a problem to address, process, or medicate. When things become calm, suddenly it feels like I lack insight because my baseline for chaos has been high.
Now that I’ve been focussing on things that are more life-giving and affirming, I’ve had time to reflect on this past year more thoughtfully. One thing that has come about is the impact of a suicide attempt. Not just on me, but those around me. I think that having had the privilege to immerse myself in treatment, it’s very much centered my life just around me. But there is so much more to the way we are than who we are. The people around us teach us how we want to be loved. Our relationships teach us the boundaries we need to set. Humans are very relational and to think that the choices we make don’t transcend past us would be naive.
When I used to reflect on suicide attempts, I would often think about all the things I would’ve missed out on had I not survived. All the dreams left unfulfilled. The youthwork I’d never get to do. It was a very individualistic perspective, but now my worldview is a lot wider. I’m seeing how the people I love and that love me would be affected. You have to believe you are loved to be able to accept love. This has helped guide me into seeing that my pain has been connected. What I go through, my family and friends also go through-in that they bear witness to the pain and therefore experience parts of it too.
I started crying as I shared these new insights to my therapist. I told her, “I’m so mad that I have insight because that means that I know I can’t attempt suicide again. I don’t have a free pass anymore.” She tells me, “Michelle, maybe you’re beginning to see that you don’t get a free pass because you’ve never had one.” This life we’ve got, it may sometimes be a hard one, but it’s the only life we’ve got and maybe that’s the best part.
I ask my therapist what do I do now that I’ve realized the magnitude of my suicidal actions, especially the trauma it’s caused for my family, especially my brother. I half-joke that I should go on an apology tour. My therapist says, “Sometimes the best way to apologize isn’t to say ‘I’m sorry’ but to let someone witness your growth despite your mistakes.”
I’m learning to apologize less-1, by making more thoughtful decisions, but also by learning to hold gratitude over shame since apologies can often hold guilt. I say thank you more than sorry.
My life hasn’t necessarily radically changed or shifted, but my perspective has and it’s made the living a lot more meaningful and affirming. I’m beginning to see how my life is so much bigger than just me, but it’s also so much smaller than us-so take things with a grain of salt. Don’t hold pain in forever and don’t hold it alone either.
Suicide might not be my “free pass” anymore, but this life is my opportunity to live therefore I will do it with newfound thoughtfulness, grace, and reckless imagination for the future. Not just for me, but us because our lives are so much greater together than they are apart.