By now you know that I like to open up topics w stories. Gonna share some
of mine, in full detail, to open up this topic for September’s theme abt
suicide prevention. But before, let’s set the table:
Approximately 1 mill ppl per yr die by suicide, globally. In the US it’s
~45k/yr. That’s a 30yr high. Perhaps the more astounding stat is: in the
US there are more than 1.4 mill attempts/yr. That’s over 30 attempts per
death by suicide. We don’t have all those #s for all countries, globally,
but if you assume a similar ratio, that means there are 30 mill+ suicide
attempts arnd the world/yr.
Consider that #: 30 million!! That doesn’t come close to including all the
ppl whose MH suffers each yr. And yet still, this topic stays hush hush,
ppl are afraid to talk abt it, & often when fam members/close friends die
by suicide, there’s shame as if this person did something wrong that we
should cover up.
For so long, the terminology used was “committed suicide”…the same
terminology used when we talked abt the action someone took when they
engaged in a crime (fortunately the MH community has moved, pretty
universally, to “died by suicide” so as not to place blame).
The common misconception is that a person (in all cases of suicide) decides
– “well things are tough, I just broke-up from someone I loved… or lost
my job (a tough situational change), I’m just going to end it all.” That’s
NOT how suicide happens in most cases. W/ so many who’ve attempted,
unsuccessfully, we have a large group to ask what was going through their
head, what it felt like, & quite frankly what to study.
I’m one of those ppl. While I’ve never made an attempt at my life, I’ve
felt the awful effects of suicidal IDEATIONS (a term we must get more
I believe (in most cases – from my own experience & hearing first-hand from
so many others), that suicidal ideations come about when the brain
“breaks.” This will make more sense as I explain.
After 2.5 of trying over 50 diff psychotropic drug combos, unsuccessfully,
it was recommended I try TMS therapy (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation)
where they shoot waves into your brain to try to start up areas that have
been dormant. On my 23 treatment, in 25 days (~45 min each session), I felt
like I broke. I couldn’t fall asleep.
This inability to sleep lasted for abt 3 straight nights, at which point I
remember looking at a full bottle of pills on my counter & having these
thoughts – I HAVE to swallow those pills. If you remember the movie Naked
Gun, when Reggie Jackson was in the outfield & there was a devise on his
neck directing him that he “MUST Kill The Queen”…well for me it was like
that devise was connected to me telling me – I “MUST swallow those pills.”
I tried to fight the urges. I actually sat on my hands on my bed, so that
my hands couldn’t reach the pill bottle to grab them & down all of them.
Now to those who have never experienced this – you’re probably like, what
do you mean – just don’t do it if you don’t want.
If only it were that simple. When you get these urges – it’s like that
brain break. You have part of you that knows you don’t want to do it. Knows
death is the last thing you want. (trigger warning): And yet, you feel
helpless to it’s calling. Like a magnetic pull to whatever it is – pills, a
gun, a bridge…if you’ve played w a magnet, even when you try to separate
it, if it’s strong enough, it attaches together tightly.
Fortunately for me, I had family around & had the wherewithal to ask that
they take me immediately to the psych ward at Cornell Med in the city. I
felt helpless to that magnetic pull & despite my fear of the concept of
entering a “psych ward” (a place I’d only seen in movies), I knew it was
the only place I’d be safe. I’ll do a whole other post on the psych ward
experience (not to be believed), but for the purposes of this month’s
awareness campaign, how does one get “there”? What brings about these
ideations & why are they so strong? Here’s my theory…& until a
neuroscientist can prove, in the brain, how ideations come about,
differently than this, I’m gonna stick w this lived experience, explanation.
I’ve done this in every room I’ve presented (where they’ve allowed me to
talk about suicide) & there’s not been a person who’s come up to me & said
– no, that’s never happened to me. So here goes: even if for 1/16th of one
second, is there a single person reading this who hasn’t had a thought like
one of these, come into their mind at some point in their life: 1) you’re
at the edge of a building & wonder what it’d feel like falling off of it,
2) you ride over a bridge & wonder what would it’d be like if your car lost
control & went over the side, 3) you’re driving in the left lane going
65mph, as a yellow divider line only, separates you from someone going the
opposite direction, same speed & you wonder what would happen if one of us
veered left, 4) you’re standing on a train platform & as a train comes by,
you wonder – what would happen if I stuck my leg out as it came by.
We are curious beings. Take something more benign like walking past a
closed door – don’t most of us wonder, what’s behind that door? In the same
way, w the examples above, we wonder – we see these things all the time. We
watch them in the news & even on cartoons. They are thoughts & questions we
HAVE. But in a brain where stress & trauma build to a certain point…a
brain that “breaks”…instead of these thoughts staying in our mind for
1/16th of one second, they get stuck, going down the wrong thought track in
our brains, & they play over-&-over again, in a thought loop.
Why is this not so far fetched? We are beings that developed through
survival of the fittest to – survive. In a positive sense, don’t we all get
urges that get “stuck” in our brains that don’t leave our brain until we
actually do them? A survival need to eat, to drink, a need to take care of
a child, a need to protect another person, heck a need to down a full glass
of water/Gatorade/OJ, when we wake up hungover or with a parched mouth.
If we have developed those tracks in our brain – for survival, that play
things over on loops – bc we NEED to do them, in order to survive, then why
is it hard to believe that thoughts that we ALREADY have in our brain
(those creative thoughts mentioned above), could go down these other tracks
(the wrong tracks for them).
They’re ones that – usually play on repeat for survival, & essentially
signals/wires crossing, cause those of us who develop ideations – to feel
the NEED to accomplish them. It only makes sense to me. We are wired for
survival, but when things go wrong & stress & trauma rewire us, why
wouldn’t it be that this system backfired on us? It happens in our bodies
all the time in other areas? Think about cell mitosis & how that can work
against us when they replicate too much.
Look, I’m not saying there aren’t some cases where a major incident upsets
someone, they are “sad” & they wonder what’s the point of moving forward.
But bc we lose so many who “had it all” & who “you never would have
thought,” doesn’t this “brain break” & “track switch” & “survival mechanism
gone wrong” make more sense? If so – even if partially true – it’s time we
stopped putting blame on those we lose to suicide. I can tell you from
talking to so many who have survived attempts – they felt like their mind
was taken over & they didn’t actually want to die. We have to open up &
discuss this. Too many lives are being lost unnecessarily when there seems
to be a commonality in how it all takes place.