Five Years Since My Suicide Attempt, My Life Is Filled With Love
Isn’t it sad that I couldn’t think of anything to write about today? After all, I’ve written something for mariashriver.com every year around this time — ever since October 26, 2012 — and it’s always come easily.
October 26, 2012, is when I tried to kill myself, and since then I’ve written about the day I took the pills and the hospital stay that followed. I’ve written about my diagnosis of bipolar disorder and my adventures — both pharmaceutical and in the therapist’s chair — managing it. I’ve written about being pissed off at how many people kill themselves.
What is there new to say?
Let’s check the statistics, I thought. Maybe there’s something interesting there. Maybe suicide is on the decline and I can write about the lessening of the stigma around mental illness. Maybe fewer teenagers and veterans and middle-aged people are killing themselves.
Man, was I wrong.
The gut punches came fast. The overall suicide rate rose 24 percent in 15 years. For boys age 15 to 19 it rose 30 percent; for girls in the same age group it doubled. For girls 10 to 14, the suicide rate tripled. Let that sink in: The suicide rate of little girls tripled.
And there is a general consensus that the stigma attached to suicide results in underreporting, so the numbers are likely low.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control tracks these things, and in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, 44,193 Americans killed themselves. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
Statistics are dry and can dull the shock that comes from them. It’s easy when looking at numbers on a spreadsheet to lose sight of the lives they represent.
Those people who killed themselves in 2015 – what do 44,193 people look like?
It’s about the population of Palm Springs, Calif. It’s more than the average attendance at St. Louis Cardinals games that year. And it’s about how many people went to the Rolling Stones concert in Atlanta in June 2015. That many, year after year, gone.
My friend Shane is 18, and over the summer I was helping him get organized before he moved away to school. I put together to-do lists for him of calls to make and forms to fill out.
“You sure do like your lists,” he said with the smirk teenagers deploy at middle-aged people when they aren’t rolling their eyes at us, and he was right. Lists help me remember things I might otherwise forget. They help unclutter a cluttered mind. I make grocery lists and bills-to-pay lists. I also carry on my phone a written “safety plan,” with lists of my own suicide warning signs and coping strategies.
Shane and his joke about my list-making came to mind the other day as I sat with a legal pad and scribbled some of my experiences in the five years since October 2012.
I’ve traveled, thrown dinner parties and settled into a satisfying new career. I’ve laughed and argued with my husband. I’ve spent countless hours in a therapist’s office. I love and am loved.
It overwhelms me as I type – the thought of missing it all. I want five more years and then another five and five after that, but I know I have to work for it. The suicide impulse is part of my wiring and I accept its annoying presence, but I manage in spite of it. With my medicine and arsenal of coping tools, I shoo the impulse away. I manage. I must.
Many people in pain don’t know there are ways past it other than death. I didn’t know it five years ago but I do now. And it occurs to me just this second that if there’s to be value in my life since October 26, 2012, and beyond, it isn’t only about the experiences that fill up my own time.
No, the value must also come from the repeating again and again and again of the message — There is another way. There is help. Don’t do it. Listen to me. I know.
The National Institute of Mental Health lays out five “Action Steps for Helping Someone in Emotional Pain.” Don’t be afraid to use them.
- Ask: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” It’s not an easy question but studies show that asking at-risk individuals if they are suicidal does not increase suicides or suicidal thoughts.
- Keep them safe: Reducing a suicidal person’s access to highly lethal items or places is an important part of suicide prevention. While this is not always easy, asking if the at-risk person has a plan and removing or disabling the lethal means can make a difference.
- Be there: Listen carefully and learn what the individual is thinking and feeling. Findings suggest acknowledging and talking about suicide may, in fact, reduce rather than increase suicidal thoughts.
- Help them connect: Save the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s number in your phone so it’s there when you need it: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also help make a connection with a trusted individual like a family member, friend, spiritual advisor, or mental health professional.
- Stay Connected: Staying in touch after a crisis or after being discharged from care can make a difference. Studies have shown the number of suicide deaths goes down when someone follows up with the at-risk person.
About the Author: Clay Russell is a writer, raconteur, news junkie, world traveler and husband. He prides himself on his non-linear life path. He has been a professional chef, shoe salesman and private investigator, and he spent seven years deep in California state government. Clay lives with his husband and two cats in rural Mississippi, where he gardens and swats mosquitoes.