I believe that being suicidal is not the same thing as simply wanting to die. Of course, if you’re suicidal, you do want to die (or, more specifically, to end your pain through death) but, if you simply want to die, you may not be actively suicidal. Please understand that wanting to die and being suicidal are both serious and dangerous, but I would suggest they are not the same.
I have heard from many people who are suicidal and want to die by accident. I guess “wanting to die by accident” may sound weird to some people but I totally get it. I have been one of these people myself. I envisioned myself dying in service to another – doing something incredibly brave that would end my life so that another could live. At least then people would view my death in a positive light and didn’t other people deserve to live more than me anyway?
What it comes down to is that these suicidal people don’t want to take their own lives (for many reasons such as family and friends) but they do feel they want to die and they feel an accident is the way to do that.
I’ve written about suicide a lot and on those threads I hear it all the time: “I’m too much of a coward to kill myself,” or, “I wish I were braver so I could commit suicide.”
I understand these thoughts and I think they’re very common and normal. When you’re in unbearable pain, it feels like suicide is necessary. And if you’re not achieving a necessary thing, you feel like a failure. And because of the nature of suicide – because it is scary – people feel like the reason they are “failing” is because they are a coward.
This is not true, however. Cowardice has nothing to do with killing yourself or living. You are not a coward for not killing yourself.
Last year, I wrote an article on psychomotor agitation at HealthyPlace. Psychomotor agitation (or retardation) is a symptom of bipolar (and unipolar) depression as well as hypomania/mania and very little information about it is available (in spite of the fact that it is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illness (DSM-5)).
Most definitions for psychomotor agitation include the words, “inner restlessness.” I don’t know about you, but “inner restlessness” reminds me of a 22-year-old who can’t find himself and so is backpacking across the country. It really doesn’t sound like a mental illness symptom – let alone like a serious one.
I was having breakfast with a friend of mine the other day and the topic of her suicide attempt came up. She attempted suicide years ago at a very low point in her bipolar disorder. And what she said was, she found herself very upset about it presently, even though it was years ago. She said she never dealt with her suicide attempt and now that was hurting her.
I understand. I think many of us don’t deal with the realities of a suicide attempt. I think many of us what to put our suicide attempts behind us so badly, that we just push them away without ever considering how deeply something like that scars us.
For my own part, I know what I’ve done with my suicide attempt. I’ve rationalized it. I’ve intellectualized my suicide attempt as “passive” and “not a real attempt” (since my chances of truly dying were low) and this has allowed me to, well, pretty much ignore it. But will that technique come to haunt me one day?
I have attempted suicide. This is not a fact that I wish to wear on my sleeve. This is not a fact a want on my resume. This is a fact that I wish was shoved in a trunk, thrown in a closet and locked away for all eternity.
And I think that most people who have attempted suicide feel the same way. There are many reasons you might want to forget but one of them is the shame associated with a suicide attempt. Many people around you and you, yourself, might consider attempting suicide shameful.
We get the notion of shame from those around us. Imagine looks of scorn if someone happens to belong to a religious community that considers suicide a sin and has no compassion for those who have attempted it. Imagine embarrassed parents forbidding their children to wear short sleeves so that the scars on their wrists are never seen. Imagine the person arriving home from the hospital, after a suicide attempt, not to a welcome home party but to pained silences and looks of pity and contempt. These are the realities that people who have attempted suicide face. And do we feel shame about what we’ve done? Many of us do.
I have written a lot about what to do before, during and after a suicide attempt. I guess that’s because the people who read my work are the survivors and the loved ones, mostly, of suicide survivors.
But there’s a very underserved community in conjunction with suicide and that is the loved ones left behind by suicide. They are suicide survivors too. These people are left with a void. These people are left with a hole in their hearts and a hole in the information that’s available. But there are things I think you should know if your loved one commits suicide.
Depression is many things to many people. The common perception of depression is that you’re “just” really sad all the time, and while this is true for many who suffer depression, this is not a universal norm. Some people don’t feel sad, per se, they feel nothing; they feel dead inside.
In short: yes, you can die from bipolar disorder.
Now, I know, many people would disagree with me on this, after all, bipolar disorder doesn’t produce a tumour in your body that will eventually kill you, it doesn’t create plaque in your arteries to eventually kill you and it doesn’t spread a virus through your cells to eventually kill you. I know, bipolar is not like that.
But, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), suicide takes over 35,000 lives a year in the United States and many of these are our brothers and sisters with bipolar disorder. You think that suicide isn’t the same thing as death by bipolar disorder? Think again.
About three years ago I attempted suicide. It’s a long story but it involves a doctor denying me access to healthcare. I’m still alive; so I guess I got lucky.
But the question is, now, three years and many treatments later, am I still suicidal?
I’m sorry to say, the answer is, “yes.”