Suicide Prevention and Chronic Illness

Today is #WorldSuicidePreventionDay, an important topic which affects everyone regardless of gender, race, social status, age, sexual orientation, etc. Of course, in some of these subsets, the liklihood of suicide can increase. For instance, according to www.yspp.com, "More than 30% of LGBTQ youth report at least one suicide attempt within the last year" while this article from usatoday.com says research shows that four out of 10 transgender people attempt to kill themselves. Additionally, Eva Musby has written that suicide risk is several times higher for those with an eating disorder.

Suicide prevention is important for everyone and affects everyone. While I sometimes had trouble with "awareness" type campaigns, I do feel that talking about mental health issues and bringing them to the forefront of conversations can lesson the stigma attached to them and, hopefully, encourage people to reach out and seek help.

With that said, I started thinking about suicide and chronic illness. Until earlier this year, when I read about the tragedy of Tina Tournant (which I reflected upon here), I had not heard anything mentioned regarding the two. And that, to be honest, was a surprise to me. Because though I've dealt with an eating disorder and depression, some of my worst struggles with suicidal thoughts occured when I was very sick with my chronic illness.

I remember literally watching, from my bed, a year go by. Day after day after day. My favorite, Fall (in which I didn't get to sit outside and drink tea) falling to Winter (in which I couldn't go out and romp in snow), and then Winter turning to Spring (no planting flowers or romping with my dogs), then Spring to Summer (where I continued to lie in bed with the window open, listening to children play along the street beneath me). And then, of course, Summer dropping -- once again -- into the crisp Fall I couldn't enjoy.

The life I had was gone. I was sleeping for 20 hours a day. I wasn't me anymore. I was literally too tired to laugh. Too tired to stay awake through an entire movie. I forgot family birthdays and things my husband had said to me just 2 minutes prior because of my brain fog. And, fuuuuck, the guilt I felt about everything was excruitating. My poor dog never getting to go on walks, the stress on my husband who had to care for me, the dirty house because that was what fell to the wayside (along with everything else, of course). How is a life a life when you have a chronic illness? It destroys me just thinking about it. And I remember thinking, "If this is the kind of life I'm going to have forever, where I am so fatigued I can't even participate in living let alone function, then I honestly don't know what is the point."

Sometimes I tell people I'm alive today because I've been too stubborn to die thus far. And it's true.

During that time of incapacitation, though, I rediscovered my love for photography. It was, honestly, the only thing I could do. I was too tired to read. Too tired to knit. Too tired to watch TV. But I could see something in my room, a shaft of light, and snap a photo. (And then sleep for 5 hours afterward because it was that exhausting. But I did it.)

Photography helped me realize that, even though every other part of me was ill -- my body and my mind and my heart -- my spirit wasn't. There was a quote I found one day, which I would repeat to myself over and over, "There is sickness here, but I am not sick." I loved this quote because it was true. My soul was not sick. Nor would it ever be.

Such things don't make suicidal thoughts go away, of course, but they help. And they gave me the hope to seek help, too. To let people know that these kinds of thoughts were running through my head. To speak to my therapist and to other people who deal with dysautonomia and chronic illnesses. And to, ultimately, be honest and say, Yes -- I can personally attest to suicidal thoughts and chronic illness.

I wish I could have met Tina, though. I wish I could have hugged her and told her that I understood how tired she was fighting the fight. I wish she and I could have taken a break together for a few days or weeks or months -- just stopped fighting and let ourselves be angry and pissed off and grieve for our old lives -- before considering getting up and trying again. Maybe this time leaning a bit more on our families, speaking with a doctor, or practicing being more gentle with ourself.

Or, at the very least, I wish I could have told her that I understood why she felt the way I think she did.

So, here's the thing. I understand how tired you are fighting the fight. It's ok to take a break and be angry and pissed and grieve for your old life -- I will do it along with you. I understand why and, yes, there is sickness here. A whole entire and new and different and frustrating life, but we are not sick.

"I have watched as huge swaths of my abilities have calved like chunks of ice falling from a glacier into the sea. My circle of friends has shrunk, the role I used to play in family life has diminished dramatically... my sense of myself erodes in parallel and I mourn those bits and pieces as I would the loss of a loved one. However, there is one aspect of the self that even my disease cannot touch and that is the soul... And that is where hope lives; not a naıve hope that I will, by some miracle, have my former self restored, but hope that tomorrow, and the day after, can still be days from which a measure of joy and meaning can be derived. And from hope springs optimism that, even with great limitations, there is life to be lived.” - from “Finding Hope in the Midst of Despair: My Decade With Parkinson’s Disease and Lewy Body Dementia” by Dr. Thomas B. Graboys

Other people might not fully understand our struggle and battle, but we do. Let's fight together. Let's talk. Let's seek help.

Love,

S

www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org