No room in the inn: Suicide survivors’ social, and emotional, wasteland

by Jeanene Harlick | December 23, 2015 10:27 am

I won’t be celebrating much this Christmas – even though I know I should. And the New Year will bring me no hope for fresh starts, resolute changes, nor a healthier life. Such hopes started dying long ago, and were permanently extinguished October 23, when I tried to take my life in a way I never thought I could.

The worst part is: I survived.

Let me tell you something about surviving a violent suicide attempt that nobody will. You don’t feel grateful you’re alive, or that you survived for a reason which suddenly returns purpose to your life. It doesn’t bring into sharp focus the things which really matter – you never cared about superficial ambitions in the first place.

The problems which drove you to be one of the .5 percent of people who go from thinking about pulling the trigger1, or dropping off the subway ledge, to actually doing it –  don’t just magically disappear if you survive. No, if I was going to give anyone a reason not to kill themselves it wouldn’t be some lie like, “This is temporary; you’re going to feel better,” or “You have a bright future, things will work out.” I’d tell the suicidal person not to pull the trigger because life afterwards – physically and mentally, at least in my experience – is even shittier than it was before. Because the fact is – as much as you’d rather not hear it, during this jolly holiday season – we live in a shitty and unfair world, and the promises presidential candidates are selling you about reducing income inequality, or so-and-so prejudice, are as illusory as the commercials which tie happiness and the American dream to a good-looking car.

Two months ago, confronting the force of my powerlessness and lack of agency in this fundamentally unjust world, I jumped off the roof of my apartment building. I broke bones and joints in every part of my body. I shattered my jaw and incurred fractures throughout my skull. I may never have full use of certain limbs again; the bones throughout my body are now tied together with metal rods and screws. Where once I was average looking, my face is deformed. I’m missing too many teeth to count, or chew, and have lost significant weight. I spent a month in the hospital undergoing a series of painful surgeries, and the past month sitting in a nursing home – a 41-year-old among elderly people, waiting desperately for my bones to heal enough to allow me to return home.

And there’s not a fu—ing person to talk to, who really gets what I – or anyone with a similar experience – is going through, if you survive the gun shot, or the jump. You search for support groups – and there’s  a multitude for family members of suicide victims. But for survivors? None. Because we’re the bad ones, the selfish and cowardly ones; we’re the social taboo that nobody wants to talk about because we speak – loudly – the reality of this American life.

And so you curse yourself for not having gotten the job done right in the first place.

There are many myths about traumatic suicide, as well as surviving it. One is that suicide is primarily a problem of the mentally ill; the second is that surviving leaves you thankful, reinvigorated by epiphanies that your life does have meaning and purpose, that you do have things to live for, and that your future’s full of hope. I feel none of those things. On the contrary, life following my attempt – thus far – is exponentially worse. I feel lost, and meaning and purpose of any kind is elusive.

The experience of physical trauma, intolerable pain, malfunctioning organs, oozing body parts, catheters, complete immobility, and a face swollen the size of a pumpkin has left me wondering whether existence is no more than the random interaction of cells and neurons, whether I’m really just a pile of flesh and bones stripped of what was always an imaginary, culturally-constructed soul.

The surfeit of passion I once had for so many things – the force which, in actuality (not my so-called “mental illness”) has driven the trajectory of my life, including the walk up my apartment stairs two months ago – is gone.

I’d like – and at first I thought I would – to believe my survival is proof that maybe what everyone’s been telling me for years is true – that I’ve got so much to offer”; that I’m “talented” and “here for a reason”; that I’m “special” and “loved” in a way many aren’t because of my “unique” heart and mind.

But I just don’t feel it and don’t know that I ever will. I don’t feel amazed at the body’s ability to heal or survive nor confirmed it’s a brilliantly-designed machine marking evidence of some higher order. All I feel is that my life is now more irreparably messed up than ever – but worse, because I’ve caused my family unspeakable agony and pain, ruined their Christmas, and become an even greater financial and emotional burden than I was before that October night. And that burden was already very heavy.

Suicide – and there is now an abundance of evidence to support this – is fundamentally a socio-political problem, and I’m tired of people blaming my head or genes for my problems when it’s prejudice, stigma, classicism, poverty, agism, and being denied the simple dignity of making an honest living, no matter how many resumes I send out, that made me jump off the roof. Not some DSM-V label.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the belief that suicide is confined to the mentally ill is one of the top myths2 about this complicated and growing “epidemic” – America’s most “untamed” cause of death, according to a 2013 Newsweek article3. The reality is many people who die by suicide have never been diagnosed with a mental disorder and – vice-versa – many people who have been so-labeled do not experience suicidal thoughts or behavior4.

Some people, including mental health professionals, like to say suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Well, that is bullshit. For many of us living with socio-economic or psychological distress – or both – suicide is a permanent solution to a permanent problem. It is our only path to peace, and dignity.

When Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old woman with incurable brain cancer took her life a year ago, most didn’t fault her for ending an existence which was heading from bad to far worse. Suicide is no different for people like me – why should we not have the same right-to-die as a person battling something as painful and excruciating as Maynard? Because I can guarantee you – the psychological, financial and moral anguish I experience about my inability to obtain work; the ceaseless burden I am to my family; my suffocating loneliness; and that society’s prejudice blocks my ability to earn a paycheck and contribute to this world – is the emotional equivalent of dying a slow and agonizing death.

Due to financial circumstances and my sole income being SSDI, I am in urgent need of aid to pay for costs related to my ongoing rehabilitation, particularly dental repair. My injuries are so severe and complicated that not even my long-time, excellent dentist can help me; he has been forced to refer me to an oral surgeon who will not – as my dentist was – be willing to repair my jaw and injured teeth at little or no cost. Given my history of anorexia, my continued inability to chew is significantly impeding my recovery. If you feel moved by this difficult-to-pen article – which I was very hesitant to share – or find it illuminating, and are in the position to give – please consider donating at my GoFundMe[1] site. Please also consider sharing this post via social media.

  1. GoFundMe: http://gofundme.com/pbg2kyvc

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