NOTE: If the topics of suicide and self-harm are triggers for you, I suggest you discontinue reading.
I hesitate writing this because it’s so personal, but having attempted suicide in the past is a part of my journey living with bipolar disorder. There have been times, even as recent as a few months ago, that I no longer wanted to live, though the intensity of this feeling varies. Now, when I have suicidal thoughts, I contact my psychiatrist and therapist immediately, and depending on how intense the thoughts are, I’m scheduled for ECT. But it wasn’t always that way.
I don’t know exactly how many times I’ve tried to kill myself because the attempts mostly happened in the mid-’90s, when my diagnosis was in its infancy and I was unstable, and which are hard for me to remember, probably because of ECT. I tried again in the 2000s, according to my husband, which was my last attempt.
Everybody’s experience is different; for me, the depression becomes a source of deep, emotional pain, and I want that pain to end. On occasion, I have cut my forearms to let that pain “bleed out.” If it turns into physical pain, the wounds heal. But guess what? The emotional ones are still there.
During certain periods of my life, I’ve wanted to end that pain permanently. The emotions wash over me in a black wave through which I can’t see or feel anything but the pain. I can’t see the people in my life who love me; I can’t feel their love. The depression compels me to end the pain, and so I try.
Other forms of suicide scared me, so I always tried to overdose on one of my medications. I naively imagined that I would just feel drowsy, fall asleep, and that would be the end of that. Except it never got to a point where I became unconscious. I’d get frightened and tell my then-husband or current husband what I did, and they would call for help. I genuinely wanted to die, but after taking the pills and having some time to think, I couldn’t go through with it.
The last time I remember being in the ER for this was what made me stop deliberately ODing on my meds. It hasn’t stopped the suicidal thoughts, but it has definitely kept me from trying to kill myself again.
I guess they never did this during my past suicide attempts because I hadn’t taken enough medication, but the last time I was in the ER, the nurses told me to drink this mixture made up of black powder that they called activated charcoal. It was in a 16-ounce styrofoam cup (I’m a coffee addict, so I recognized the size). It was supposed to neutralize the medication I’d ingested, or something like that. It looked like a shiny, black milkshake, and had a similar consistency. The picture on the right is the closest thing I could find, except imagine it much thicker.
I refused. It looked as gross as it sounds. They repeatedly tried to make me drink it, and I repeatedly refused. Finally, they said that if I didn’t drink it, they would pump my stomach. That sounded worse, so I held my breath and drank the nastiness called activated charcoal. All 16 ounces.
Because it was so thick, I couldn’t gulp it down all at once. It took a while, and it was disgusting. I gagged, had black stains down the front of my hospital gown, and black liquid drying in the corners of my mouth. I can’t remember if I vomited (probably the goal), but I also can’t forget the experience of drinking that stuff. It has certainly kept me from ODing again.
This isn’t to say that I may not attempt suicide nor have suicidal thoughts in the future. But since then, when I have felt like killing myself, that activated charcoal experience comes to mind. So far, it’s kept me from acting on my thoughts. Knowing that I have a family who loves me also keeps me from acting on my thoughts. As I said, I contact my psychiatrist and therapist immediately, before that black wave washes over me and I forget about everyone and everything but myself.
Photo 1 via Visual hunt