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. I have attempted suicide six times now and awake intubated each angry and regretful that it didn’t work. I try to pull out the tube, yell angrily at the doctors and nurses for saving me. At that particular moment, I just don’t want to live. I usually end up being tied to the bed to prevent me from removing the lines and tubes. They sedate me further. Eventually, the effects of the drugs I had taken wear off and they can take out the tube and I can talk. I talk about my regret while at the same time apologising for what I have done. I tell my husband and family I love them and it is not them I wish to leave but rather I can’t handle the flashbacks anymore. The Complex PTSD just got too much and I became overwhelmed and suicide seemed to be the only way out. Now I feel desperately sad and guilty for what I have put them through.
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.
The Shame of a Suicide Attempt
So yes, all those looks of scorn, contempt, pity and embarrassment get internalized as shame over our suicide attempt. We feel like we’ve done something wrong. We feel like we’re bad. We feel humiliated. Believe me; we’re not proud of our actions that day. That is not a day we would like to hold up for the world to see. That is not the day for which we want to be remembered.
Getting Over the Shame of a Suicide Attempt
But look, you don’t have to feel that way.
Shame is defined in the World English Dictionary as, “a painful emotion resulting from an awareness of having done something dishonourable, unworthy, degrading, etc.” And it’s true that it is a painful emotion, no arguing that one, but I would argue that we haven’t done anything dishonourable, unworthy or degrading. A suicide attempt is a coping skill – albeit the worst of the bunch – that attempts to cope with unthinkable amounts of pain. And we should not be ashamed for trying our very best to deal with something the severity of which most people will never feel a tenth.
I’ve said before, people who attempt suicide don’t want to die; they just want to end the pain. And that’s what we wanted when we attempted suicide. We wanted an end to the pain and we attempted to end that pain in the best way we knew how in that moment. Suicide was logical, in that split second. And it doesn’t matter if no one else understands that logic – it was there, in that moment of extreme desperation.
Living with the Shame of a Suicide Attempt
So while we have to live with the aftermath of a suicide attempt and that may include looks of scorn and disdain from others, we do not have to internalize that shame. Others may think we should. Others may feel that we should punish ourselves for our choices. Others may feel we should hide what we’ve done.
I don’t believe this for a moment.
We’ve all done things that we’d rather forget but walking around with shame over them helps no one. And certainly suicide, a symptom of a real, medical, brain illness, isn’t something over which to feel shame. No one feels shame over other illnesses’ symptoms and nor should we. Our job is to do the best we can in every moment and hanging on to the shame of a past suicide attempt will harm our present and our future. It won’t help us heal from it or the illness we suffer.
And even though our suicide attempt may have caused pain to others (undoubtedly) we can’t beat ourselves up for that forever. No, this is the time to stand up, claim the past as our own, and move forward secure in the notion that we will make better choices tomorrow. Because, in the end, a suicide attempt can be an excellent learning opportunity, a reaffirmation of life and something that helps us grow – and there’s nothing to be ashamed of about that.