Content warning: suicide, suicidal ideation, and even discussion of an attempt
The way we experience the world is nothing more than the sum of our brain chemicals–and at any given moment, these chemicals could go awry, affecting how we perceive the world. Through zero fault of our own, a jarring shift in our perspective of the world upends our current sense of safety and security. According to NAMI, 1 in 5 adults are afflicted with a mental illness of some kind. 3.9% of the adult population in the year of 2015 reported experiencing suicidal thoughts. While it’s not mentioned what percentage of those are the result of mental illness and what percentage are the result of situational, I’m going to concentrate on those who experience thoughts due to mental illness because I still do not think it is as understood as it should be. Any time I see neurotypicals speak of suicide as a result of losing a loved one to it, it’s generally in the context of a vague situation–and frankly, I don’t want proselytizing about the beauty of life from someone who has never been paralyzed by plans bulleting through your mind. Or even from someone who wanted to kill themselves because of a divorce or some other situational event. They’re not the same. I would know, as I almost went through a divorce last year. I was able to talk my way out of those feelings, but I can’t do it when I’m suicidal because of my bipolar.
My first real attempt occurred during a bipolar mixed episode, where I was both manic and depressed at the same time. I was feeling intense despair at the loss of my hypomania the day before and also intense despair in general, especially because I could not understand what was happening to me. At the time, I didn’t see an end to it. Despite all the self-awareness in the world (I have been told numerous times in various hospitalizations I am unusually self-aware), that was not enough to act as a shield against my brain pummeling me with suicidal thoughts. It was not enough to keep my glands from secreting suicidal hormones. The feeling was quite terrifying, and in that moment I was planning what to do.
What would be the most painless way for me to go?
No painless ways exist. I researched it years prior. I think there is one painless way, but it would have required ordering some strange things off Amazon.
So I decided to drink myself to death. I was already familiar with vomiting from drinking too much, so it couldn’t have been much worse than that. That was from three drinks with 40% alcohol. Keep in mind, I don’t drink that often, so I don’t have any resistance built up in me.
Now if I recall, my choice of poison was a vodka that was 50% alcohol. I ended up drinking like five mixed drinks with more than a shot’s worth in each one. I also had a lesser percentage after the five, just to finish up an older bottle. I really thought that would do me in considering my low tolerance. At the very least, I thought I’d throw up. A few months prior, I took like three shots of fireball back to back and was laid out by the toilet, so surely 50% alcohol was going to do something to me.
So I waited.
And all I got was drunk; I also had to go to the bathroom quite often.
Other than that, I didn’t vomit or even feel nauseated.
Turns out mania makes you more tolerant to alcohol, meaning you have to drink more to get drunk. It’s likely due to the increased metabolism, which made me drop twenty pounds without trying over the 6 month time period I was rapid cycling (let’s be honest, I really only wanted to drop 5 lbs.).
Anyway, did I mention I was alone during this whole trying-to-die affair? Well I was, at least until my husband came home and I admitted what I tried to do–either that or I half-lied. I don’t remember. What I do remember is staying in bed and him checking up on me. I also remember thinking about how ambivalent I was that I didn’t succeed. I might have been somewhat disappointed. It’s not like I was any less suicidal and had become filled with a renewed sense of thankfulness for the overabundance of dopamine that kept the alcohol from doing me in.
That’s not how bipolar disorder works. That’s not how any mental illness works.
I hate empty platitudes directed toward the mentally ill who are either suicidal or have attempted suicide before.
In all my time of being suicidal, it has never helped to know people love me. I know that, but I am not some thing that exists for the enjoyment of others, to have my joyless existence (when I’m ill) feasted upon until I’m a husk who cannot enjoy life because she has no energy from being so exhausted living for other people. To all of the neurotypicals out there, you might think you’re being helpful by insinuating that if we cannot live for ourselves, we should live for others, but you’re not. Living for others is exhausting. Your brain will just not let you see the good in life, which is why medication exists in the first place. When you’re mentally ill, suicidal feelings are also not a choice, a flotation device you choose to grab on to when life simply becomes too much. I didn’t just think, ‘Gee, suicide sounds great right about now to put an end to this bipolar nonsense.’ The feelings hit my head like a wrecking ball the morning I woke up feeling overwhelmingly confused about where my head was.
So am I in favor of suicidal people being able to euthanize themselves then? Absolutely not! When you are suicidal, you are not in your correct frame of mind. None of your thoughts are rational. That’s why it’s important for suicidal people to never be left alone because that’s all you can do is keep a suicidal person safe. Like depressive peaks, suicidal thoughts aren’t forever, even if they feel like they are.
You can be depressed every single day of your life and never experience a single suicidal feeling. It takes a particular toxic chemical mixture to elicit suicidal thoughts, and once that mixture has either settled down or the right chemical has been added or removed, the thoughts do just go away in a snap. Thoughts of self-harm are much the same way. Why do I want to hurt myself? I don’t know. Mental illness in itself is not rational.
It has also never helped to know that I have a future. Yeah, okay, I know that, but I don’t care in the moment because I feel freaking miserable. There is nothing in the world that can outweigh the misery of mental illness. And please spare me the sentiment that I just need to keep getting up every day and keep trying. What do you think I have been doing? While a lot of people don’t like the label, I am high functioning, but it doesn’t make my illness any less severe. In fact, it arguably makes it more severe because I’ll be pushing myself to do things I shouldn’t be doing. I won’t take mental health days, even when I know I should.
Inevitably, all that pushing lands me in the hospital sooner or later.
I simply won’t mentally care for myself because my perfectionist streak makes it somehow seem a sin that I stay in bed all day, only getting up to use the restroom.
Also, keep trying? As we speak, even though I’m currently at baseline, I have been rapid cycling some time since near the end of last year, probably the middle of fall or something. I thought it was my period, but to my displeasure, my pdoc revealed it wasn’t. Now I’ll be back on the med merry go round again.
Neurotypicals with their empty platitudes will never understand what that’s like, to think you have found your golden ratio, only to be battered with the realization it’s not enough AND it’s also causing health issues. I mean, I started out on a med that made me crazy manic, and then got put on another med that made me hypomanic, but went unnoticed until I crashed into depression three months later, and then got put on a med that gave me awful panic attacks, and finally switched to a new doc who put me on Lamictal, which worked for three years before stopping for good.
That’s the thing. I depend solely on medication to keep me balanced. Bipolar disorder is not one that can go without. There are those who try to manage without using meds, but they still have plenty of episodes. And those who claim they’ve stopped meds and haven’t had problems since? They were either misdiagnosed, are lying, or eventually slip into a depressive or manic episode.
My rapid cycling likely isn’t as severe this go around because I do have Lithium and Depakote racing through me. But here’s the thing: They can’t be increased. Lithium has most likely given me hypothyroidism while I apparently have Depakote toxicity or something. My skin is dry, I have dandruff, my hair looks like Hagrid when unstyled, I’m pretty sure my cycle has either been disturbed or has stopped altogether, I have gained weight that kind of makes me hate my body (for my comfort, I always have to make a point of saying I’m not overweight), and I might have some digestive problems. Who knows?
I am not bitter about the hand I was dealt, despite sounding it. I am a realist who despises inspirational quotes, financial advisors, and life coaches–especially all of the aforementioned who have published trite books. They never consider that life is sometimes so horrifically abysmal and impossible that no amount of “advice” is going to fix the nightmare that is your life because sometimes no matter how hard you try, how hard you fight, life is unkind at the best of times and an absolute Karen at the worst. But keep in mind I said sometimes. So telling me my life is in my hands, solely to do what I please with, is unhelpful.
Mental illness robs you of any control you have over your life. Medication gives it back, but certain mental illnesses will need a rotating cast of it.
Today I still look at my attempt and feel absolutely disconnected from it. I don’t mourn my decision. I don’t revel in the outcome, grateful I didn’t die. I don’t chastise myself for doing something so foolish, promising that I’ll never do it again. Truth be told, I am terrified that any future attempts will be future successes. Or future attempts will land me in the hospital. Not all psychiatric units treat you kindly once you’ve attempted. One patient was put in handcuffs, and not the soft kind, when she was walked from the ER to the unit. She was by no means a criminal.
Bipolar disorder has a high suicide attempt rate, more than 50%. Its successes are also high when compared to other mental illnesses, like clinical depression. If any of you knew Steve Cash of his Talking Kitty Cat channel, he had bipolar disorder and unfortunately succumbed to it. I won’t say he died of suicide because if he didn’t have bipolar disorder from the start, he wouldn’t have had suicidal thoughts. So bipolar disorder killed him. Bipolar disorder might kill me. Apparently my life expectancy is shorter thanks to it, for whatever reasons.
By the way, I do believe life is mostly beautiful in spite of how tumultuous my 20s have been. Here’s to my 30s!