Trigger Alert – this blog contains info re suicide which may be unsettling for some people.
Guest Post: Stevie Jacobs has contributed this guest post to meta4RN.com
Stevie Jacobs is the pen name of a newly-minted Enrolled Nurse. The person behind Stevie is smart, experienced in life and has some awesome insight into the world of the student and new graduate nurse.
You can follow Stevie Jacobs on Twitter: @SJWritesHere
Stevie has contributed to other nurse blogs, including the excellent site Injectable Orange, by Jesse Spurr.
These words have been in my head and they needed to come out
(a blog post about suicide)
I am ‘Pro choice’.
I am a patient advocate.
I am a person advocate.
I support euthanasia.
I am pretty much of the opinion that if you have all the facts, figures and feelings figured out then you can go ahead and do pretty-much whatever you like. Even if it’s ‘bad’ for you. I can provide you with action plans and phone numbers and personal support, however ultimately, the choice my friend, is yours.
So when someone wants to kill themselves/suicide/take their own life (however you want to put it) what does my head feel about that? I’m not talking about obligations as a Health Care Professional, I’m talking about obligations as a human being. I can provide you with an ear to bend, a shoulder to lean on, I can find you professional help if you want, I can tell you that I don’t think you’re in a safe space and I want to get more support. For both of us. I can do all that. What I am stuck with is that if euthanasia is assisted suicide and I’m OK with that (OK meaning I won’t physically stop you nor judge you), does that mean I am ‘OK ‘ with someone’s suicide? Both have the same ending:, the removal of pain through the death of a person. I don’t know how my heart or my head feel about that.
Robin Williams was 63. That’s a long time to be living in pain. Yes, there are medications and therapies and support groups, but what if that starts to feel just all too much? That living is just all too much, a bit like ‘diabetic burnout’, where the person with diabetes basically gets fed up with ‘managing’ their diabetes and becomes unwell. That can happen with all chronic diseases. That can happen with mental health issues. Yes, some people have a depressive episode, it’s self-limiting and then they never have another one. Wonderful. For others, it just keeps on coming back, more painful than before.
To someone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts, suicide I can seem to be a rational method of pain relief. It’s the ultimate pain reliever for the person experiencing the thoughts.
For those left behind it can be devastating.
I can’t make up my mind. Do I have the ‘right’ to stop someone from suicide? I’m on the fence. The boundaries get blurred. I’ve experienced anxiety & depression, I’ve experienced suicidal thoughts & been ‘suicidally depressed’, I’ve had a family member suicide and I’ve known someone I followed on Twitter suicide. Which is a really fucking weird experience, quite frankly. Grief for someone who you ‘know’, but don’t ‘know’. 101 ‘What ifs?’. I could ‘see’ that something wasn’t right, but aside from checking in and offering an ear what else could I do? I’m at peace with those choices now, no longer haunted by ‘what ifs’. I’m sure that is not the same for their family and friends. I realised that what has stayed in my head is a photo of themselves they posted shortly before it happened. It’s their eyes. Their eyes haunt me. I can see something in their eyes I’ve seen time and time again. In my face. In the faces of others. I know those eyes so well. However good your mask is it’s in the eyes.
So, what to do? Who am I to tell anyone what to do? There isn’t really a clear answer. I think it’s really important to keep checking in on people: RU OK? I have RUOKed a few people and I will keep doing it. If it’s a ‘No’, and they express some ideas that worry you, it’s OK to ask “Do you have a plan?” If it’s a ‘Yes’, what then? Especially if you just don’t believe them. That’s trickier ground to navigate. I’m no expert on this. There are links at the end of this from people who are.
RU OK? It’s just a simple question. A simple, lifesaving question. I was on another planet from OK, and someone who barely knew me asked me that question.
It was like a thunderbolt.
It made me stop and think and choose to get help to make living less painful. Choosing to get help is hard. Getting help can be harder. What’s even harder is acknowledging that choosing to live is a conscious effort. It’s an effort. Accepting that medications and therapy and exercise and diet changes and avoiding triggers are now part of your life is an effort.
In time I hope that life will once again become effortless, but it might not.
Finally, after years of effort, I now think I am OK with that.
Post Script 1:
I wrote the above post a little while back. Normally when I have said all I have to say on a subject it doesn’t pop back in to my head. This post did. If I am honest, I have only scratched the surface. I have more to say. The way I write usually is like a good vomit on a night out: it all comes out in one go and it’s done and dusted and you’re up and dancing again. The other way I write is a bit more like a gastro bug: on and off with a bit of dry retching when you just can’t get it out. Then you’re done and you feel better.
Paul told me the ‘meta’ point of meta4RN is ‘talk about what you’re talking about’. So I guess that’s what I’m doing here. Rereading the above, reflecting on it and trying to work out quite what it is that I still feel I want to say.
We need to talk about mental health. We need to talk about suicide. We need to do it in a safe, appropriate and open way, but we do need to talk about it. Talking about it is hard. Talking about it can be terrifying for anyone. Talking about it when you’re a health professional is really damn hard. There are so many ‘what ifs’. What if they ‘lock me up’? What if they don’t? What if they think I’m not fit to practice? What if I lose my job? What if my colleagues find out? What if I have to be treated in the same hospital that I work in? What if…
I want to talk about how it feels to have suicidal thoughts. I want to talk about how it feels to be suicidally depressed. I’m not sure how to do that. I know that there are media guidelines for discussing suicide. As someone who is trying to describe a ‘lived experience’, I decided the best way for me to write was to let it all come out uncensored, and then give it to Paul to edit it using some of those guidelines and make it ‘safe’. I am in a safe enough space now to be brutally honest about how those suicidal thoughts feel, and far away enough from those thoughts to be able to talk about them without feeling ‘triggered’.
I can only speak for myself. For me there is a distinction between having suicidal thoughts and being ‘suicidal’ or ‘suicidally depressed’, as I have referred to it in the past. The thing about ‘suicidal thoughts’ is that the longer you have them the more rational they seem. For me suicidal thoughts are more of a hypothetical notion; it’s not something I am going to carry out. It’s an icy calm IF. IF things don’t get better, IF that was to happen, IF there isn’t another way out, IF the pain becomes unbearable, IF.
I know exactly how I would kill myself. I know exactly how I would spend the jackpot from a lottery win. I know exactly what I would get done if I had free access to plastic surgery. It’s all hypothetical.
It’s hypothetical. Until it’s not. Until I am suicidally depressed. Until I am in pain. Until the self-loathing I carry around with me every day takes over. Until I truly believe that the people in my life would be better off without me. Until I can’t see any way out aside from that way. And that place is not icy calm. It’s a messy, clinging on to something, anything to get through hour after hour, painful, emotional swamp. I feel emotionally swamped. I can’t think in a straight line. I can’t sleep. I can’t eat. The anxiety eats at my stomach. The panic attacks feel like I am dying of a heart attack. The after effects of which last for days. And nothing, nothing stops the pain. That’s how suicidal feels like for me. I know, however, that it is not what it looks like to other people. People see what they want to see. Even people who are trained to see more. I am brilliant at hiding it. I know how to put on my mask and polish up my armour. It is exhausting.
There are cracks in my armour, sometimes the mask slips. My fellow walking wounded can see though them, but for the most part the people I see every day wouldn’t know. I can make people feel so good about themselves. I can make people cry with laughter. Then, the second I am alone, the pain floods over me and I can barely breathe. I keep coming back to pain. It’s about pain. Not control, nor attention seeking, nor escape; in that moment it is about wanting that pain in my heart to stop. To. Stop.
It’s a horrendous place to live to be honest. It’s a half life. I had to choose to live better. To live for me. To get help – medications, counselling, CBT, exercise, diet. It’s a conscious choice. And what helped me make that choice was being asked ‘RU OK?’
Post Script 2:
So, turns out it’s not a verbal gastro bug. It’s verbal C.Diff. The words just keep coming out.
I think I need to make it clear that I am talking about a period of over 10 years. I need to make it clear that I am talking about the past. I might write ‘I know’, but I suppose really it is ‘I knew’. Deciding to share this is a decision that has been easy, but it is a decision that I have made because these words have been in my head and they needed to come out. There are more things I could say, about specific attempts, specific feelings. However, I don’t want to share them. I think that’s OK.
I need to make it clear that I support ‘RUOK’ & WHO suicide prevention strategies. I need to make it clear that if you judge me negatively based on what I have written or if it changes your opinion of me, then that’s your thing, not mine. I’m not asking for agreement or understanding, but I do ask for kindness.
I was asked recently what the best thing in my life is right now. Aside from Nursing, the answer is the people in it. I know that my people love me, and accept ‘me’, and that’s enough.
Short URL: meta4RN.com/guest02
Many thanks to Stevie Jacobs for sharing this gutsy piece of writing. Your sensitive, constructive feedback is welcomed in the comments section below.
It’s also important to acknowledge that talking and thinking about suicide can be distressing. People in Australia can access support via:
Lifeline – 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467
Outside of Australia and not sure where to get support? Google usually displays a red telephone icon and your country’s suicide support phone number when searching for a suicide-related topic.
This guest blog post has a companion piece, which I have imaginatively called “A Blog About A Blog About Suicide” – the link is here: meta4RN.com/mindframe
Paul McNamara, 23rd September 2014