*tw*: s*icide, mental illness, depression and anxiety, self harm, eating disorders, trauma
One year ago today, I woke up in the hospital. I never actually went to sleep, but I was in and out of awareness, so I don’t remember much. When I was told I was being loaded into am ambulance and taken to a mental health facility, it felt like coming out of a restless sleep. I’ve never felt so helpless. By the time I was in the ambulance being transported to Ridgeview Institute, I was alone. My roommate who brought me to the ER left to go to bed not long after my partner arrived. Around 5am, my partner left to contact his job and re-situate his week based on the circumstances. No one actually knew where I was being taken or when. I couldn’t contact anyone. I tried to use my cell phone while I waited in an intake room in Ridgeview, but there was little to no reception. My iMessages went through as little green SMS messages as I attempted to give the name of my location to a few important people, including my partner. I had to read the hospital information off of my wrist band in order to relay it.
I felt completely lost.
Sometimes I look back on those first 24 hours after my suicide attempt and sincerely wonder how I made it out. My memories are spotty, but the things I do remember are terrible, the feeling of loneliness and confusion being some of the most palpable. At the time, I didn’t have any idea how I had ended up in the hospital, both physically and mentally.
The things I initially pointed to as the causes for my attempt only scratched the surface. After all, it’s never about what you think it’s about.
My trauma was all connected in deeper ways than I realized, and I was only in a headspace to acknowledge pieces of it. I was just trying to survive.
In recovery, people talk a lot about survival. When we’re moving through or away from trauma, we often lean on unhealthy coping mechanisms to make it out. We do what we have to do to survive, even when it’s not pretty or even healthy. My self-harm, panic attacks, disordered eating, and perfectionism have all been attempts at controlling my surroundings in unpredictable times. While I do my best every day to move away from these old habits, I am also grateful for them. They are all ways my body and my mind tried to protect me in survival mode.
In a triggered or traumatized state, all we can do is try to survive. And I did that.
My therapist reminds me on occasion that, even in the midst of my attempt, I advocated for myself. I got help. I went to the hospital. I did my best to tell my support system where I was. When I was being processed during intake, I asked for food because I hadn’t eaten in over 24 hours. Even in my worst moments, I was making decisions to survive. While, from the outside, attempted suicide, addiction, co-dependency, or stuffing down feelings might appear self-destructive, they are often evidence that a traumatized person is doing their best to survive.
It’s counter-intuitive, yes, that my suicide attempt was also a survival tactic. It doesn’t quite make sense. But my logical brain wasn’t in control, my trauma responses were. My overwhelming panic, sadness, grief, and shame brought me to a place where I could no longer move forward, like a remote control car running into a wall over and over. The best thing my body could tell me to do was to escape. To end the effects of trauma meant to survive them. Trauma Brain could not see any future beyond the trauma, so it told me to stop exhausting myself trying to overcome it.
Now, I’m no longer in survival mode. I can’t pinpoint when exactly I finally emerged or how long I had been there, but I know that now I’m able to do so much more. I’m connecting my sense of justice in the world to my desire for my story to be heard. I’m tracing my episodes of dissociation and panic all the way back to childhood, realizing that I’ve been working through trauma much longer than I knew. I’m working to separate intrusive thoughts, like thoughts of self-harm and body dysmorphia, from actions, knowing that just because I think or feel something doesn’t mean I have to act on it.
Most of all, I’m trying to discover who I am, because I don’t think I’ve ever really known. I think I’ve just been searching.
Now is both a terrible and a wonderful time for self-discovery. I’m struggling with identity and values as they relate into my ability to be busy and productive. How am I supposed to discover who I am if I’m trapped inside my house during a pandemic? But who I am is not only quantified by what I produce.
Who I am is deeper, and she can’t wait to meet you, now that she’s survived.
If you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts, self-harm, or other mental health issues, reach out and get help. You don’t have to do this alone. Find a therapist near you here. Reach out to an emergency hotline here. Text with a crisis counselor. Call a friend or family member. Your life matters.