Monday, October 19, 2009

Brushes with suicide and how to try to help someone

Earlier this afternoon, some friends and I went to a one-hour-long Suicide Prevention Training Workshop by the QPR Institute. I went for a number of reasons, even though I knew I might be triggered. I went because I wanted to learn something new, something I couldn't just pick up from reading a webpage or a pamphlet. I also went because I wanted to see what they would try to teach the participants about noticing warning signs and helping someone who is contemplating ending their life. I wanted to see what people are being told about suicide prevention, these people that I, or you, or someone else, may one day turn to in a time of need.

I was disappointed. The presentation was boring, dry, and all typed up on a powerpoint, and I felt like it served to perpetuate the feeling that suicide is still just a theoretical problem. The model was Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR): ask someone if they are suicidal, persuade them to hang on, and refer them to someone better trained to handle these situations, e.g. a counselor. Sounds great, right? It's the perfect model to use to teach well-intentioned but clueless people because it sounds so neat and effective.

I went through a period of my life where I contemplated suicide somewhat regularly. It was always impulsive, in a situation of extreme emotional pain when I simply didn't know how to continue and just wanted to stop existing. Only once did I ever go so far as to plan out and begin to write a suicide note and seriously consider taking pills; that was the day my previous therapist told me I was using my rape as an excuse to not follow her strict treatment regiment for Borderline Personality Disorder (which is what she had diagnosed me with). Let's take a trip down memory lane...

This was one month after I was raped my senior spring. I kept wanting to talk about it with my therapist at the time, but she kept pushing the discussion back to breathing exercises and meditation (a Zen-based treatment for BPD, I guess?). When I tried to explain that I didn't think these exercises were working, she told me it was because I wasn't trying hard enough. She chastised me and voiced her disapproval at what she saw as stubbornness or laziness. I left her office both angry and depressed, oscillating between feeling outraged that my therapist would turn such a deaf ear to what I needed to say and feeling like a complete failure.

I returned to my fraternity house crying; no one noticed. I went up to my room and just sat there. I don't remember how I passed the next few hours-- sleeping, crying, staring at the wall, curled up under the covers, I honestly don't remember. Then a close friend of mine, someone I trusted and cared about and liked as more than a friend, came home from work, and came up to see me. He was exhausted because he'd been staying up late with me a lot but he had a regular job so the lack of sleep was getting to him. I remember being quieter than usual. I had stopped crying and raging because I had reached the absolute limit and was writing out a suicide note in my head. It calmed me, and I felt myself being lifted out of my depression a little; it was almost like there was hope, after all, because it would be all over soon. This friend of mine, we'll call him Z*, was hanging out with me in my room, clearly exhausted, and I was telling him he could just sleep in my room, that I would be fine. Somehow, though, he realized that something was terribly, terribly wrong, without me saying much at all, and he basically kidnapped me on my way back from the bathroom, rushed me out the door to put me in his car, and took me for a drive. Later during what ended up being a meandering several-hours-long drive, I opened up to him a little about what had happened with my therapist earlier that day. It felt timeless, somehow, like he had all the time in the world to spend with me and hear me and help me, so I trusted him. He saved my life.

That experience will always stay with me. I was depressed a lot during that spring and summer, but somehow, the one day when I needed it most, he knew pretty much exactly what to do. However, I cannot count on someone always recognizing the signs in me, and I cannot count on instinctively knowing how to help someone else. I only feel confident in my ability to help someone when I can relate to them, when they seem to be a mirror image of my past self somehow. When I see someone crying, or seriously depressed in the silent, somber, detached kind of way, I reach back into the depths of my own experience and try to do for them what I wish someone had done for me. When I read posts on the Pandora's Aquarium message board by survivors reaching out for help, I try to be as supportive as I can, and I write what I wish someone had said to me. While still shaky and not quite 100% healed myself, sometimes I can use what I have gone through to try to help others.

However, I am completely at a loss when someone doesn't react to sadness and hopelessness like I do. I don't know how to handle bitter anger. I don't know how to handle intellectually depressed people, i.e. people who lead you on philosophical or psychological debates when you try to help them. I don't know how to handle people in strong denial. I don't know how to talk to someone who intimidates me because they've helped me before so I feel like I'm their subordinate so who am I to try to help them? I am afraid to talk to people because my emotional capacity to empathize shrank so abruptly when I got hit by a truck, also known as PTSD, and I haven't quite regained it all yet. I remember being terrified one day last spring when someone was sitting in the chapter room, obviously sad, and I went to talk to them, not because I could really empathize and feel their pain and really want to help, but because I knew I used to be able to empathize and I knew what I would have done in the past and I knew what as a friend I was supposed to do. My ability to take on other people's pain had disappeared, and I felt awful, like I was somehow fake or cold or not quite a person anymore.

I think I've wandered off the track in this post, and I'm trying to figure out where this was all supposed to lead. I guess I wanted to reflect on how the QPR training session I went to brought back all these memories and how the prescribed method in the training session felt so contrived and unhelpful to me today. Personally, the resource I have found most helpful has been this page. I've linked to it before, in the post I wrote to try to help anyone thinking about suicide. I don't know if it will work for everyone, but that is the model I will try to follow if I ever have to help someone who is contemplating suicide.

I'm kind of emotionally drained right now. When I was planning this blog post on the walk home, I had so many ideas about what to say and where to go with it, but I've lost them. I didn't have enough time after the workshop to think about it and debrief with myself and my blog before I had to go to another meeting, where the tone was completely different and I had to put aside all those feelings because everything was lighthearted and not at all about depression and suicide.

I'm feeling really lost right now. I might have to just post this now and return to this topic later.

(To be continued...?)


  1. Well, thank God for Z, then! *hugs* I care about you deeply, and at the risk of sounding selfish by making it about me and not you, I can't imagine myself recovering had Z not been there to stop you.

    Seems to me that you're being a bit hard on yourself on this. No, you can't count on someone always recognizing the signs in you, and you can't count on instinctively recognizing the signs in someone else. Signs can be subtle or non-existent. But by worrying about whether you can identify the signs, and worrying about how to handle those who don't react to sadless and hopelessness the way you do, you are certainly showing empathy and that you care.

    If I can return some of the sentiments from your part 2, I want to help you, I don't always know what the perfect thing to do is or how to make you feel better, but please know that I care, appreciate you, and even if we don't talk frequently, my life would be emptier without you.

    (I'm keeping this anonymous, not to be all mysterious, but all my blog handles identify me and my school and all, and I am under the impression you're keeping this anonymous, so, I don't want to blow your cover!)

  2. @ Anonymous: *hugs back* Thank you!

    Also, for what it's worth, I'm not necessarily trying to keep my blog anonymous. I'm actually thinking of how to make this more public. I guess my only concern is having friends find out through this instead of through me personally telling them; I haven't quite figured it all out yet.

    Not that any of that should affect your decision to comment anonymously, though-- whatever you feel comfortable with! (Although I admit I am always curious who it is when someone comments anonymously. =)

  3. As tempting as it would be to have made you guess, or replied with a line from the Princess Bride, I'm Jed. :P

  4. Aha! I was right! (I thought back to my LJ friends and who has their school name in their handle. =D)