5 ways we can go about repairing our relationships following a suicide attempt

>>This piece is directed towards those who have a support system they can return to in the aftermath of a suicide attempt– if you are among those who are alone and don’t have a support system to fall back on, I encourage you to check out, “Will all the shiny, happy people please stand up? Great. Now go away,” https://black-pomegranate.com/2019/07/21/iiii/ which I wrote specifically for those who fit in this category.<<

So here we all are. Your attempt failed. You’re back from the hospital. You’re slowly emerging from your disembodied daze. 

Everyone is on edge. Everyone who loves you is struggling to cope with the trauma of your attempt to kill yourself and adjust their understanding of what this means about you. 

It’s something I don’t see discussed all that much. And it’s a dimension of my recovery that I didn’t anticipate for and has been deeply painful and difficult to work through. 

It’s so easy for us when we’re suicidal to dismiss the effect that our death may have on our friends, family, and communities. When we’re wavering on that ledge — leaping over feels like the most logical thing in the world — and the ripple effects of such an action are only dimly recognized, if at all. Or, alternatively, we accept and earnestly believe that those surrounding us truly will be better off if we remove ourselves from the equation. And thus, that the pain we will surely cause them is the lesser of two evils.

And there are 1,001 reasons for that. For some, we’ve become so isolated and adrift mentally and emotionally that our connections to other people have been blurred out in the fog that engulfs us. With a total lack of outside perspectives and input for us to process — we collapse into self-destructive feedback loops in which we can make ourselves believe any and all kinds of half-truths, outright lies, and outlandish interpretations of of our lives. Sometimes we’re just so deep in our suffering that we’re just not capable of registering anything beyond it. Sometimes we’re so hellbent on our plan that we truly don’t care what the consequences of it may be. 

I’ve spent time in many of these head spaces. Two years ago I was living with my 90 year old grandma in her adorable little condo and surprise, surprise, I was depressed and suicidal. 

I thought often about taking the train to a random Chicago suburb— vanishing into some forest preserve — laying myself down at the foot of a beautiful oak tree — and while listening to the rustle of leaves and the songs of birds — taking every single pill, closing my eyes, and fading into my endless sleep. 

When I thought of the people in my life, I told myself that they did not love me — they loved their idea of who I was. They loved an idea which did not exist, an idea propped up by projections and delusions. Therefore, I was justified and exonerated — I owed them nothing. 

When I made my attempts this winter, I first plowed myself with alcohol, which facilitated selfish thinking and impulsiveness on top of my despair and hopelessness. I adopted a rash, fuck-it-all attitude. Ending my life was my right as an autonomous, free, sovereign person. Why should I condemn myself to enduring this miserable half-life of mine simply for the peace-of-mind of those to whom I was a fixture of in their lives, like some old, ratty piece of furniture? 

It would hurt for a while, I remember acknowledging to myself beforehand, but they would get over it. 

It does hurt to acknowledge, but it is a responsibility of ours when we commit ourself to life and to recovery — to also acknowledge the trauma we’ve caused to those who found us.

Healing these relationships and moving forward with your loved ones is challenging and often frustrating. Particularly when you feel like you’re in a way better place but everyone around you is still walking on eggshells and treating you like you’re made of porcelain. 

The first thing that is probably most crucial for all of us to acknowledge is this — it will not happen overnight. It will take time. It will be uncomfortable and painful. And its safe to assume that they are not on the same timeline as us. 

It is also important to consider things from their perspectives — suicide is very abstract to the vast majority of people. Even to many people with mental illnesses who frequently contemplate it. Like trying to picture being a civilian in a war zone when you’ve been sheltered and safe all your life. Like trying to picture being an impoverished mother who would do anything to feed her starving kids when you’ve never gone hungry… it just doesn’t feel entirely real until it has happened to you or someone you’re close to. 

And taking something abstract like suicide and making it real is a jarring, terrifying, destabilizing experience for everyone in your orbit. Be aware that when they look at you now they have no idea who they’re looking at. Be aware that their entire idea and understanding of who you are has been destroyed and thrown to the winds. Be aware that everything they thought they knew about you has been uprooted and called into question. 

Following is a list of suggestions that I have compiled over the last couple of months as I have treaded and waded through these waters and given this process my due diligence. I have put together a list to the best of my ability — based largely on my own experience and limited research — and is far from a complete compilation on the subject. I encourage all of you who have gone through this to voice your own feedback, contributions and criticism. Together, hopefully, we can provide a truly comprehensive and useful offering of suggestions for those who have suddenly found themselves here and in need of guidance, wisdom and hope.

Be patient

The first time I got so drowsy on my new sleep medication that I slurred my words a little bit — my little sister flipped out and was convinced that I was trying to overdose and it really pissed me off. I just wanted to go to bed and she got my whole family whipped up into a frenzy and drilled me over and over again— ‘How much Seraquel did you take??’ ‘How much Trazodone did you take??’ ‘Did you take anything with your meds??’ ‘Have you been drinking??’ ‘Do we need to call an ambulance??’ 

“OH MY GOOOODDDDD!!” I shouted at some point. I was at a loss of what to tell her that would convince her that everything was fine, and ended up losing my temper. And I was seriously insulted when she gathered up all my medicines and insisted on hiding them throughout the house. 

I waved her off dismissively. “Fine! Whatever!” And stormed up to my room. I slammed my door shut and sat on my bed, stewing angrily in the dark. 

It took a few moments to get over my pride and calm down. I had to admit to myself that I knew where she was coming from, why she reacted the way she did, that she was going through her own process with everything and that, ultimately, she came from a place of love. 

Finally I stood up and re-opened my door. Though cranky and a little spiteful, I knew that at some point, someone was going to need to come in and check that I was still breathing. 

These sudden freak-outs and over-reactions are going to be part of the landscape for a while. Try to see and accept the root causes of these difficult exchanges. Try to consider how you look and how your actions look to those who love you and don’t want to lose you. It won’t be a pretty picture, it won’t be for a while. Don’t go on a self-loathing rampage and brutalize yourself over it — don’t delude yourself and bury yourself in pride and then get defensive and bitter about it. Be patient and be understanding, with yourself and with your inner circle.

Answer your texts

This is a fairly simple way to reassure those who are looking out for you and want to see you get better. In all likelihood, the news about you has gone down the grapevine. Your friends in the city know. Your friends at school know. Your friends studying abroad in China know. It’s like a hundred different little volts of lightning coming in at you from every angle and it is overwhelming as fuck. 

Some of them are scarred shitless and some of them are pieces of shit who are only here because they’re like moths to the burning lantern when it comes to drama. That’s life. Usually we can weed them out if we take a moment to sit quietly and listen to our gut. We can ignore those fake friends who just want to talk shit and gossip about disaster porn over their stupid bubble teas. 

But be open minded and be receptive. It may be a shock who doesn’t care. Alternatively, it may surprise you who actually does care. And that is so worth the time and effort. Times of chaos and crisis can also be times of bonding and deep connection because of how raw and vulnerable you are. It may turn out to be the rando you bump into at house parties, whose dreadlocks were accidentally floating in your beer that one time, who you only know loosely through friends of friends— and that turns out to be the guy who actually understands what you’re going through and offers genuine support. That person can end up being the lifeline you didn’t know you needed. And considering the chaos of life, considering all the damn people we cross paths with on any given day—those surprise people, those people who you never would have thought twice about— when those surprise people pop out of the weeds, it’s such a heart-melting magical thing, the kind of thing that sort of gives me hope in mankind sometimes. 

As overwhelming as it is to look at your phone and deal with the people who have reached out to you—resist the temptation to go dark. 

All the ‘hey, how are you doings?’s and the ‘i’m here if you need to talk <3’s are enough to make anybody’s head spin — and of course there is no simple, easy way to respond to any of them. You may not be able to sniff out everyone’s intentions initially, but, honestly, its worth it in the end when the people who are truly Your People emerge from the madness and you know who has your back. It may just be one person. It may be that you have No real friends. I’ve been there and it sucks but, real talk, I’d rather start all over again with no one then carry on into a new chapter of my life with a bunch of fake assholes.

Don’t disappear for long stretches of time

Many of us depressives are naturally pretty introverted. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that—I love to spend time alone. I don’t feel weird or awkward when I’m alone in a restaurant or a book store or somewhere in the city. I don’t mind it at all. 

It can often be difficult to decipher when exactly we slip over the line of just hanging out on our own, to isolating in a way that ultimately is harmful. It can be particularly difficult because that line shifts and moves during different periods of our lives. After a suicide attempt—what may have in the past constituted a ‘normal’ about of alone time, may now set off alarms for those in your circle. 

And it can be difficult to be honest with yourself— just how much ‘space’ is actually conducive to your healing. It’s so easy and its so tempting to retreat, because it demands less of you. Physically and emotionally—engaging with the world can just feel like it’s too much. Don’t let yourself fall into a pattern of feeding yourself reason after reason to hide away in your room and not push yourself to get out there and start engaging with the game of life again.

And of course, don’t just spontaneously hop on a bus without telling anyone for a day trip to the city and scare the absolute shit out of everyone. 

But also don’t disappear when you’re sitting in the living room with some of your people. We can be physically in a room with someone and suddenly realize we are alone. We’ve all been there when we’ve been trying to talk to someone who is completely checked out and floating around somewhere on the moon. 

Re-emerging and reconnecting with our people and our lives after suicide is nerve-wracking and anxiety-inducing. But if we’re committed to getting ourselves better, we’re signing up to put ourselves through daily mini-exposures where we confront our fears and willingly step into discomfort and uncertainty. 

If talking is too anxiety inducing — just sit and don’t run away. If just sitting and following the conversation is anxiety inducing — resist the temptation to check out. Exposure therapies are designed to be uncomfortable and difficult — but working through them is profoundly rewarding and lifts our self esteem. By being present and connected slowly we become better. By being present and connected, we don’t become less afraid — we become more brave.

If there’s a conversation that you know needs to happen, don’t avoid it

Conversation is key in life, irregardless of where you happen to be. I’ve often found, when I’m depressed, highly anxious, or suicidal (i.e. most of my life) my ability to communicate goes straight in the trash. I’m a rather shy, slow-to-warm-up person by temperament to begin with, and my conversation skills with both strangers and people I know are well.. ha.. they could be way better. 

However, often there are things that must be said and must be discussed. Often, it is on us to come out and initiate those awkward, stumbling exchanges. Particularly if your family and friend group isn’t adequately educated on mental health and suicide issues. Particularly if there hasn’t been much forthright communication in the past regarding your struggles and worsening condition. 

I remember, in the immediate aftermath of my attempts, how foggy, confusing, chaotic, and overwhelming everything seemed to me. How unbelievably lost I felt. What I would have given to have had some kind of direct, tangible direction that I could trust to steer me and lead me to… where?… I couldn’t say.. somewhere less terrible, I suppose. 

I received none of that—my family was never firm, or demanding, or confrontational with me. The one suggestion they had proposed to me I abjectly refused. Remember how I said earlier how after a suicide attempt your people don’t know who they’re looking at anymore? It’s a little more than this—they don’t know who they are looking at and they are fucking petrified of you. 

It seems to be fairly often the case, that on top of our befuddling aimlessness, that our loved ones are also walking on eggshells around us—afraid and frozen. It can be a source of devastating frustration—it can grow to be a resentment that we carry with us into our better years, that we’ll pull out a decade down the line while in some argument and we decide to go for the jugular—“Why weren’t you there for me???” Because they’re afraid of us. We won’t get much from them unless we initiate meaningful exchange on our own. Because they look at us and they see a ticking time bomb. They don’t know our dimensions and they’re terrified of setting us off. Because they look at us and see a person made of porcelain. They’re terrified that if they pry or press too hard that we will shatter right before them. 

The reality for most of us is that our loved ones don’t know how to be there for us—they have no fucking clue what’s going on with us or what they should do. It is also often true that we don’t know how we want others to be there for us, because we have no clue what would make us better. Sometimes this makes our loved ones desperate and angry. Sometimes they react in horrible, offensive ways. Sometimes they hold their breath and say nothing while you stumble aimlessly around the house in the same unwashed pajamas you’ve been wearing for weeks. 

When I was in my early teens and actively suicidal, I stayed at a hotel with my mom and another relative for a weekend. This relative wanted to take me out to lunch, and as I picked limply and indifferently at my lukewarm curly-fries she drilled me nonstop, trying to figure out what was going on with me. Asking me had I been raped? Had I been abused? Had I been threatened? And on and on and on. I was stubbornly inarticulate and vague with her. In hindsight, two factors were at play—first of all, this person was overwhelming the fuck out of me with her aggressive approach—second, I was an idiot pre-teen and even in the most accommodating of circumstances I would have struggled to articulate coherently what I was going through. 

Frustrated and desperate with my nebulousness, she confronted me later on in the afternoon when it was just me and her alone in the hotel room. 

She came out shrieking—full on dragon lady mode—screaming at me that my parents were fucking terrified and had no idea what to do about me—screaming at me that my mom was crying to her that she was terrified that she might walk into the bathroom one day and find me dead in a pool of blood—screaming at me that I was basically being a selfish little shit for not cooperating with anyones attempts to reach me. She literally cornered me as she was popping off, I stumbled backwards into the closet, shaking and sobbing. I sank down to the floor and clung to my knees. I don’t remember how this whole thing ended or how long it lasted. But I stayed there in that closet, weeping, until my mom found me there hours later. I was completely traumatized. 

This tactic did not work, to say the least—it succeeded in only making me feel even worse about myself— given that much of what this person raised in her interrogation of me had not happened—and thus made me feel even more that my suffering was unjustified and was my fault. Which, surprise, surprise, sank me even deeper. 

My family’s tactic of silent nervousness and approaching me like a fragile, feeble, breakable thing also did not work. 

In both situations, however, I’ve had to accept and come to terms with the reality of my family’s intentions. They were, at the end of the day, trying to help. They just had no idea how to and fucked it up gloriously. Even my relatives insane blow-out was motivated by love, and by an awful terror that she might be about to lose me. That can be a cold comfort, of course, y’all remember that saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions,”? And yes, its true. Often, when our people try to do anything at all for us, they inadvertently do more harm than good. And that’s hard to live with and forgive.  

Still, it behooves us, I believe, to acknowledge and accept what they were trying to do, in their own way. It is an integral piece in repairing the relationship and moving forward. Our loved ones are human, all to human, as are we. And doing the dance when suicide is hovering above the whole scene is daunting, and sometimes paralyzing—for there is the knowing that hangs in the room like thick smoke—that a life is on the line. And that freaks people the fuck out. 

It falls to us, more often than not, to be the guiding, educating light, as unfair as they may feel. People don’t just go out of their way to educate themselves on how to talk to a suicidal person, how to approach or comfort or support a person after attempting suicide—unless they have to. It’s just one of those things that people don’t tend to wrestle with unless they are suddenly confronted with the reality of it. 

And given that, people’s first instinct is to react from within the sphere of what they already know or believe. Religious people will retreat to the logic and guidelines that compel their faith. Others will flee to interrogate the doctors they already know—regardless of how competent or informed they may or may not be. They will ask their friends. They will have one too many and unload on their bartenders. They will spin their wheels and will find themselves desperate, angry, afraid and without answers. 

There is a lot of helpful information online, blogs and articles put forth and spread by an array of suicide prevention networks and suicide survivors. 

These pieces would probably have helped give my family a little bit of footing—however, my dad still uses the terms, “email,” “website,” “google,” and “internet,” interchangeably. The whole thing just mystifies him. And my mom still can’t figure out for the life of her how to send a group chat with all her kids, much less navigate the wild, wild west of the internet. So.. the information is out there, it just sometimes happens to be the case that that information may as well be in the 8th dimension. 

So, as I said, when this is the reality of our landscape, it falls to us to be the ones to broach the subject. Even when we do not know what we need or what would help us. Talk to them—even when you have no idea what to say, even when everything comes out a jumbled, incoherent mess. It gives comfort and some reassurance to our loved ones that we are talking to them. And talking—making our thoughts real and material—helps us to organize our minds and bring some order to our chaotic internal landscape. 

I have been guilty of opting to live in silence because of all that I did not know, or shame of what I did know. But this draws the healing process out and often accomplishes nothing. It is in communicating with those who love us, treading into the waters of openness and honesty, that many of our answers reveal themselves to us and our loved ones. Tripping and stumbling together with your support people, through the terrain of All That We Do Not Know is key to forward movement, of healing for yourself and of re-connecting to them. 

Just talk to them. Even when you have nothing positive or encouraging to say. Even when they are being difficult or unhelpful. Let them ask their questions, and don’t quiver in self-righteous fragility before them. 

Be honest. 

When they ask, “Why? Why did you do this? What went so wrong?” Answer them. Answer them as truthfully as you can, even if that answer happens to be, “I don’t know,” even if that answer happens to embarrass you.

Do not sugarcoat things. Do not try to shield them by telling them what you think they want to hear. Don’t fumble around in silence because you don’t want to freak them out by admitting to the horror show of whats happening in your mind. In that silence you are being deceitful—you are denying the full story. If you are still suffering terribly—tell them so. It is only through being honest that there is any hope that you all can one day be useful to each another. 

Truthfulness, openness, and honest communication is the way back to one other. By being honest you are showing to your loved ones that they can trust you again—and slowly, at their own pace, they will come to do so. Re-establishing trust is key.  

Start with the small things — practice just being with them and begin to build new memories together

As with repairing—or building from scratch—the relationship to yourself, repairing the relationship to your loved ones is no small feat, it is a tenuous, delicate, messy process. It takes time. And trial and error. It demands a willingness to risk hurting or offending one another in the spirit of growing and healing. 

Don’t make it harder than it needs to be. I harp often on the ownership of personal responsibility we must all embrace—however that does not demand that you make this process way harder than it needs to be on yourself given where you are. 

Start small. The small gestures sometimes mean the most, when they are done in the spirit of truthfulness and genuineness. Sometimes those small gestures are what demand the most of us, given the context of where we’re currently at. They can cross the gulf between you and them, when you find it too difficult to speak.

Building memories with someone does not have to be some extravagant production. I started waking up early with my sister as she was getting ready for work. In those hours—it was just me, her, the dogs, and the cat. Sometimes we ran out of the house to grab coffee. Or we made breakfast together. Usually we just played with the animals. Smothered our diva cat in unwanted affection and adoration and laughed whenever she reacted with haughty disdain. 

It was far too early to broach anything serious. We goofed off and cracked jokes and ran our mouths about the latest celebrity scandal. It was nice to spend the first part of my day laughing about stupid shit with her. It became a thing. It became enough of a thing for both of us that whenever one of us wasn’t up or had to run out of the house even earlier—we commented about it. 

My sister moved into her own place last week—and it feels like somethings missing. The house feels empty to me in the morning when I wake up now. I feel stumped whenever a scorchingly hysterical thought come to mind—and she’s not there for me to share it with. Now I just gotta laugh alone like a weirdo at my own hilarious inner commentary. It’s in hindsight now that I recognize how far she and I came together in these last few months. Recognizing that gives me a warm, tender feeling, and that feeling gives me some hope for my future.

My brother and my dad are both hard-core into bowling, and belong to several leagues. I’ve made a point to accompany them at least once a week to watch them bowl and hang out. In my old life, I was never one to bother being a part of someone else’s life that didn’t interest me. “I am not a sports person!” was one of my old stories. There are also people at a bowling alley—people everywhere. No thank you. People give me anxiety. Especially when the place is loud, crowded, and chaotic as hell. I have nothing in common with them anyway. Who the fuck is ‘them’? You know, bowling alley people. Like your brother and your dad who you get along with? Fuck off—you know what I mean. 

I do not want to be like that anymore. Someone who is so wrapped up in her own shit she cannot even conceive of doing something that doesn’t appeal to her for the sake of a relationship—or even just for the sake of doing something new. I get now how closed minded Ive been for so, so long. I thought I had everything locked in—I knew all there was I needed to know. I knew who I was in the world—and I knew that that role would never change. Anything that pushed up against that conviction I dismissed swiftly and coldly. 

And that’s the person that my family always knew—the sad, silent, anti-social loner. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that, despite our varying degrees of ‘closeness’ there has always been a gulf between me and them. My illnesses and my experiences as a young person resulted in me becoming an extremely rigid, unyielding person, both in my worldview and my conception of myself. As I contemplate how I should approach working on my relationships with my support people, I’ve come to wonder—who is this person now, seeking this relationship? 

I decided I would take advantage now—of the fact that my people no longer know who I am. I can try something different. I can walk into situations and drop my presumptions that I already know what I am walking into. I sit and watch and sip on my soda, and refrain from engaging my old assumptions and stories. I practice talking to people. I practice not checking out if I get nervous. I practice just being there, embracing the moment, being present in conversations, being present with my dad and my brother in their own element. 

They ask me now before heading out if I’d like to come with them and hang out.

They never did that before. I never gave them a reason to. 

x Rae

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