Warning: This post contains potentially triggering content.
I read a post yesterday on The Mighty about a young woman whose suicide attempt went unnoticed. She describes her emotions as she carried on with work and life, the guilt she felt when she realised her friends and family may not have had her around later that week.
This post hit very close to home because just a few years ago I went through a similar ordeal. I attempted to poison myself one night and it didn’t end my life. Instead, I was very sick for a few days but after passing out for several hours then vomiting most of the first night I went straight back to work. I forced myself to breathe through the nausea and to dismiss my colleague’s concern about my pallor. I hid the muscle tremors and the pain as my body fought against my will to die.
Dealing with my physical symptoms held focus over my usual thoughts for a few days and exhausted me so that I slept anytime I wasn’t at work. It was enough to save me from completing the act for a small while. Unfortunately, it also led me to repeat this behaviour several more times over the ensuing months, not with the goal of ending my life but as a way of overriding the barrage of thought and emotion I was dealing with every moment of every day.
The suicide attempt didn’t make me feel any better emotionally than it did physically. Although I worked really hard not to let it affect my work I felt guilty about having to take a couple of short breaks when the nausea could not be abated and my work was slowed because my hands were shaking so badly. That was nothing compared to the guilt I felt when I saw my family though.
I couldn’t look anyone in the eye, I was so ashamed of having been so low that trying to leave them all had been an option. I felt guilty about being unable to open up to them for fear of causing them concern and being hospitalised. I felt guilty about the pain I would have caused them if I’d been successful.
An unnoticed attempt is the worst because not a single step is taken toward fixing the problem. I believe I needed hospital at that time, or at least some form of very intense symptom management and monitoring. Instead, life continued as normal, with the same thoughts, the same suicidal feeling, with just one more pretty big thing to add to the list of reasons why I was unworthy of living.
There was one other reason this attempt was so terrible. Risk for completing suicide is much higher if there has been a previous attempt, and I’d unofficially entered that circle. This was dangerous because although it was a very real attempt for me at the time, what I didn’t realise was it became almost like a practise for the real thing. My “rehearsal” highlighted to me the kinks in my plan that needed to be ironed out.
When people attempt suicide and it goes unnoticed, people (including their doctors) might underestimate their very real heightened risk of completing suicide in the future.
I can’t stress enough how important this is, because clearly for an attempt to go unnoticed in the first place means that person is very good at hiding their illness and their loved ones need to be especially vigilant for signs of suicidal planning.
I have since divulged this information with my doctors. If you have attempted suicide or self-harm please let your doctors know! Let your family or someone close to you know. It matters.
SuicideLine Australia lists some common warning signs to watch out for if you think someone might be contemplating suicide.