Let's Talk About Suicide: My Experience with Suicidal Thoughts
Written by Melissa Barsotti, LCSW and certified EMDR trauma therapist in San Diego, California.
picture credit: RomoloTavani
Disclaimer: If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, please use the following resources:
People in crisis can get immediate help by calling 911.
If you are considering suicide you can also call the National Suicide Lifeline available 24 hours per day,
every day at 1-800-273-8255.
My immediate inclination is to cite an author, reference a book, and cite a statistic; however, I'm learning that my own personal experience as an individual and my experiences as a therapist are just as, if not more impactful in helping others feel less alone, less stigmatized, less ashamed, and hopefully more hopeful.
I first experienced thoughts of suicide following the birth of my son. I had stopped taking antidepressants when I became pregnant because I had this fantasy of a natural pregnancy and natural birth, and I wanted to be as healthy as possible as I breastfed my son. I did not realize that the sleepless nights, the lack of self-care, and the isolation of being a stay-at home mother would ultimately take a toll on me.
It's important to know a little bit about my history. I am a survivor of many things, but most importantly, childhood trauma. My coming into this world was in itself a trauma as well because I know for a fact that I was not a wanted baby. As a result, my childhood was full of incidents that required my nervous system to be on high alert. I was always scanning the room for a threat, preparing myself to respond in the best way I could. I was helpless, at the mercy of the adults around me that did the best they could.
By the time I had my son, I had already gone through a decade worth of therapy and self-exploration, and so much healing; however, my pregnancy and the birth of my son exposed me to a whole new set of memories and experiences that just now came to my awareness because I now was responsible for a small helpless child. His existence reminded me of my own. I was reminded of my own helplessness and aloneness. Although I had done so much therapeutic work on myself, I had not yet addressed my early developmental trauma. This was not because I did not want to, but simply because the memories and body reactions were not available to me, until now.
Please know that I love my son, and that I am a great mother. This is just a snapshot of moments I experienced. Moments that made me truly understand the experience of suicidal thoughts. I am grateful for these moments. I now have more empathy and more understanding for the clients I work with who are experiencing this hell that I experienced at this time and other times in my life.
Mothering is amazing, and feeling so close to my son is such a blessing, but by the time my husband came home at 4pm, my nervous system was a wreck. I had been taking care of our son since the wee hours of the morning. I was alone from 6am to 4pm without any help. Granted, I recognize my privilege, as I know others have far less help than I did. By the time 4pm came, all I wanted to do was take a shower and go to sleep. There was a part of me that felt depleted, exhausted, and alone.
Having my son physically on me all day was so taxing for my sensitive nervous system. I found myself sobbing in the shower, falling to my feet, feeling the stream of water fall on my body. I gathered the strength to stand up and my periphery caught a glimpse of my razor sitting right above my head. All of a sudden, a string of thoughts and images came to my mind. I could end this suffering. I could end this pain. I could end this torture and aloneness if I just killed myself. A list of ideas of how I would do this came at once. Quickly I thought of all of the damage that would be done to others in my life, especially my son, my husband, my sisters, my parents, and all of those who loved me. I was able to literally shake my head and luckily use the tools that I know of. I grounded myself to the pleasurable experience of the shower. The beautiful sound of the water, the feel of the shampoo in my hands, the lathering of the shampoo on my head, the smells of my soap, the feeling of the stiff bristles of the shower brush on my skin. The thoughts happened in a span of seconds. That's how quickly I thought of ending my life, and the repercussions of it.
I am so blessed to know that these moments of hopelessness and helplessness are just that...moments. There are other moments too. The moment my husband hugged me. The moment I held my son in my arms again. The moments I was on the phone talking to my loving sisters. The moments I was with my beloved dog Theo. I also know that it's just a sliver, a part of me that wanted to disappear. I know that there are so many other parts of me that did not want to disappear. It is OKAY to acknowledge the suffering. It is true that in moments one can feel desperate, alone, helpless, and hopeless. In this moment it feels this way, but your day and your life are full of so many other moments.
When I work with my clients in session, I ask them to draw a circle, and in that circle, I ask them to draw pie slices. I then ask them to look inwardly and explore the possibility of having parts, such as a child part, teenage part, Adult self part, mothering part, working part, adventurous part, DEPRESSED AND ALONE PART, WISE SELF PART, etc. Then we include the names of the parts we have discovered on each of the pie slices. Doing this is helpful in acknowledging that when the suicidal thoughts come, it is just a PART of us that feels and thinks this way, and not our FULL selves. Then, the focus of our session will be on nurturing the WISE SELF PART. This is the part that has the tools to ground. This is the part that has the tools to problem-solve. This is the part that can have compassion towards our full selves. This is the part that will keep us alive.
In closing, I want others to know that depression and suicidal thoughts are treatable. There are clinicians like myself that are not afraid to talk about suicide, and that will not jump to hospitalization as a first line approach. I once met Dr. Janina Fisher, a renowned author and brilliant therapist, who shared with me that she rarely hospitalized her clients. I am by no means saying hospitalization is a bad thing. Sometimes it is needed, but there are so many other ways to attend to this serious problem.
I personally did and continue to do the following in attending to my suicidal thoughts then and now:
I told people that I trusted. I told my husband and my sisters. Their love and support was instrumental.
I called my doctor and asked to be placed on an antidepressant that is safe for breastfeeding.
I scheduled more frequent sessions with my therapist.
I listened to audiobooks that made me feel not alone. Books that were uplifting and that offered helpful tools to use when experiencing distress.
I started walking more and leaving the house more.
I made an effort to connect with my community. In my case, it was other moms also experiencing similar things.
This is just a handful of things that were the most helpful for me. Please visit my resource page for more information about suicide, depression, and postpartum depression and anxiety. I have a list of recommended books here. Thank you for reading.