[Trigger warning for discussion of suicide and self-harm.]
This week, my intention had been to start writing based on the suggestions from the Quickie article. But some things came up recently that my mind simply hasn’t been able to get away from. I have to say that Susan’s Weathering The Storm article (an excellent read – apologies to Susan for not saying that sooner) was a part of it. Why “Unexpected?” Because this all took me utterly by surprise.
I shouldn’t think, however, it would come as a surprise to many of those who have followed the Caregiving series, that Mr. Juniper has done things of a detrimental nature to himself which aren’t just self harm, but are in fact, suicide attempts.
So in turn, it perhaps needs to be said that I do not have firsthand experience of suicide, I do however have many years of living with the ideation, actions, and the aftermath. Mr. Juniper is also someone who, in the words of many, does not do things by half measures. Important lesson here: an incident of self harm can have physically worse repercussions than a suicide attempt. Hence there are two major points to consider: the intention behind the action and the conclusion of the action. This is especially important with someone like Mr. Juniper because his actions of self harm would be considered by many to be suicidal, but they’re not. Which, in case it hasn’t been guessed, means his suicide attempts have been quite…? I don’t know, elephantine? I truly can’t think of the right word, but the difference matters because self harm and suicide are not the same. It is quite feasible that someone who has self harmed has never been suicidal and that someone who is suicidal has never self harmed. Self harm is a coping mechanism, albeit an unhealthy one, suicide is… (for want of much better wording)… in this context, often about bringing an end to pain.
Another point to make, in the view of mentioning the degree to which Mr. Juniper does things. We know a lot of people in very similar boats and neither Mr. Juniper nor myself have considered the struggles of those friends to be less important or less distressing because what they did was a fraction of what Mr. Juniper did. Mr. Juniper is, in fact, always rather surprised whenever people have made comparisons. The things he did to himself as a teen which are positively tame in respect to things he has done to himself in recent years were just as painful to him then as they are now.
Given the nature of things, I am not going to give any insight into how to do such things, suffice to say, the Internet will tell a person everything they need to know if observing the world doesn’t inform them sufficiently.
Also, I fear that already I am sounding rather detached about this. Frankly, I can’t help it. Call it Acceptance To A Painful Degree.
So, if I may be excused a moment’s frustration, I was just reading a news article about a suicide and in the comments – why dear goodness, why did I look at the comments, I don’t know – found many of them reiterating, “It’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem!” And from there, this article got its kick start. Those who say such things often tend to follow up the comment with sentiments suggesting that they have been through terrible things but would never have considered committing such a selfish act. (For some reason, I’m envisaging that comment being spoken in the same way that one would recite Jane Austen.)
I get it, I really do. At least to the extent that a person who has not experienced suicide can. But it isn’t usually considered helpful to say to someone in the midst or in the aftermath, “Well, I wouldn’t have done it!” Lovely, now excuse me while I slap your high horse on the rump. Enjoy the gallop. I hope you fall off. To those who say they would never do such a thing, I suggest they submit themselves to the studies on psychological resilience. Please, if anything, just go away. I realise that a lot of it comes from shock, from ignorance, from wanting to distance themselves from what they perhaps hope deep down they would never be capable of, from places I simply don’t know. On the “permanent solution” front, I am willing to believe there are some situations where this has worked, however, I’m also willing to believe the words came from someone with training or experience. In my experience though, the “permanent solution” point is lost on someone like Mr. Juniper, well, maybe not lost, so much as open to a different interpretation. In a lot of these cases, I would love for people to read the likes of The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat by Oliver Sacks, to help them realise how complex the brain is, that we aren’t the same and also, if they’re reading, they’re hopefully too busy to say something detrimental.
The other precious comment that comes out, and is a variation of the selfish act idea, is that they have too much to live for. It’s one I have thought about a lot. To be fair, I have thought about suicide far more than is healthy for someone who isn’t suicidal. I would like to think that Juniper Junior, Juniper Puss, and I should be enough to dissuade Mr. Juniper from ever wanting to make another attempt on his life. But I’ve come to realise that all the love in the world doesn’t make the pain go away. That there’s nothing I can do to make that pain go away. I can wander into the territory of talking about healing old wounds, tending to scars and putting band-aids on tortured souls and such, but I find it takes away from the utter seriousness of the man in front of me who wants to kill himself and knows perfectly well how to do so. Mr. Juniper loves Juniper Junior with all his heart and yet to remind him of how they love each other doesn’t help because he already knows. That’s what so many people seem to miss: Mr. Juniper has never forgotten for a moment how much he loves our little boy and how much our little boy loves his Daddy. It’s that his train of thought takes him into the territory that suggests we would be better off without him, and where I’m left trying to remind him that we would be worse off without him, that if he were truly a burden, we wouldn’t still be together. To try and help him make sense of what it means when people truly matter, when they love him, when they care about him.
That was rather a tangent, back to living with the aftermath? There’s often a perception that a person does X to themselves, goes to hospital, gets discharged and then they’re back to how they were before the incident (to say incident isn’t to downplay what a person does, but there are so many ways in which to cause harm to one’s self that a general term, at the least, is required).
Though, briefly: I have gone quite far enough without mentioning how Juniper Junior comes into all this. Mr. Juniper has not attempted suicide since we have had Juniper Junior. That is not to say Mr. Juniper hasn’t spent a lot of time considering suicide, however. With self harm, there have been incidents since having Juniper Junior, which have happened twice, occasionally three times a year, and since Juniper Junior was eighteen months old or so, I think all but one of those incidents has been of the ingestible variety. Juniper Junior isn’t aware of what Mr. Juniper has done and neither should he be. Daddy has a sore tummy and needs to see a doctor is about as far as it goes. To be fair, there have been several times where Daddy has had a sore tummy and it wasn’t self-inflicted. Juniper Junior has never seen a wound or stitches, scars however, are not covered up. And, indeed, this is a whole topic that I’ll go into more on the parenting article sometime in the near future.
Though it’s intent rather than action that differentiate between suicide attempts and self harm, on a personal scale, a suicide attempt is likely to have greater repercussions than self harm, i.e.,. Mr. Juniper’s self harm may be worse than another person’s suicide attempt, but Mr. Juniper’s suicide attempts are worse than his self harm. I met Mr. Juniper in the weeks following his worst suicide attempt (by physical definition) and even though that was years ago, he still suffers physical repercussions which I fear will only get worse as he gets older. With the other attempts, the physical repercussions were weeks at most, usually a couple. The difference is often about whether the attempt was due to something ingested or something done. In my experience, when it’s something ingested the recovery is shorter but considerably more painful, when it’s something done the recovery is longer but less painful. Though there are always, always exceptions of which Mr. Juniper has certainly has his fair share.
The aftermath should be easy in one respect, after all, it’s technically meant to be all uphill after hitting rock bottom, or in the case of self harm, hitting a ledge. But things have to be re-established. Where does the action (suicide attempt or self harm) mean that a person is? Was it a full blown relapse or a slip up? Was there a trigger that caused an impulsive action? Was it a slow burn? Sometimes, small mercies, I’ve seen it coming and once Mr. Juniper was back from Accident & Emergency, I was able to carry on as usual without too much anguish.
It might seem strange that I “carry on,” that in the aftermath my attention isn’t solely his. First and foremost: Juniper Junior is and always will be my priority. Second – and I realise this might not be the most popular opinion, but it is one Mr. Juniper, myself and his team have discussed often – his illness has not been such that his competence was compromised. Otherwise he would, rightly so, be staying in psychiatric hospital after receiving medical attention. That sounds so mean and I’m not suggesting that he did what he did on a whim, but that it was an action he inflicted on himself, and while I will support him in whatever way I can, he knows he isn’t going to be overwhelmed with pillow fluffing. The other part of carrying on is that stopping ordinary life doesn’t help. Slowing down, sure but not stopping or altering altogether. And then there is rest. It isn’t all that difficult to carry on when a lot of the (immediate) aftermath is usually sleep. Whatever action was involved, suicide attempts and self harm are exhausting.
There is part of the aftermath that I have always found hard and for which I am glad I can now count on one hand the incidents in a year, rather than in a month. Whatever the action, there is always part of Mr. Juniper that is in considerable (physical) pain, usually his arms or his abdomen. And, oh my, I have found it excruciating to hear him in pain as I hug him, or simply brush past. And as things have improved, I forget to expect that pain, whenever an incident comes around. There have been times where I have simply said, “I feel like I can’t touch you.” Mr. Juniper loathes hearing it but accepts that’s how it feels to me. It’s a feeling which isn’t terribly dissimilar to waking up and wondering if he’s alive – an experience I wish upon no-one. It’s confusion, frustration, disorientation, fear, and so much else, all rolled into one.
There is humour though, it fights through. There is always humour around, otherwise I don’t know how we would manage. I can remember occasions of Mr. Juniper admitting he had taken X number of pills, to which I couldn’t help myself replying, “You couldn’t be bothered to take the whole lot?” It’s partly a knee jerk reaction and how I deal with my frustration. Plus, it’s a little moment outside of it all, where Mr. Juniper knows very well that the implication is, “It’s okay, I’m just glad you told me.”
In case it slips unnoticed, I mentioned frustration, just a moment ago, and I mean it. Feelings of frustration, annoyance and anger, they’re all there. I don’t hide them from Mr. Juniper but I do consider how they come out, at least most of the time. I’m human and there are times when I have made little effort to consider how my upset or frustration may appear.
So to those who are going through it, have gone through it, who are on either side of it, or on both sides, I can but say I hope good things and peace come. I think it’s also worth leaving the wise words that I left at the end of the Crisis And Kindness article, for those wondering how to help:
No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.
And to make up for the rather unexpected mood of this, I give you the band I’ve been listening to as I wrote this: I Am Kloot. They’re wonderful.