Mental Illness

Caregiving: Unexpected

[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.

By Juniper

Rarely to be found without herbal tea nearby. Team Unicorn. Often in pyjamas. Also: TEAM KATNISS!

28 replies on “Caregiving: Unexpected”


I think that many people have difficulty recognising the difference between having suicidal thoughts due to a depressive episode and being suicidal and/or inclined to self-harm due to chronic depression. While many of us can relate to the former, most people have not experienced the latter. In the first instance, yes, thinking of those who will be profoundly affected by your acts can sometimes be helpful in getting past those thoughts. In the second instance, chronic depression sadly can sometimes be a terminal illness. Perhaps some people who suffer from it can be helped to go on by remembering their loved ones, but not necessarily all. And that is a deeply, deeply sad thing for everyone who is affected by it, but it has nothing to do with ‘selfishness’. Anyway, I hope that makes sense, I’m not a mental health professional or anything, and I only have personal experience with depressive episodes & suicidal or self-harm related thoughts, not chronic depression.

That makes a lot of sense – thank you for sharing! I think it comes down to what a lot of people have said: everyone’s different. As such, while there are some phrases which, perhaps, have ‘helped’ someone, there’s no guarantee that it will work but every chance it may be detrimental.

I’d be really super interested to know what you and Mr. Jupiter thought of the latest episode of glee. some of the responses to Dave’s attempt really rankled me. But I thought it was great that the teacher mentioned that for him in High school, getting caught cheating on a test was enough for him to come close to an attempt. People just don’t get it. . .

I’ve attempted. Not for many years, but I have. I’ve had Ideations a lot more. I’ve also self harmed, and you are right in saying they come from very different places.

I have the blessing of friends in much better situations than my own. But it unfortunately means that they end up feeling guilty when they complain about their problems. Which I think is Bull crap.

Each person’s problems are real to them, are as emotionally draining to them, as they feel they are. Just because my friend is worried about a work dinner and I’m worried about having a roof over my head next week doesn’t mean his distress is any less real. Might might have more dire consequences, true, but that doesn’t mean his business dinner is magically not stressful, that magically it is less important to where he is right now.

I was reading about the Glee episode the other day, sadly it doesn’t air here (UK) for another month. I may re-read the article on the episode and, perhaps, look at impact of these portrayals in a later Caregiving article – after the episode has aired. Mr. Juniper, as it happens, read the article on the episode, the other day, so I suspect he’ll want to watch the episode, too.

Self harm and suicidal ideation really do come from different places, and as I said in another comment, it can be very difficult when people don’t recognise the difference.

I think the guilt of your friends is perhaps a natural reaction, many people fear burdening those who they perceive as already struggling. Is it something you’ve spoken about with them?

That’s a really interesting point that you’ve made about distress being real. Thank you for sharing, Savannah.

I’m pretty used to their guilt and talking them down from the guilt. I’ve had that conversation so many times I really can do it in my sleep- I’ve done it before for a friend who was super freaked out about something but didn’t know if he could share it with me after he’d called in the middle of the night.

I’d honestly prefer to listen to their problems, as it gets my mind from my issues or anxiety.  Also I find that there’s often simpler solutions for some of them, or that I know how to talk them down. Once they move past the guilt thing or the OMG I WANT TO FIX IT thing, I find that having them around to talk me down when things get hard helps too.

(Interestingly, my best friend who can usually get me calm if not “down ” from my emotions has the hardest time with the wanting to fix things. It’s an interesting study in class dynamics- I’m low income, he’s been upper middle class since early childhood. The ways that he can wield power and money to solve problems doesn’t work the same way in my class as it does in his. But ah ha ha OT!)

I forgot you guys air behind schedule. I think I got so used to how Doctor Who is airing at the same dates in the states as in the UK that I plum forgot! I’ll be excited to see what y’all think when it does air though! Warning- lots of emotionally taxing stuff in the episode, so you are warned if you are drained that day.



It can certainly be difficult with friendships (and relationships as a whole), when communicating needs and what the other person may feel obliged to do, even when they aren’t. It’s something I plan to be writing about very soon, as it happens.

Interesting point about class – thought provoking, for sure.

Yes, we’re behind schedule here which can mean some things here on Persephone can be utterly confusing, but it’s because of the “delay” in things coming over here. Thank you for the warning!

A little note of thanks to those of you who have replied. I’m truly touched by all that you have shared. At this moment, I have Juniper Puss sprawled across my lap, fast asleep, and it’s almost bedtime here, too.

It’s been a tiring few days here, so I hope you’ll forgive me if I leave it a little longer before I reply, I do hope to reply to you all in the next couple of days though, when I’m a little more awake. Again, thank you to you all for sharing your stories – you’re amazing people.


He’s very lucky to have you. Others have already said what I’m thinking and I’m too tired to try and add more to it but I wanted to say that I’m glad you recognize the difference between self-harm and actual suicide attempts. I’ve never been able to explain to people that sometimes taking extra sleeping pills isn’t about trying to end my life, it’s about trying to escape the pain for a few days. I’ve gotten so tired of trying to explain my depression to people that I just don’t talk about it anymore but then not having anyone to talk to about it just makes me even more depressed.

So, like I said, he’s lucky to have you. I have yet to find someone who will stick around after the storm. Apparently it’s much easier to just label me a psycho and walk away.

Thank you, Rocky. I happen to think I’m very lucky to have him! The difference between self harm and suicide really is an important one, which makes it all the more difficult when people don’t recognise the difference. Mr. Juniper is fortunate to have a mental health team who are fantastic and very well aware of the difference between self harm and suicide attempts; it has been very difficult at points where Accident & Emergency staff (for example) haven’t recognised that.

I truly hope good things and good people come to you, and thank you for sharing.

My stepfather committed suicide nearly 2 years ago.

A long story, but sometimes people do suffer from issues that aren’t temporary.  To go into the whole story would be an entry in itself, but my stepfather did have many medical conditions that he lived with for 5 1/2 years.  They were getting worse, they weren’t reversible, and truthfully he lasted years longer than I would have in his case.

The other bullshit thing is the “stages of grief” – comes from the people on the outside who haven’t lived through it, who don’t know the story and make such horrific and stupid statements that show that people still view it as black and white, when suicide is definitely a shade of gray.  Sure, for some people things maybe can get better.  Sometimes it might be a temporary problem.  But to state that for EVERY case is misleading and hurtful.

To go with the “selfish” thing – I think it’s selfish to demand a person stay alive to spare the feelings of people around him/her.  I just don’t get why wanted to be free of pain is selfish, but people demanding a person to stay alive for their own emotions isn’t.  I know my stepfather’s line of thinking is he was a burden on all of us because of his illness.  While it does hurt that he’s no longer around and I do miss him every day, I am so glad he’s not in pain any longer.


I’m so sorry you went through this.  I think you are spot-on, though, with what you are saying.  Even when it’s mental pain, the “temporary problem” thing is such a shitty thing to say.  Nobody has the right to judge somebody else’s problems.

Thank you for sharing your story, Dayle. It’s a perspective we don’t often see and it’s indeed, very thought provoking. I think you made a very important point by saying that it is a “shade of gray”. I’m sorry to hear that your uncle and family have had to go through this all, it’s horrible to see loved ones suffering. Again, thank you for sharing.

I wish I could explain what I feel in my body, and which you touched on here – suicide attempts or feelings, to the people on the outside, seem like something so selfish – like the person hasn’t thought through the pain that they are causing.

But on the inside, in the middle of it – it feels so selfish to want to stay alive.  Depression is a liar, and a good one at that, and in the depths of it, it convinces you completely that everything you touch turns to shit.  To stay in that situation means to burden people with your awfulness, to not let them live their lives fully because you are constantly dragging them down.

I’m glad he has you.

[I know it’s probably understood from the article, but more TW for suicide, depression, and sexual assault]

This definitely takes me back to when I was 14 and tried to kill myself, but stopped myself in the middle. It was a bizarre thing. My depression had struck hard, brought about by being sexually assaulted by a complete stranger while my parents were in the room and an increasingly emotionally abusive home situation. It was triggered because I had just finished watching a movie in which the main character was deeply depressed and…I don’t know what happened. I was totally numb until I came back to myself, and I stopped it.

I dealt with feeling constantly depressed and suicidal until I escaped to college at 16. While I’ll probably never stop fighting with depression in some form or another, the suicidal feelings stopped the minute I no longer called that place home.

I remember hearing similar things while I was suicidal. That being suicidal was “selfish.” That everyone loved me and would be hurt if I died. It wasn’t any help. Being told I was just selfish only made me feel worse. It didn’t make it hurt any less. And I felt guilty all the time that I felt that way knowing people loved me.

It didn’t change the fact that I just hurt, and I didn’t feel like there was any escape. When you’re constantly being told that you don’t do anything right and that you’re constantly hurting others by your own parent, you start to feel like you’re just worthless. Like you’re a burden on others. Like no one would really miss you if you were gone, or that they’d be better off if you were.

It didn’t matter that none of that was true. It’s how I felt. And no shaming could have made that “better.” Not even all the love and affection could change it. It had to come from within.

Oh my goodness, thank you for sharing your story. A lot of that sounds so familiar from when Mr. Juniper and I have talked about how it all feels for him. Very much the point on shaming, it truly doesn’t help and your point on love and affection is very interesting, too. What you said about about leaving home, too – for Mr. Juniper and others that we know, recovery hasn’t really been able to begin until they’re away from home, in particular, away from the place of much distress – it’s can be a constant trigger, otherwise. Again, thank you for sharing, and to echo Bryn, I’m glad to hear you’re in a better place.

Yes, I was definitely reminded of it when I read your perspective on Mr. Juniper’s struggles. I am fortunate in that I was able to end contact with the place of distress (I haven’t spoken to my parents in over a year and a half), but it took a lot more therapy to get to the place I am now. I wish everyone had that sort of support behind them, or COULD get that kind of support behind them.

And thanks. :)

Thank you for being brave enough to share your story. I am on the other side, similar to where your husband is, but each struggle is different. I am my own caregiver. I will not end my life or make an attempt to because I will not put my family through the aftermath. I simply cannot do that to them. That doesn’t mean I’m any better in health terms than your husband; it just means that I’ve thought it completely through and imagined the entire scenario of what happens afterward. I feel like all the words here came out wrong. Know this: you are incredibly strong and I am in awe of you.

I think the thing here is that, as Susan says upthread, depression can be such a liar. When I was suicidal last year, I had a lot of times when I really did not believe anyone would be sad if I killed myself. I thought my family, friends and husband would act sad out of politeness, while inside they would feel the way one does when that really annoying guest at the party finally leaves. Or maybe it would be better than that: they would feel light and free.

I was completely wrong, of course; those people love me and they would have been gutted. (I’m typing that last bit out because I realize the lie is still somewhat convincing to me, and I have to counter it.) I think the real question is whether the person who’s suffering loses touch with reality or not.

Thank you for your response, @bryndonovan. It’s only been in the last year that my mother has come to terms with/gained a full awareness of my illness (by attending a therapy session with me) and I’m 37. I’ve struggled with depression my whole life. (I am in therapy and am medicated as I have been for basically all of my adult life.) I see how she responds to me now–she has come so very far in a short time, and I know if I were to end my life, it would send her over the proverbial edge. I come by this illness “naturally”–she’s never fully dealt with her own issues. I know my family loves me, yet there are still days where I think, well, I could hang myself by the upstairs bannister and would trouble them no longer, after, of course, they dealt with my “affairs”. I still have the thoughts partially because I feel I’m such a burden on my mother as the only person who really knows all about my condition. She and I make sure to call each other often and she has asked me to call her with “the good things” and not just during the sad times. That is where I am today.

I hope I didn’t make you angry with my first response–clearly you’re familiar with that mentality of thinking you won’t  be a burden to people, and didn’t need me to explain it to you. I’m glad you can most often see that your family would be devastated if they were to lose you. (Hell, so would we, for that matter.)

Do you think it would help at all to have someone besides you mom who knows all about your depression? Not because it’s a burden to her, but because you could use more of a support system? Or is that even a possibility right now?

Of course, we’re here for you here. I know about lifetime struggles with depression. I’m 44, and I’ve alternated between times when I’m fine and very bad times…not that I know exactly what you’re going through, because every story is different. But if you ever need a sympathetic ear, any time, feel free to PM me!

No, not at all! I think it clearly comes across in my writing that I don’t have much of a support system and I have to be my own caregiver, which is extremely difficult. Part of that is the depression–I isolate b/c I don’t trust people, based on past abuse and neglect, etc. I do adhere to my therapy b/c I know it is very important for me to maintain that lifeline. I don’t have insurance now, but I have state-funded therapy–individual and also group sessions. I just continue to soldier through, b/c there is no other option. To not be in therapy and be medicated would be a death sentence for me.

Truly, even though I’ve been here at P-Mag such a short time, I have found it to be a wonderful safe haven (unlike the other place–*ahem*–that turned out to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing). Everyone here has been very supportive and positive and I find myself eager to sign on and interact with smart and sympathetic women, which is not something I’ve had much of in my life, like, ever. I appreciate your offer, and thank you for your openness. You are a gem.

Thank you for sharing, upinalather. Those are really interesting points and you’ve certainly given me some things to think about – and what you said made a lot of sense, too. I would add more but I think Bryn has covered things beautifully. Thank you, again, and believe me – I am in awe of the strength you’ve all shown.

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