[TW: Suicide, method]
So I’ve been watching this HBO show called In Treatment. It’s several years old but I recently got into it and I’m a bit addicted. It’s about a therapist, Paul, and his array of patients, and each season focuses on a particular set of them and follows them through several weeks of sessions. It’s well-written and hard to turn away from. The patients are fascinating and so is Paul, who goes to therapy himself. It reminds me of all the reasons I myself have thought of being a therapist – because people are so interesting and fragile and in need.
There are some episodes that I wish came with a trigger warning. One of Paul’s patients, Walter, attempts suicide, which is triggery for me in itself, but then he is placed in a psychiatric unit for a week, and his description of it to Paul made me cry – terrible staff, nothing to do, fellow patients who are very sick and often disturbing, etc. The whole plot line is an interesting exploration of suicide and its perception by people on the inside track of it. Walter takes a long time to even admit that what happened was an attempt on his life because he’s afraid of the stigma and getting locked up in the “nuthouse,” “loony bin,” etc. Paul’s treatment of the situation is gentler as he helps Walter explore the feelings of helplessness that brought him to that place.
There’s another patient of Paul’s, Mia, who is a very willful, difficult, rather antagonistic woman. I watched an episode today where she’s going through a tough time in her relationship with her father, and when Paul asks her if she’s been experiencing feelings of hopelessness, she says flippantly, “I’m not suicidal, Paul. Don’t worry. I’m pretty tough.”
I immediately had a thought, and that thought was fuck you.
Fuck you, Mia. Or, rather, fuck you, writers of In Treatment.
I’ve been thinking about it a lot and I’m not sure – was it the writers of the show being ignorant, or was it an intentional decision made to continue portraying Mia as the difficult, provocative character she’s been all along? The way Paul handles Walter’s suicide attempt is, in my opinion, well done and what I would hope any therapist would do (it’s certainly what mine did). So I was caught off-guard by this “I’m not suicidal because I’m tough” business. Regardless of the intent behind it, it pushed a huge button that I have about the perception of weakness when we talk about suicide.
To someone with my history, it’s really hurtful. Honestly, I think I’m a tough motherfucker. I’ve taken myself to the hospital twice in order to save my life because I felt that I might be a danger to myself and part of me, deep down, knew that my mind was lying and I didn’t really want to go yet. A third time, I was so sick and exhausted that I actually made the attempt and called 911 to save myself yet again because I realized I was willing to hold on just a little bit longer. Do you know how hard that was to go through? To lie there with that empty bottle next to me, waiting to lose consciousness, and suddenly sitting up in a panic, wanting to take it back because I wasn’t ready to go yet? That 911 call was the hardest, scariest thing I’ve ever had to do because I was so afraid I was too late. Sobbing into the phone and explaining what I’d done was the worst moment of my life. I’ve never been so scared. Facing down insensitive ER staff (“how would you like to pay your copay, ma’am?” as I’m sitting on a gurney with absolutely nothing because they immediately take everything away from you when you show up suicidal) and a horrible psychiatric hospital for the third time was the second worst. Here we go again. I was so sad and scared and tired.
So I’m over listening to bullshit about suicide and weakness. There is nothing weak about facing down that monster. It’s a fight no one can understand until they’ve been there, and only a person who’s never been there would make the judgment that there’s anything like weakness involved. We have a long way to go to erase the stigma, which is part of the reason I write about it.
If you’re struggling, hang in there. You are so brave. And asking for help is brave too. Reach out to someone you trust or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. You are strong, you are needed, you are loved, and you matter.