Trigger warning: suicidal thoughts, suicide planning, railway suicide
Tom is a great fan of air crash investigation programmes. He takes pride in knowing exactly which seats to choose to maximise our chances in the unlikely event of a crash. (I don’t have a fear of flying, but if I did I’m not sure whether this would make things better or worse.)
Leaving terrorism or war aside there are actually relatively few reasons a plane might crash. Most obviously, there’s failure within the plane itself. It’s remarkable how a tiny thing – a defective screw or a missed electrical test – can cause such catastrophic failure.
Then of course there’s human error. A failure to engage or disengage some system can be fatal, as can misinterpretation of data from the instruments. I put it to Tom that freak weather might be another cause, but he was firmly of the opinion that the job of the pilot and co-pilot was to manage the weather situation, so that would be another kind of human error. That’s me told, then.
Why do I suddenly care about aeroplanes? Well, I’ve had a crash of my own recently, albeit bipolar not Boeing.
Until a couple of weeks ago I was doing well. During October and November I’d built myself a firm, strong framework of 5-6 yoga classes a week. I was going at the same day and time every week, so it added a lot of structure to my life. It’s far from being an experiment or a luxury now – it’s become essential. And of course there’s always the meds, chemical messengers if not electrical ones, taken exactly as directed, day in, day out. I never mess with the programme (not intentionally anyway, but everyone misses a dose now and again).
I’d even begun to bolt on useful extra safety features, things like daily meditation, mindfulness days, and eating more healthily. The whole thing was holding together well and I felt calm and happy. I was starting to believe that I could do things, things a “normal” person might do. I dared to consider whether I could forge an actual career in research.
Then THIS happened:
Reading that status makes me cringe. It’s pretty much the equivalent of a pilot saying, “Hey, I see there’s a freak ice storm ahead! It’ll probably get into the engines and freeze them but I’m going in anyway! Hope we all survive, LOL!” Part of my brain was flashing DANGER! DANGER! DANGER! but I overrode it.
There was no way my self-management plan was going to hold up under that strain, and for everything I did, I missed a yoga class. The end result is that I’m not very well. Within 24 hours of posting I was in free fall, not even able to tell whether I was in mixed mood or ultra rapid cycling or whether there was even a distinction. I’ve had nights when I’ve only slept a few hours despite, perky and bouncy in the day despite 700mg quetiapine, and nights when I’ve slept 14 hours. On one particularly sedated night I was so drugged I wet the bed and could only manage to drag a small towel between my body and the mattress, spending the rest of the night mostly sleeping my own pee. In the morning I stripped the bed, humiliated.
Sometimes I’ve been clearly hypomanic and it has served me well. This week I part facilitated a workshop, where being an enthusiastic people person is exactly what’s needed. Being energetic has also been extremely helpful in getting the Christmas shopping done and I’ve only slightly overspent. But this good humour can turn in a second. I’ve been irritable in vicious way. Awful words have bubbled up from deep within and before I can stop myself I have been horrible to strangers (usually because of some queuing incident because I am that British). At the time I feel smug and self-righteous but later those words leave a bad taste in my mouth.
I’ve been struggling with suicidality too. First came the cold, hard, sneaky side, encouraging me to manipulate Tom and my consultant and my pharmacist to give me more meds, using my months-long wellness to minimise any thoughts that I could be at risk. I knew that if I kept quiet the sneakiness would grow and I would be in a lot of danger; I had already started researching minimum lethal doses again. In the end I told both Tom and my consultant some of these thoughts, but I did not do it gracefully. The drugs have been taken away and my loopholes closed down.
Now I am obsessing about suicide by rail. Sometimes in the combined high energy and low mood of a mixed affective state my agitated body tries to pull me into physical danger even before my conscious mind has spotted that there’s an opportunity. Even when feeling a bit better I keep fantasising – not intentionally at all. I feel a huge urge to jump down onto the tracks even when no train’s coming. I try to stay as close to the platform wall as possible but I have at times been close to having to ask station staff to take me somewhere safe. But what would they do? Call an ambulance probably, so no.
My lamotrigine’s been put up to max. There’s nothing to do while I wait but to try and rebuild my plane. In the past 24 hours I’ve been wondering what the point is, building the plane then crashing it then rebuilding and crashing it over and over. Is it worth owning a plane at all if this is how it’s going to be in perpetuity? I just want to hide in the hanger and never, ever come out.
You have described exactly how I am feeling at this present time. Christmas and all the hype about it has such a lot to do with it.
I have experienced too the wanting to end my life in the path of a train. I have been so very close. It was the thought of the train driver and everyone having to discover my body parts that truly put me off. There must be a cleaner way to do it.
I am forever struggling to cope. I always take my medication and I sometimes resent the side affects. That is when I question why do I bother.
I live for my husband and three sons who love me unconditionally even though there are so many times I wish I wasn’t a burden to them and they would be better off without me.
I have no idea how I will be from one hour to the next. I cannot see into the future and I am unsure what it could be like having bipolar in old age as it is bad enough coping with it at 60.
I only have my immediate family to support me. I have lost most of my friends over the years because they have found me difficult to understand even when I have tried to explain. Also due to very violent episodes my 2 sisters and my brother have detached themselves from me too. No amount of explaining seems to help. I gave my younger sister your website so that she can read your brilliant descriptive writing about the suffering and symptoms of living with bipolar and I can only hope she takes an interest in your website.
Thank you so much for being the wonderful person you are and please realise that without you there would definitely be more suicides. Your blog is extremely important to many fellow sufferers.
Have a good Christmas doing whatever you manage and take good care of yourself.
I’m really sorry to hear that you are having similar experiences. It means a lot to me to know that you feel sharing my writing might help. I think Christmas will be OK. It’s just Tom and me this year so we can make to whatever we want. I hope you can have as peaceful a Christmas as possible xx
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Great metaphor with planes and the hanger. I too have times when I wonder if it’s worth the effort but on balance I think it is and I would definitely miss you if you didn’t re-emerge from the hanger.
How about thinking about the hanger as necessary maintenance and fine tuning for an elegant but unique plane with complex systems which reacts differently to weird weather and odd pilots?
I must confess that I get very tired of having to ‘watch’ myself and adjust medication and what I do due to the turbulence raised by physical and mental health conditions and I look back longingly to the days when I just lived without all this ‘stuff’. But, that is the past and I must stay in the here and now.
I find the Christmas season very tough for a number of reasons and feel the urge to hibernate in my own personal hanger but am taking the odd flight out and then returning for maintenance.
Wishing you the all the best in weathering this particular storm and look forward to seeing you again in the New Year.
Great post!If Tom’s a fan of the L1011 TriStar,then you certainly married the right man!Best Wishes.Richard.
Have them check a lamotrigine level! I was on 400 mg at night (I know…greater than the “max” dose of 300 mg) and I still had that little niggling feeling that I could flip to mania/depression from “normal” without provocation at any time. My doc ordered a level and it was 0.3….low. We bumped my dose to 600 mg at night and my level is now 0.6 (goal 0.5-0.7) I no longer have the feeling that I can flip my mood to manic/depression without any provocation.
I know this feeling – it’s known as ‘call from/of the void’ where for some reason, we get that little thought that says ‘jump’ when you’re standing on a cliff edge, or just thinking about how easy it would be to throw yourself in front of a train.
Apparently it’s a perfectly normal thing, but I think for us with our very present suicidal tendencies it’s a real risk of leading to something worse. I admire how open you are about these feelings Charlotte – and you are so very awesome. xx
I am with you. Holidays are so hard for me and I was doing incredibly well until I was summarily fired the Friday before Christmas and have been having suicidal thoughts since then. I’ve certainly seen manic actions on my own part – but like you have been reaching out. It’s all we can do. Keep trying – keep riding the ups and downs – maintain faith and hope. Xo
This is the first post of yours that I read and it was wonderful (and not so wonderful for you) to hear someone else talk about that urge to throw yourself in front of a train. Often it’s the voices that tell me to do it, but even before they started I was always fascinated with what would happen when I was suicidal. Currently I feel like I might do into either a depressed or manic episode (I’m not bipolar, but schizoaffective which is a little different) as I’ve gone off one of the anti-psychotics I take in an urge to be more productive (on it I sleep 14 hours a day). So far I’m doing really well and no voices. Can’t wait to have some more time to read more of your posts. Loved the way you talked about things.