As a Suicide Attempt Survivor, I’m Still Waiting For Stories of Resilience On TV

Approximately 92-95% of suicide attempts end in survival.

I didn’t know this, though, when I tried to end my life almost eight years ago. I’d only ever heard of stories that ended in death or in hospital beds. I’d only ever seen them as a plot twist on a television program or tragedy porn in the news. To me, people who attempted suicide overwhelmingly ended up in the ground, or on occasion in psych wards, but there was never any life to be lived afterward.

There was never a single story that said to me, “You can survive. And then you can truly live.”

Imagine my surprise, then, when I woke up alone, head pounding, room spinning. There was no point of reference. What do you do when you survive? Where do you go? Later that night, I googled “suicide survivor,” but back then everything I found was for people who’d lost someone – never for someone who’d nearly lost themselves.

I went to bed. I got up the next morning, went to class. When I saw my therapist a few days later, I mentioned it in passing, ashamed of my failure, trying to remain casual and unaffected and distant. She asked me how I felt now and I said I felt nothing. 92-95% failure rate – I know that years later – but in that moment I thought I must be the only one who could fuck up something that should be so straightforward.

Stop your own heart. There must be a thousand different ways to do it. I’ve seen this on television a million times, I told my therapist, teenagers like me who dramatically and precisely erase themselves. She asked me how I did it, and I told her just like a teenager I saw on Dateline. It was supposed to be quick. It was supposed to be simple.

“I don’t know how I messed this up.” My hands curled into two perfect fists.

She asked me if I was going to try again and I told her, “What’s the use?” I was embarrassed. And you can’t 5150 someone who’s too embarrassed to try, who’s treating the whole ordeal like nothing more than a terrible faux pas, something to be forgotten. Someone who isn’t dangerous anymore, just humiliated.

Television, with its drama and sensationalism, didn’t prepare me to live. It didn’t prepare me for the next morning, when my life was still the same as I’d left it.

Television only prepared me for trying. It allowed me to imagine the vindication and justice of succeeding – portraying suicide as triumph, suicide as revenge, suicide as release, suicide as justified, suicide as beautiful tragedy, suicide as an art form, even, as the answer – but it never prepared me to survive, for everything after.

No one told me how to rebuild my life. No one told me how to take the fragmented pieces of myself and thread them back together. I was only taught how to die, and never how to live.

Find me a story of a survivor who’s glad to be one. Give me a survivor who gets their own damn show, where suicide isn’t just a plot twist for shock value but the genuine truth of their struggle.

Give me the 13 Reasons Why of the 92-95% of people who wake up and have to face a world they weren’t expecting to see again, see a reflection they’d already parted ways with.

Give me the stories of teenagers like me whose lives aren’t sensational because of how they died, but instead tremendous because of how they survived, how they lived. Give me more than trauma porn. Give me more than triggers that exploit their traumas – more than the blood in the bathtub, the wailing of the ambulance, the walls of the psych ward.

Give me their full humanity. Give me recovery, give me relapse, give me resilience.

Give me back my humanity. 

There are youth like me who wake up to a spinning room, posed with the question of how they will rebuild. They’re looking for stories like theirs to help them engage with trauma and reimagine their lives – and they’re only finding this in the form of tragedy, revenge, descent.

If the overwhelming majority of us will survive, why do our only representations confine us to madness or death?

Every single day, people like me survive. People like me live, and along the way, discover something worth living for. We grow up, we get older. We find ways to become whole. We’re so much more than our proximity to death and the pain that we’ve held in our bones. And our singular trauma doesn’t exist for the sole purpose of entertaining you, nor is it designed for your consumption.

We’re more than this. We’re larger than this.

When will I get to see a story like mine on the screen? Show me someone who lives. Show me someone who survives and goes on to truly live.

We’re still here. We’re still waiting.

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We need you. You need you. If you ever need support, please consider the following crisis resources:

The National Suicide Prevention Helpline: 1-800-273-8255
The Trevor Lifeline for LGBTQIA+ youth: 1-866-488-7386
Trans Lifeline: 1-877-565-8860

Or check out my favorite mental health apps at this resource list.

17 thoughts on “As a Suicide Attempt Survivor, I’m Still Waiting For Stories of Resilience On TV

  1. The Valley Vegan says:

    I don’t talk about it really with anyone, but my ex attempted suicide and failed (thanks to me, I found him in time and called 911).

    My own feelings of guilt and pity aside, he never seemed to fully live again after that. He spent the following 16 months, the last 16 months of his life, going through the motions, like a zombie almost. He could’ve used a better support system, a better therapist, better friends, better everything.

    He never found that reason to keep living (not even our 10 year old son filled that role) and he finally succeeded in checking out.

    It still makes me sad and angry, but makes me appreciate the stories like yours. There is life after near-death. I’m always so amazed with you. And I never question how/why I found your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. bobcabkings says:

    Sam, even working in the mental health system for 20 years, half of that in Crisis services, I never heard that statistic, though I did know many survivors of attempts. My training included how to stop people from trying and what to do with them when they do try or say they will (i.e., 5150), but not how to help the go on with the life they had expected to be leaving. From the professional side, reading this I think many of the actions we classified as “suicidal gestures” were actually done with intent to die, but the patients may have let that label go uncontested out of the embarrassment you describe. Thank you, Sam

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Shalom says:

    this is what i needed. it’s as if you took my lived experience and articulated it far better than i ever could have. “give me recovery, give me relapse, give me resilience”. yes. YES.
    thank you, sam.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. mulan92 says:

    I get the impression that you interpret the experience of being admitted to a psych ward as similar to the end of one’s life. But there is life after hospitalization, just like there is life after an unsuccessful suicide attempt that is not followed by hospitalization. I think it’s worth remembering.
    As for TV, I think that to see the authentic experiences of suicide survivors on TV, you really have to get a bunch of people together and create a programme/documentary/talk show like this. Little chance anyone else will give that to you. Most people just aren’t interested in hard truths. They prefer ones that are easy to digest, and easy to forget.

    Like

    • Sam Dylan Finch says:

      Your impression isn’t accurate. I don’t feel that way at all. I’ve been hospitalized twice in the last year alone, and it was the beginning of my recovery. The issue I highlight here is that in mainstream depictions of suicide, they seldom show rebuilding and resilience after those hospitalizations. I would really appreciate it if folks didn’t assume what my experiences with suicide and hospitalization actually are.

      Liked by 1 person

      • mulan92 says:

        That’s good to hear. My impression was probably the result of being overly alert to things like that… having heard some shitty comments about people who’ve been hospitalized, I may have started seeing such hints where there are none. : ]

        Liked by 1 person

    • CassandraToday says:

      Thank you for this, Sam. I was just released two days ago from a brief involuntary hospital stay — the first time in my 66 years that I’ve been locked up. There’s a follow-up day program that I’ll be starting on Monday to help me work on depression and the behaviors it can lead to. That’s great. But what about the road back? –the road I traveled down to come so close to killing myself that they locked me away. How do I get back from this deeply emotional and frightening experience, to the more-or-less functioning place I was at before I took this wrong turn? I’m still not sure how that journey from suicidality to plain old depression is going to work. But thanks to this essay, at least now I can state the problem, which is the first stop in tackling it.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Deirdre Salsich says:

    Julianna Margulies’ character on ER, Season 1, survived and she lived to continue her job at the hospital where she was a nurse. Get the DVDs- it’s not available to stream.

    You are strong. You can do this.

    On Mon, Apr 17, 2017 at 9:21 PM, Let’s Queer Things Up! wrote:

    > Sam Dylan Finch posted: “Approximately 92-95% of suicide attempts end in > survival. I didn’t know this, though, when I tried to end my life almost > eight years ago. I’d only ever heard of stories that ended in death or in > hospital beds. I’d only ever seen them as a plot twist on ” >

    Liked by 1 person

  6. surfacingaftersilence says:

    I do understand. I am a survivor as well. And yes, I am glad to have survived. It was in fully recovering from anorexia that I began to understand “being a survivor.” It’s often done in silence, but I have been open with my struggles of learning what it means to survive, without focusing as much on the getting sick part as I did the “now what happens?” part. https://surfacingaftersilence.wordpress.com/

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The Armchair Feminist says:

    Interesting post. Feel free to delete/ not publish my post if you feel it would be dangerous to readers. I survived some (admittedly pretty poor effort) suicide attempts and I regret it. I honestly wish that I had succeeded. Doing it now wouldn’t help: it wouldn’t unspend the money it took treating me or failed attempting to educating me or protecting and rehousing me when I became homeless. It wouldn’t give my ex partners back the years of their lives that were sucked up by me. It wouldn’t pay back my debts and it wouldn’t erase the years of anguish when I lived in indescribable horrific pain. Killing myself at 17 would. My life now is still pretty crap. Not worse than death, but not enough to justify going through all that to get to. I will end my life in debt no matter how hard I work now I will never repay the tens of thousands that were spent, and the energy of others. It infuriates me when people say that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem . Everything is permanent. We can’t undo time. My failures and my costs and my relational impacts can not be undone. I cannot give back time or unexperience pain. I feel like I see survival stories a lot where the survivors have achieved loads and have great lives. It would be interesting to connect with others who live half lives. In fear of relapse. Excluded from their vocation and adrift without another. Maybe those people don’t survice long, I don’t know.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sam Dylan Finch says:

      I will definitely say this: More authenticity is needed across the board. It can’t just be “look how great my life is after!” or death. We need real stories. Real heartbreak. Real struggle. And real resilience, too. I spent a lot of years after my attempt living a half-life, and I’m only recently coming into my own. I wish so badly that I had had honest, real representation that made me feel seen.

      I want to affirm you, too, knowing that what you shared wasn’t easy to share – and that, as your truth, it’s valid no matter what. And I do hope that things improve in a measurable way, in whatever that means relative to you and your situation. I’m glad that you’re still here, but empathize with the feeling that it’s not as simple as that. I know better than anyone that it really isn’t.

      Like

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