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.

Help me keep Let’s Queer Things Up! radical, accessible, and free. Please consider donating as little as $1 per month to our Patreon Campaign.

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.

To Be Transgender, Mentally Ill, And Still Alive

Content Note: Mentions of suicide, trans/homophobia, saneism

Nearly every day for the past five months, give or take, I’ve had a moment when I glance out the window onto my street and think to myself, “I was never supposed to be here.”

This feeling isn’t new to me – I’ve dealt with “survivor’s guilt” in some form for years now – but the feeling intensified when I moved to my new apartment.

You know, the apartment that I feel like I don’t deserve for some reason or another.

Here’s the honest truth: People like me? Mentally ill queer kids, the ones that get their homophobia or transphobia with a side of psychosis? The ones whose trauma isn’t just a meal but comes with an appetizer and a fucking dessert?

This world isn’t made for us.

How would I know that? I’ve lived it.

And I don’t think I would have been so persistent about ending my life all those years ago if this were a world that saw me, validated me, affirmed me. If this were a world that had a place for me. If this were a world that held space for me.

I know this because it took me years to sit beside the window instead of dangling out of it, held in place only by someone’s hand clinging desperately to my shirt collar, because to be queer was one thing but to be queer and crazy was another thing entirely.

There has never been a moment when I’ve forgotten that I am both. I’m not allowed to forget.

I remember it when the psychiatrist advises that I not pursue hormones because I could just be manic and not trans; I remember it when another trans person says to me, “I’m glad that gender identity disorder is no longer in the DSM. It’s not like trans people are crazy.”

But I am.

I remember it when I recall the mere inch that came between myself and my own death.

The names of those I knew and could’ve known that ended their lives still swirl around my brain, and all I can think about is how I’m here and they aren’t, and how senseless all of this feels.

Yes, I’m here. But it wasn’t for a lack of trying.

Sometimes the guilt is so painful that I’m convinced that some part of me is fractured – that if you peered inside, it’s almost certain that something in me is irreparably broken. That being a survivor that has watched people like me die, over and over, has left me in a permanent state of grief.

I am in a permanent state of grief.

When I have flashbacks to the moment I woke up, realizing I was still here, I find myself trembling and shaken, wondering why the world steals the light of so many queers but somehow left mine intact.

Why, after making self-annihilation my hobby for a time, should I be rendered whole in a world that despises our wholeness?

Why did I survive?

And it’s not that I believe that my life wasn’t worth sparing. It’s just that, when you watch your comrades, your community, your friends dying all around you, you can’t help but wonder why it was them and not you.

Well-meaning friends tell me, “Remember to be grateful, too.”

But what they don’t understand is that there will always be another mentally ill trans kid like me, ready to follow through on what I failed to finish.

And I can’t just feel grateful when I know, in the back of my mind, that that kid is still out there.

Maybe I feel guilty for being alive because I’m conditioned to believe that people like me aren’t meant to exist in the first place.

Every day since my attempt there’s a scene that plays out in my head, where I’m banging on the closet door, trying to stop that kid from repeating my mistakes, begging them to let me in, begging them to stay, knowing that I can’t promise them that it will get better but I can do everything in my power to create a space for us.

Just one space.

Well-meaning friends say, “Yes, it’s horrifying, but you can’t dwell on that.”

Why can’t I dwell on that?

Do you know the overwhelming trauma of existing in a world that teaches you, from day one, to resist everything that you are?

And why should they act horrified when we destroy ourselves – why should they act surprised – as if that’s not what the world was asking of us all along?

They ask me not to dwell on this as if trauma is a garment you wear, as if we can forget who we are. Please listen when I say this: I can’t forget.

Well-meaning friends ask me, “Why do you write?”

But the better question is why I stayed.

And I stayed for the same reason that I write: Because so long as this world isn’t made for us, I have to keep fighting for a better world.

7 Ways to Actively Support Suicide Attempt Survivors

Cross-posted from Everyday Feminism

When we talk about suicide, we tend to focus on prevention – or mourning those that we have lost to suicide.

And while these are worthy and important causes, they sometimes make invisible a very real and important group of people.

We forget, too often, that some of us are on the other side – that not everyone who attempts suicide will die.

When I attempted suicide as a young teenager, I found myself set adrift.

I couldn’t find support or resources because those resources focused exclusively on either family members who have lost a loved one or preventing suicide attempts – neither of which applied to me at that time.

Confused and alone, I was unable to find a single website or article that acknowledged that sometimes, suicide doesn’t go the way we planned – sometimes, we live to tell the tale.

I went to school the next day, resuming business as usual, because I didn’t know what else to do.

Six years later, more resources are being created, and amazing projects are unfolding. I’m grateful, as an attempt survivor, to know that other survivors will have more of a safety net than I did.

However, I still believe that there are things we all can do to support suicide attempt survivors – and to create a culture in which these survivors do not feel invisible.

As feminists, I believe that this work is especially important and relevant – the stigma around mental health and suicide is a hurdle for folks in every community, and is most often shouldered by folks who are already marginalized in significant ways.

Here’s a list of seven ways we can all do right by attempt survivors.

1. Include Attempt Survivors in Your Conversations About Suicide

In any conversation about suicide – whether it’s a formal panel, a public policy discussion, or a casual conversation – it should never be assumed that survivors don’t exist.

And many of us are not only surviving, but also thriving. Others survive and continue to struggle.

If you’re doing work in prevention, for example, it’s important to remember that folks who have attempted suicide before are at even greater risk to attempt again.

In fact, one-third of people who attempt suicide will try again within one year.

Regardless, attempt survivors are an important demographic when we’re talking about prevention.

When organizing panels or conferences around mental health and suicide, there should be a concentrated effort to include survivors not just as attendees, but as speakers and organizers.

If you already support a particular mental health organization, you can also inquire about what they are doing to support attempt survivors.

And in everyday conversation, remember that attempting suicide is not synonymous with dying.

Including attempt survivors in conversations that impact our lives is an important part of making survivors visible.

2. Stop Treating Suicide Like a Taboo Topic

I know that suicide sounds really scary. I know that it can be hard to have conversations about it.

However, when we treat suicide like a hush-hush topic, we’re not only hurting people who may be suicidal and need help, we’re also hurting people who have been through an attempt and need a safe space to talk about it.

When we don’t have healthy, compassionate conversations about suicide and survival, we ultimately discourage survivors from seeking out support.

After my attempt, there was no script on how to talk about what I’d been through. I just knew in my gut that it wasn’t something that people talked about.

If I had felt safer or more encouraged to open up, I might have been able to cope more effectively and get help sooner.

In fact, if it hadn’t been so taboo, I might have talked about my suicidal thoughts before I acted, and my attempt might have never happened.

We need to stop treating suicide and suicidal thoughts as taboo.

Instead, we need to foster conversations that can help survivors feel safe enough to disclose their experiences and seek help when it’s needed.

3. Stop Shaming Survivors

Part of my decision to keep what had happened to me a secret for so many years was because I had heard, over and over again, that suicide was a selfish decision.

I was afraid that if I opened up to someone, I would be met with shaming and criticism instead of compassion.

Put simply: We need to stop shaming people who have attempted suicide.

The decision to end our lives is not a decision we ever take lightly – and it’s not indicative of a character flaw, but rather of immense pain that we have carried for too long.

Attempt survivors face enormous amounts of discrimination – and it’s compounded because we not only face the stigma of being suicide attempt survivors, but often that which goes with struggling with our mental health.

We’re not only “selfish”, but we’re “crazy“, we’re “unstable”, we’re “unhinged”; in other words, we’re worthless.

A culture that either pretends we don’t exist or treats us as selfish and subhuman is a culture that ultimately perpetuates the cycle of suicide.

If we are encouraged to keep silent and told we are less than human, we are far more likely to attempt suicide again.

If we want to support attempt survivors, we need to stop shaming them into silence.

4. Don’t Assume That Suicide Attempts Are a Universal Experience

Some of us are traumatized by our experience. Some of us don’t have strong feelings about what happened. Some of us consider our attempts life-changing. Some of us view them as one terrible event in our lives. Some of us feel regret about our attempt. Some of us feel no regret at all.

Some of us feel all of these things at different times in our lives – sometimes even at different points in a single day.

There is no universal narrative that fits for every suicide attempt survivor.

All of our experiences are valid, all of our experiences are important, and all of our experiences are unique.

When we talk about suicide attempts, we need to be careful not to generalize about those experiences or about survivors.

By acknowledging the complexity and diversity of our experiences, we support all survivors, instead of just those who fit into our preconceived ideas of what a survivor should be.

If we want to be supportive, we need to be supportive of everyone, regardless of what their journey looks like.

5. Tune In When Survivors Are Sharing Their Stories

There are many survivors that are already sharing their stories, and you may someday encounter someone who trusts you with their story. The most important thing is to listen – and to let them take the lead.

I’ve found that when I share my story with folks, people have a lot of questions and don’t always know how to respectfully engage.

To this, I would suggest that people should actively listen when survivors are sharing their stories. Don’t interrupt, don’t interrogate, don’t ask invasive questions.

Let survivors decide how much to share, when to share, and how their stories will be told.

I know that suicide is a topic we don’t often hear about, and when someone is willing to open up, there’s a lot that we want to know.

However, a person’s attempt story is not about you – this is a story about them, by them, for them.

If there is an opportunity to ask questions, be sure to ask in a way that allows this person to opt out if they aren’t ready to answer.

Survivors deserve to disclose their stories in an environment that makes them feel safe, validated, and respected.

You can facilitate this by listening, first and foremost.

6. Realize That We Are Everywhere

It’s gut wrenching when an acquaintance, not knowing my history, says something terrible like, “Ugh! If I have to go to work on Saturday, I’ll kill myself.”

We, as a culture, need to recognize that attempt survivors are in every community – and then we need to behave accordingly.

We need to speak compassionately about suicide not only because it’s the right thing to do (duh, suicide jokes are never funny), but because triggering survivors is another way that we both invisibilize and marginalize them.

We assume that survivors aren’t around, and thus we say things that we wouldn’t otherwise say to someone who has been through it.

There are many microaggressions that survivors face, by virtue of the assumption that we do not exist or that we only exist in certain communities.

Suicide should always be discussed in a way that is sensitive, inclusive, and does not uphold discrimination or shame, so that survivors in every community can feel safe and respected.

7. Get Behind the Amazing Organizations, Resources, and Projects That Support Attempt Survivors

Suicide attempt survivors need resources, too. This is why supporting the organizations, resources, and projects that advocate and assist attempt survivors is absolutely vital.

Unlike six years ago when I had my attempt, Googling “suicide attempt survivor” lists a number of resources that now exist for survivors – some of which are quite fantastic.

One essential resource can be found over at Grief Speaks. The guide, found here, gives a comprehensive run-down of ways we can assist someone in the aftermath of a suicide attempt. If those close to me had had something like this, it would have made all the difference.

One of my favorite projects is called Live Through This, the amazing work of attempt survivor Dese’Rae L. Stage. She photographs and documents the stories of attempt survivors from all walks of life.

It’s the only known project of its kind, bringing a human face to a struggle that is too often anonymous.

When I first saw this project, I was struck by how whole it made me feel. To know that there were others like me, living through this and telling their stories, gave me the courage to keep telling my story, too.

Supporting the work of survivors and advocates like Stage is a way of both bringing visibility to survivors, as well as creating a greater safety net for future survivors who need to know that they are cared for, seen, and – most of all – not alone.

* * *

My suicide attempt was not the worst thing that had ever happened to me.

I think what was worse was the loneliness I felt when I realized I didn’t know how to talk about it, and I didn’t have a safe space to have that conversation.

As an adult, I know that I’m not alone in my experience. There are so many attempt survivors worldwide, and many feel unsupported, isolated, and shamed into silence.

However, there’s so much we can all do to make attempt survivors feel more supported.

This list is a place to start, and should be part of an ongoing conversation about how to make survivors feel safer, respected, and visible.

* * *

If you’re feeling suicidal, please reach out to someone. If you’re in the US you can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.8255. If you’re not in the US, click here for a link to crisis centers around the world.

Sam Dylan Finch a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. He is queer writer, activist, and educator based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to his work at Everyday Feminism, he is also the founder of Let’s Queer Things Up!, his hella queer and very awesome blog. You can learn more about him here and read his articles here. Follow him on Twitter @samdylanfinch.