I asked and a room full of counselors proudly indicated they all knew cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR). All of them knew how to resuscitate someone who had quit breathing and whose heart had quit beating. They all knew how to save a life. I then asked them if they knew how to save a life before they learned CPR. “No”, was their response.
Next, a pall overtook the room when I asked if anyone knew how to save the life of someone who was suicidal. Faintly from the back of the room I heard one hesitant voice, “Call 9-1-1 and send them to the hospital?”
That’s when I thought of writing “CPR for Suicidal People”. This information is for loved ones of suicidal people. But moreso, it is for those who have been or still are living with suicidal thought. It is the suicidal person that needs to know how to keep themselves alive.
When you got up the courage to reveal that you wanted to kill yourself…were you told that you need to “get outside of yourself” and “quit thinking so much about yourself”? Have you been told that you need to go out and do something for someone else so you can quit thinking of “me, me, me”?
Join the crowd of suicidal people who no longer tell anyone that they have secretly held suicide as the ultimate “out” – exit from hopelessness and helplessness. Join the rest who hear this repeated exhortation to release yourself from what is believed to be selfish suicidal thought patterns.
Volunteerism is a wonderful thing and my guess is you’ve already tried it.
When you volunteer to help someone, either for a cause or for a gesture of kindness, it does make you feel good and it does get you outside of yourself. Question: What do you do for the rest of the time, when the thoughts return from nowhere, seemingly prompted by nothing? Well, if you did what I did and what Veteran Clay Hunt (60 Minutes, 3/3/13) did to the nth degree, you know it does not solve the problem of hopelessness and certainly does not relieve you of suicidal thought. What it does do is distract you and make you exhausted.
I agree distraction is essential for suicidal people. And doing things for others is an excellent way to generate those “feel good” neurochemicals called endorphins. But distraction to distraction is exhausting. And that is what happened to Clay. What Clay did not know is that his brain had been hijacked. His brain was returning uncontrollably to the default pattern of suicidal thinking that in turn drove him towards the need for more distraction. Clay could not have known. I did not know. No one could have known. Even those who have been on that slippery suicidal slope for years could not have known instinctively. You must learn what is going on inside your head to be able to take the necessary steps to stop it.
“CPR for Suicidal People” is much more than just one thing. It is a combination of things. It works. I know. I figured it out by pure chance and a lot of divinely inspired insight and self-dedicated education.
I was suicidal for 24 years. From age eight to thirty-two I fought for my life and did not know why I was afflicted in this way. It seemed to me that everyone else just lived their lives and I couldn’t. I faked it a lot – so much so my life became a huge magnificent lie. I laughed and made people laugh because I could not tell anyone the truth. When I was flawless in performing my act, I could feel telltale chills of ingenuineness creep up my spine. I knew I was living a lie. I knew there was something wrong with me to have this sucking black hole in my soul privately pulling me towards ending my life while I publicly displayed the opposite. I did not understand it. Now, I do.
I’m going to tell you why you have been plagued with these self-destructive thoughts and actions for as long as you have. By the way, it does not make any difference if you have been thinking this way for months or years – it begins the same way and if you do not learn your “CPR for Suicidal People”, it could end in you killing yourself. But worse than that – and what could be worse than that? Well, it is living your life in some suicidal tunnel where you cannot see nor enjoy the wonders of the universe because you are always secretly planning to leave. You never truly love without desperation or hesitation. You never truly feel without fear or longing deja vu. You never truly talk to anyone without reservation or feeling a need to defend yourself. Life becomes an exercise in futility. You are never genuinely nor completely engaged in it. You live on the periphery, in secret.
It started with you feeling like you were boxed in without a solution or escape from a seemingly insurmountable problem. One of my clients remembers her first thought of escape was at four years old when she and her twin sister were being sexually molested by a family member. Even at four years old, she knew what was being done to her and her sister was wrong in some way. But she had no out, no way to defend herself or leave. Her resourceful brain did a remarkable and wonderful thing. It provided her with pain-relieving endorphins when she thought about “not being here”. Just the thought of “not being here” gave her the pain relief and the ability to stay alive. Did you get that? The thoughts that took her out of her pain also kept her alive.
Those thoughts of “not being here” were reinforced by pain-relieving endorphins and it was a brilliant, ingenious, and successful life-saving coping mechanism. She remembered that relief. She remembered that those thoughts were integral to that relief. She subconsciously observed that she could keep herself able to operate in the world by continuing to think those thoughts.
What she did not know is that her brain was building and reinforcing a neural pathway each and every time she thought about “not being here”. That neural pathway became the default thought pattern any time she felt she had an unsolvable problem. She went there and began feeling relief without needing to consider any other problem solving technique. Unfortunately this process works so well in the beginning that it also becomes the favored way of feeling better. In addition, when it establishes itself as the automatic remedy, it also blocks all other methods of problem solving. Other methods might be obviously lacking in the production of “feel good, pain-relieving” endorphins, but not this one. It works every time.
Well, let’s qualify that. Not EVERY time. At some point, those thoughts alone do not provide the same level of pain relief. There is a stage where the thought pattern must intensify in order to supply required pain relief. The thoughts go from “not being here” to “not being somewhere” to “not being anywhere at all”.
Let’s make one more thing perfectly clear. No one realizes this is going on in their brain. No one I know has ever awakened one day and said to themselves out of the blue, “Today, I am going to think about how to kill myself.” It just does not happen that way. It is subconscious, surreptitious and much more insidious. What you must remember is no one is in charge here. No conscious effort can be made to stop this process because it is undetectable to the uneducated and completely covert. You do not perceive any of this happening. It is completely automatic.
I can make this easier to understand if I compare it to something we have all seen and some have experienced. It is easily compared to addiction and the pattern of neurochemical tolerance to a psychoactive substance (alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, opioid pain medication, etc).
We perhaps have noticed someone’s progression in their use of alcohol. We notice that a person often begins using regularly to relieve some kind of pain, maybe psychological or physical pain. In any case, they continue drinking but soon you notice that even though they used to drink only 2 beers and seem buzzed and out of any perceived pain, they are now drinking 8 – 10 beers to get the same perceived effect. They are building a tolerance to the effect of the alcohol. It no longer works at the same intensity as it did previously. The person drinking the beers may or may not take note of that. Regardless, they are not initially aware of the biological process in their brain that creates the need for a higher level of relief.
In the case of suicide, the unconscious biological mechanism of tolerance intensifies the thought patterns driving the progression from thinking about it to acting on it. It isn’t long before the wonderful and effective coping mechanism that kept you alive is now the mechanism that is compelling you to plan your demise. How could this have happened when it worked so well initially?
Let’s go back to the addiction analogy. No drug addict or alcoholic I know, including me, ever said, “I’m going to have this drink knowing it will someday kill me.” We did not know the wonderful thing we chose to kill our pain was going to turn on us. People who take doctor-prescribed pain killers are absolutely amazed that those same effective, wonder drugs could kill them. The point is, someone who is desperately suffering cannot be blamed for using whatever works, especially if their coping mechanism was born shortly after they were.
Pain of any kind makes you very desperate. And our bodies naturally eschew pain. Why do we instinctively cower and pull back from painful experiences? Why else would we have naturally built-in pain killers that work without us consciously beckoning them? Why do studies show that expecting pain relief brings pain relief? Why does meditating on the pleasant bring pain relief? When something works well to relieve pain, we are naturally going to refer to it repeatedly. There is nothing shameful, guilty or heinous about that. So if you find yourself blaming someone or yourself for suicidal thoughts, listen up. You are in need of some serious education. You need “CPR for Suicidal People.”
“CPR for Suicidal People” is only significant when someone realizes this is going on in their brain and chooses to do something about it. Now that I have explained to you how you got this way and that it is most certainly not your fault and that you are not inherently flawed, let’s get to the rest of the CPR. Let’s learn how to save your own life. Because, believe me, I know how desperate you are to find relief. You are tired of living or half-living this way. You would not be in such torment if you did not want to live. You just can’t figure out how things got this way and how to get out of it. Listen up.
“I’ve asked for help before and they just slapped me in a hospital and I came out the same way I went in.”
Here’s the truth about asking for help. You’re going to ask the wrong people like you have in the past. You’ve asked the ones who you think should be able to help, like your parents or family members or spouses. They may have blamed you, shamed you, and guilted you into saying no more about it. You scared them to death. If they were anything like my parents they accepted the blame for what they determined was my “mental illness” and did not want anyone to know that I was “unbalanced”.
Let me say something about the myriad of clinicians and lay people who commonly and firmly believe that suicidal thought is mental illness and/or emotional instability. I understand why they say that and treat suicidal people like they are mentally ill. It has been that way since we first knew that people killed themselves. But it is time to look at things differently. It is time to see things the way they really are. Not everyone in the world who is suicidal is Bipolar, or suffering from Major Depression, or has Borderline Personality Disorder.
I personally believe that just about any behavior can be pathologized, given a label and found to respond to some prescription drug. And sometimes when you have been suicidal for so long, you do become clinically depressed and could use an antidepressant to help you think more clearly. But for the most part what the uneducated public doesn’t realize is that there is a plethora of suicidal people out in the world who hold successful jobs, support families and pay taxes. They are not emotionally unstable or mentally ill. They have developed a maladaptive coping skill. They have no idea their brain (and their problem solving skill) has been hijacked by an initially very effective but now default and inherently dangerous neural pathway.
And like I stated previously, a combination of actions need to be taken judiciously in order to provide recovery from the default use of suicide as a coping mechanism. My parents told me to shut up about it and go out and volunteer. That’s how I know volunteering until the cows come home will not, in itself, solve the problem. My doctors labeled me as Bipolar and gave me a boatload of meds. That’s how I know medication might help, but also might do a great deal of harm. My hospital clinicians told me I had to cognitively raise my self-esteem and learn how to appreciate life. That’s how I know bibliotherapy and writing down how many ways I should be grateful for my life can be very damning, shaming, and ultimately painful.
So, what do you do? You ask your trusted peers to help you retrain your brain in very specific and prescribed ways. You learn to ask the people who actually have helped you in the past – not the ones who you think should. Past experience predicts future success.
The difficulty comes in the fact that people you confide in often panic and call “9-1-1” and you do end up in the hospital. That’s why you tell them now when you are not in crisis or in the attempt or post-attempt stage. The sooner the better. Talk to them now.
“What do I tell them? How do I tell them I’ve been suicidal for so long?”
Here is what many have told me they did after they read my book, “Just Because You’re Suicidal Doesn’t Mean You’re Crazy: The Psychobiology of Suicide.” They handed the book to the people they wanted to support them in their recovery. They said, “I need your help. This is me. If you are willing to help me in my recovery from suicidal thought, I want you to read this book. It will tell you what is going on with me, then, we can talk.” They described giving them the book as easier than trying to explain the whole magilla to someone. When their peers had the words in front of them they could reread them and understand them better.
After they finish reading it, sit them down and ask them if they think they could help you. If they hesitate, take it as that – not refusal, but hesitation. Remember you will be asking help to form an advisory group called your “JSP3©” (Jensen Suicide Prevention Peer Protocol©). This is new. This is different. This could be really scary for them for any number of reasons.
The JSP3© is a coalition of individuals who are agreed to do certain things to help keep you alive until you can trust you’ve learned how to keep yourself alive. It is a reciprocal group whose members act as a problem-solving alliance for each other. You are not the only one who benefits, I assure you.
If one person says they cannot do it or they’re afraid, let them go and take no umbrage. They are being honest with you and you with them. This honesty thing will be new to you because, like I had, you have probably been living a magnificent lie. You want people who are nonjudgmental and open-minded. Remind them it is not forever. (I will tell you though, my JSP3© has been in support of each other for forty years now. These alliances can forge fierce, lifelong friendships.)
“What do I do if they still have questions about the JSP3©?”
The difficult thing is that there is no information out there that is not generated by me right now. I am doing seminal work on treatment of suicide. I liken it to Bill Wilson and Doctor Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous fame. When they started AA in the 1930’s, no one was doing exactly what they were doing. The Oxford Group was trying their best to provide an alternative to insane asylums and hospitals for seemingly hopeless alcoholics. But no one but Bill W. and Dr. Bob were building a coalition of drunks to help other drunks stay sober. They just knew it took peers to help – not hospitals and asylums. (Although, they knew some medications were needed to help people think and operate on a healthy level, they recruited regularly from asylums and hospitals also knowing it took their peers to support each other.)
Like Bill W. and Dr. Bob’s grassroots efforts, the JSP3© survives not by research grants and journal articles touting it – but by lives saved. One by one, a life is saved because someone reached out and others answered. They got the education they needed about the psychobiology of suicide, they learned how to help a friend problem-solve, and they followed the tenets of the JSP3©.
If they need more information, ask them to go to my website, http://www.jsp3.org. There they can read more and email me to ask any question they may have.
“What are the tenets of the JSP3©?”
It is easy to remember: “4-C HOPE”
The Four C’s: Commitment, Communication, Cooperation, Confidentiality
Commitment – following a specified plan
Communication – talking and conferring with each other
Cooperation – agreement in proactive action
Confidentiality – maintaining trust and boundaries
Retraining the brain and building new neural pathways is achieved through LEARNING,
which, in a JSP3©, is based on the following principles of H – O – P – E:
Honesty – absolute and mutual truthfulness
Open for Reciprocity – mutual help between the members of a JSP3© which increases
self-efficacy, hope and reduces isolation
Problem-Solving – working out solutions together and proactive efforts to increase
through enjoyable activities
Education – learning and explaining the psychobiology of suicide – understanding the
mechanism involved with a default neural pathway
These as well as the full instructions for forming your JSP3© are further explained in the book, “Just Because You’re Suicidal Doesn’t Mean You’re Crazy: The Psychobiology of Suicide.” (downloadable at http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/209400. You can also order paperbacks online at http://www.thirdplacebooks.com/just-because-youre-suicidal-doesnt-mean-youre-crazy-randi-j-jensen-ma-lmhc-ccdc)
“What can I do to help get the word out about “CPR for Suicidal People”?
Just like Bill W and Dr. Bob asked, reach out to others who need help and let them know how you recovered. Give them the strength to form their own JSP3. Give them the resource of the book and the website (http:www.jsp3.org). And each time you hear something familiar from your past coming out of someone else’s mouth, don’t turn away. Turn towards them and take the precious time to share your recovery. Give them hope. Give them the answer to life. Show them the way. Then email me and tell me about it. I need strength, too. I’m not an endless font of energy.
This is ground zero, my friends. Recovery starts here, now. Don’t give up and don’t let others give up either. Keep trying. Keep reaching out. Keep sharing your recovery.
God bless you all. You deserve the very best life has to offer. Reach out and embrace it with a new knowledge and a new fervor. You know what to do. Now go do it. We need you.