Shh! You Don’t Talk About Suicide

Dear Audy,

NHBPM is digging deep with today’s prompt, all the way down to the core of the human experience: write about life and death.

It’s important to talk about the hard topics sometimes. In attempting to raise awareness of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, it would be remiss of me not to talk about the most tragic situation that befalls some people who suffer with this condition.

Sometimes, people choose to end their lives themselves. The connection between chronic pain and suicide is a topic that is often hushed over.

Click image for source

People don’t like to talk about suicide with sore people, it might give them ideas.

This taboo topic, however, is at the centre of many calls to crisis help lines and a common topic of discussion for counsellors who deal with patients in chronic pain.

There can be a lot of shame involved with suicidal thoughts, a lot of loneliness and hopelessness. People can feel guilty for just having the thoughts, which can lead to them feeling even worse about life than they did to begin with. Shame can stop people from seeking help. Help that might literally save their lives.

I’ve chosen to shed a light on this topic today because discussion breeds awareness and awareness creates room to tackle issues which, left untended, might fester and morph into even scarier monsters.

It’s hard to work through psychological things that nobody ever wants to talk about.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post that includes some revealing quotes from Kurt Cobain, the grunge rock god and frontman for Nirvana who famously committed suicide in 1994. Kurt Cobain lived with chronic pain and no amount of fame or fortune was able to save him from tragically ending his own life. He spoke of how he felt misunderstood, of how he stopped complaining about his pain because he just didn’t want to talk about it anymore.

“I wanted to fucken blow my head off I was so tired of it, there’s no way I’m gonna live like that. It turned me into a neurotic freak, I was psychologically fucked up, I was having a lot of mental problems cause I was having chronic pain, every day.”
-Kurt Cobain, quoted from About A Son

People remember the mental problems, people remember the drug abuse, but how many people remember the pain? How many even knew about it? I didn’t, not back then.

Kurt Cobain is not the only person to have opted out of a life of pain.

Earlier this year, Canadian teenager, Dominic Boivin, chose to take his own life when all efforts to cease his chronic pain had failed. Published just days ago, this article in The Vancouver Sun tells his tragic story.

How many chronic pain related suicides don’t get reported? How many go unnoticed amidst the psychological ramifications of living with chronic pain? How often do we, as a society, blame depression for suicide and look no further for answers?

Earlier this year, I met up with the Chronic Pain Australia board members for the first time. Several board members and associates have spent years answering calls from desperate people who are living with chronic pain and feeling right on the edge of sanity.

I’d never much contemplated the extent of the chronic pain/suicide link before hearing of how regularly these calls are received, because I am not suicidal myself. I have wanted to die to escape the pain, but I have not pursued thoughts of wanting to kill myself. I’ve been so far down in the dark that I have been worried for myself at times but, somewhere inside, I have always had found the will to pull myself back.

Not everybody living with CRPS finds this will and some go much further down, swimming so deeply in sadness that the fishes there don’t even bother to develop sight.

Suicide is a very real risk for those living with chronic pain. It’s almost a hidden risk, because by the time one has a diagnosis of intractable pain, one has been through all the tests for other, more deadly, diseases. Everybody around the patient is relieved, they’re not going to die. They’ve dodged a bullet. It’s just pain without a cause, phew!

Many conditions that cause chronic pain are not terminal, however many people who live with them will admit to wishing, at times, that their pain would just kill them and get it over with.

Think of a torture scene from a terrifying movie, think of the mangled supporting players that beg for death.

Wanting to escape chronic pain can feel like that, it can feel that utterly desperate.

Being diagnosed with an incurable chronic pain condition is tough. All of a sudden, the life that you were planning for yourself is completely altered. The intense pain that you feel is given permanency and the limitations of a life in such extreme pain can be blinding. It can be hard to see past the pain, hard to see much of anything else at all. It can be impossible to hear that silent “yet…” that comes after “incurable”. It can be unfathomable to consider that there might be ways to heal that science can’t claim understanding of…yet.

There’s a lot of stigma that comes with a chronic pain diagnosis. Along with experiencing constant and extreme pain, a person with CRPS also has to deal with being misunderstood both medically and socially. It can be overwhelming and difficult to overcome. An absence of hope makes the future look bleak.

Depression can kill. It’s insidious, it’s powerful and it can be deadly. Depression is common symptom for people who live with chronic pain and the combination of the black dog and constant physical suffering can be catastrophic. It can happen slowly, or only take a moment. One really bleak moment containing the necessary means and a person can be lost forever to the turmoil that they felt imprisoned by.

Some people see suicide as cowardice, but those people don’t realise how lucky they are. They don’t understand what it’s like to feel so much emotional pain that your soul becomes numb. They don’t understand that sometimes you can’t see the happy, anywhere. They’ve never been so traumatised by their lives that they can’t ever see the pieces fitting back together. They might think they have, but facing difficult circumstances and coping is a different thing to facing difficult circumstances and not coping.

We’re so similar, us human people. We can relate in so many ways that it can give an illusion of knowing, of fully understanding another person. We’re all wired a little bit differently and we all see things our own way. Tragedy is not a comparable thing; overcoming a giant obstacle gives nobody grounds to make assumptions about somebody else who wouldn’t, who didn’t…who couldn’t.

I was a fairly normal person before I developed Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. I’d had my share of bumps and bruises and probably more broken bones the average kid. I’d been sick, sprained, cut, gravel grazed, sunburned, fire burned…I’d felt pain. None of those things compare the pain that I feel as a part of daily life with CRPS. It’s an entirely different beast. It can be hard to get one’s head around just how much this thing can hurt, especially in the instances that all symptoms are invisible to the untrained eye.

It’s not easy to find a way to be OK with having CRPS, but it is possible. I’ve been writing a lot lately and several of my earlier NHBPM posts discuss ways that I cope with my pain and lifestyle:

What Mindfulness Mean To Me
Dear Body, I’m Sorry
The Loveliest Little Helpers
How To Take Time Out From Unrelenting Pain
How To Treat A Friend Who Lives With Chronic Pain

If you find yourself feeling alone and unable to cope with chronic pain and/or depression, please seek help.

If you are in Australia, please call Lifeline on 13 11 44
Lifeline provide 24/7 crisis support and suicide prevention services

If you are in a different country on this wildly wide planet of ours, please familiarise yourself with the crisis services that are available locally – you just never know when desperation might hit and it’s good to be prepared.

Being aware that chronic pain creates a high risk of suicide is just another part of being aware that chronic pain exists, that it is a valid problem, that there are people who need help. They might not be dying, not yet, but many of them need help to keep it that way.

You can help with your compassion. You can help by learning and sharing knowledge, you can make it OK to break the silence of suffering in secret. You can help by being a friend to somebody in need, just be their friend, just be there for them.

You can help financially by donating to organisations that are trying to make life easier for people in pain and are alphabetically listed to avoid prejudice:

Donate to Beyond Blue
Donate to Chronic Pain Australia
Donate to Lifeline

Thanks so much to everybody that has been supporting me in the NHBPM challenge! If you like what I am doing, please share these posts with the people that you share things with or click that little thumbs up. It’s CRPS Awareness Month, which is why I’m choosing to disclose a little more about my health on a daily basis. The more awareness that we can raise, the easier it will get for people who are navigating the choppy waters of chronic pain.

Love & The Big Life Stuff,
WEGO, CRPS Awareness Month, #NHBPM

This post written as a part of National Health Blog Post Month, run by WEGO health. Check out what people have been contributing via #NHBPM on Twitter, or joining the NHBPM Facebook Event.

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  • 4 thoughts on “Shh! You Don’t Talk About Suicide

    1. Della

      I’m behind on my reading, but this one caught my eye. I have struggled with desperate hopeless thoughts and once or twice I felt like I could slip over that edge and lose the battle. Love and compassion have saved me from desperation many times.

      These days I have much more hope than I had for many years. I have seen, maybe even reached, the light at the end of the tunnel. Today, after a very worrisome doctor change last month, I saw yet another doctor, this time a really good one! The doctor last month was freaked out by my insistence on continuing the LDN. She’d never heard of it, so didn’t know what to do. Thankfully, she passed me along to the doctor I saw today. This doctor actually THANKED ME for doing my own research and knowing what I was talking about!!! He hadn’t the slightest hesitation in prescribing what I asked for. Hallelujah!!

      Back to the issue of suicide though… I worry for others in chronic pain for this very reason, because I know first hand how terrifyingly hard the battle can be, and how the thought of just being out of pain can be so strong. Suicide has never been something I considered an option, yet I still lost all desire to live and couldn’t keep the thoughts away for a while. Chronic pain is nothing to take lightly.

    2. Della

      This will sound very strange to some, but there have been times when I actually envied people with an illness that they knew would terminate their lives in a given time.

    3. Jen

      Well done Hayley. A heavy and difficult topic to discuss, yet as I read it, it read so similar to other posts of yours which can only show how well and planned out this post was.
      While I don’t believe I have thought about suicide, the closest I have come to it has been hoping for a fairly decent accident. Whether it be in the car or with a fall, I knew what my long term outcome was going to be and during some of those darker days, I thought this was an easy and most effeciant option in getting that end result of that hip replacement.
      However part of me knew how wrong it was to think like this and I was fortunate to see a psychologist quite quickly at the pain clinic I am associated with. While it helped me to get it off my chest, it was just as frustrating to see that the doc ended up with her head in her hands, shaking her head then praising me for coping as well as I was.

      Mixed messages for sure. At least I know where I sit within those darker days, and for that I am grateful.

    4. terri

      Well said Haley! I believe anyone who lives with unrelenting pain looks for a way to avoid it. Chronic pain is a life sentence that i wouldnt want to share with my worst enemy. Unrelenting pain naturally leads to depression & the thoughts that go along with it. What keeps me on this earth is pain meds that allow me to have a better quality of life with my family. Without access to the meds it would be a different story because it would be intolerable. Everyone, whether ill or not, should ask themselves if they were beat on continually for a long period of time would they not look forward to the reprieve of making it stop?

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