This week, I spoke by phone with Karen Bufford Bogue, who runs a pro-recovery website. She responded to a request on the MindFreedom International listserv for people interested in speaking up. Each of us admitted after the call that we had felt a bit nervous, being new at this, but it turned out well. Questions are in bold.
Tell me about your experience.
I had a diagnosis of DID _ it used to be called multiple-personality disorder _ with a lot of acute PTSD. I had been trying to find help for it and had not been successful. I just was in a lot of emotional pain, feeling like I had let everyone down and that I couldn’t be the working person that I needed to be. And it kind of got worse and worse and I felt kind of guilty for being alive. I had a brother who actually killed himself, shot himself a few years before. I knew the kind of impact it had on my family, but somewhere in my psyche I still believed that it would be better for everybody. I started collecting medications, did research online. They have suicide sites. And what happened for me is that at some point during the overdose everything felt horribly wrong. It was almost kind of like watching myself from above. And that my not being not alive was not the right choice at that point. I’ve described it to people like, in science you explain why a spaceship has to go through the atmosphere at a certain tilt or it explodes. I felt like I was at the wrong tilt, hitting the atmosphere. I made a call to the emergency assistance people to my house. I kind of crawled to the door because I was in really bad shape by then, then passed out. And I ended up in triage for a very long time with charcoal and people monitoring me because I had ingested a really toxic medication. I was in the hospital for at least a week, I think. Afterwards, of course, I was in shock from everything that had happened, I think. But I started to have to make a lot of medical appointments because I had done a lot of damage to my esophagus and stomach and everything.
I did read your blog about suicide being so glamorized, kind of a peaceful exit, a noble exit. But it causes a lot of personal problems. I know it took a long time for my partner at that time _ now we’re married _ to trust me that I was going to be OK.
When was this?
About five years ago.
How long did it take you to physically recover?
As far as reflux and everything, it took me four years, I think, to stop taking really high doses of reflux medication and nausea medication, prescription strength. I just did a number on my stomach.
Now how are you?
Good. I think I’ve pretty much been past the physical part of it. That was kind of my lowest low and kind of what happened before I found good help. I continue to be in therapy to deal with the things that made me feel that I couldn’t be alive.
Is there any way to estimate how much all of this has cost?
My gosh, I do. Because we pay out of pocket for all my care. So just out of pocket we probably paid at least $150,000, and hospitals and stuff like that probably another 100. So a quarter of a million?
Then you’re financially recovering as well. How are you doing?
The things we wanted to do financially we had to put off, like putting another level on the house or whatever. I feel a lot of guilt about having to use our resources for me. But we’ve done OK. I think initially I had to go through a bankruptcy because of all my medical bills. So I’ve recovered from that. It’s just really hard to have to do that.
I think it’s a good question because it’s very expensive. I have a foundation that I run and stuff, but it’s not bringing in the kind of income I was prior to that. It probably won’t for a year or two.
How has your wife taken this? How has she changed as well?
She has been great. She’s just totally believing in me as far as my recovery when I was not all that convinced that I could lead a really happy life. It’s been hard on her, of course. She’s worried about me. But she’s also one of those people who does a whole lot independently to take care of herself, so she’s kind of able to hold my process at an arms’ length when she needs to. There was a while there that she was really worried I’d be OK. There wasn’t any warning with my attempt. I didn’t tell anyone. So we had to go through some feeling around that terrible surprise that day.
Why was it such a surprise?
A good question. I think for me my intentions were so serious that I didn’t want to to alert anyone because they would stop me. I had planned it out so thoroughly that I hid a razor in a book binding so if I didn’t succeed and they put me in a hospital, I’d have someone bring me this book. That’s what happened. And while I was an inpatient, and they were supposed to be watching me. I don’t really remember it, but I severely cut my arms on both sides all over.
Why? You had called 911.
Yeah, it was weird. Maybe afterwards I had some doubts that I had made the right choice bey calling. I was so _ my mind was so messed up by the drugs that my thinking was not very clear. I was miserable and felt like somehow I deserved it.
You did research. How?
There’s a lot of it out there now. There’s tons of drug use and abuse forums, suicide forums, assisted suicide forums. The problem with it is, it’s a lot harder than people think to die. You just end up with a lot of things to deal with in addition to the problems you started with.
How do you know these forums are reliable, trusted, giving the right information?
There’s not any surefire way of knowing. I’m fairly knowledgeable in the area of pharmacology. I’d go back and read, do research myself. You really you don’t know if you’re online.
How do you feel about more people speaking openly about their experience?
There are always going to be disorders bringing about suicidal thoughts. And people are resourceful to think of ways. I wish it weren’t so taboo to talk about it. I would like to feel I could talk about it openly with my family. That would actually be a relief.
You haven’t done so?
Not necessarily about the attempt. But there’s more we talk about now, my diagnosis, my treatment.
Does that help?
Yes, it did.
What’s the best way to talk more openly about this topic?
The biggest fear is of the punitive stigma. That people may think you’re totally unstable if you had a suicide attempt. People wonder about their livelihood or social standing being impacted. I’m not really sure how to go about changing that other than people just trying to be as honest as they can.
Why did you e-mail me?
Actually when I got your e-mail, I was working on my site, a peer support network online. That’s when your request came through on MFI (MindFreedom International), and because I was kind of doing the same thing, I was like, “I’m gonna answer this.”
What are you doing? Tell me about it.
I run a trauma-sensitive peer support site. I’ve created a chat place, live chat 24 hours around the world, support groups and things like that. There was really a need for one sensitive to people with PTSD, and there wasn’t anything really good out there.
Yeah, it has been for, let’s see, 16 months. It’s been a neat project.
How does it work?
You just come in and register, there are different rooms people hang out in. They can one minute just talk about their dog, one minute talk about medications. The special groups we have are like PTSD support. It speaks to people who may be disabled and may not have transport. They can literally hang out on the site if they’re feeling they want to hurt themselves as long as they can and talk to people.
I just watched a couple of people come in, actually. We also have people help me as administrators that have diagnoses. It’s peer-run.
How many people use the site, any idea?
Now I probably have around 100 who regularly come through. Usually 5 or 6 people are there in one room at any given time.
I keep saying people should talk openly. What’s the benefit to talking anonymously? How does it help?
When it comes to my site, for example, people can come in and share without people finding out who they are, where they are. It gives them a chance to not be self-conscious. It’s kind of funny because things are becoming less and less anonymous because Facebook is incorporating everything.
So, aside from all of this, who are you?
I’m an artist. I do art, I write. I’m just kind of a regular person with too many dogs. Five dogs. And I’m working with a company to invent health products for dogs. Yeah, that’s a regular person. You know, I’m a spiritually involved person. If anything, I hope that that would define me.
What does spiritually involved mean?
I have an active belief in a guru, I practice Siddha yoga. Gosh, these are hard questions. A lot of who I am is about trying to leave things in a better state than when I left them.
How’s that going so far?
It’s going very well. I had kind of an overnight site success, and that is something that I’m really, really happy I was able to provide. My wife and I fund the site and I volunteer my time, and that is something I always dreamed I would be able to do. and I’m doing it.
Do you have any other grand plan or dream?
I’m working on writing about my recovery experience. I write quite a bit. I’m still in the middle of the process. I’m getting good feedback. I hope if I can kind of chronicle the healing process then someone else might not feel so helpless at the point that I did attempts.
When you publish it, will you use your name?
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
I’m trying to think to summarize things. Part of what I do is to reassure people that there is healing out there, and not any one situation is hopeless.