Talking About Suicide

Talking with Katie King

 August 30, 2013

As I went again through this interview with Katie King, I realized that I still knew little of the details of her everyday life. Instead, she had guided me through the thinking that has occupied her since her attempt a year and a half ago. It was pretty fascinating, because she hadn’t figured it all out and didn’t mind saying so.

She appreciates the growing number of mental health resources out there, but she makes a good case for resources specifically for attempt survivors. “I’m on medications, I’m seeing a therapist, and absolutely it helps. But for me, it’s hard for me to fit into quote-unquote normal living,” she says. “How do I deal with, you know, all my friends knowing that I attempted suicide? How do I deal with getting back into normal living?”

Here, she talks about certain parallels with the world of eating disorders, the practice of “suicide baiting” and her desire to hold on to just enough of her experience to be able to connect with others who are having their own.

Who are you? Please introduce yourself.

My name’s Katie. I’m 28 years old. Currently, my husband and I own a toy business. We’ve been doing that for the last five years. I have an eating disorder, a severe eating disorder. I’m getting help for that. I’ve had it for six years. I’ve been in and out of treatment centers. And I’m on the road to recovery, a long road, but I’m headed in the right direction. I have a dog who is my life, who keeps me going sometimes. But, you know, overall, things are looking up.

How did you come to be talking to me?

I had attempted suicide a year and a half ago. I had struggled with passive suicidal thoughts since I was 18, from various issues that had come up throughout my life. I had started struggling severely with depression. I wasn’t getting help for that. And when I attempted suicide, after the attempt, it’s like, “Well, what do I do with this?” I had so many questions. How does this fit into my life now? Where do I fit in? And how does this fit into my story? What do I do with this attempt, with these feelings? I had no idea, so I just looked online for any kind of support groups, any research I could find to cope now.

And how did that go? Did you find any?

Not as far as the suicidal ideation and the suicide attempt. I found a lot of help for mental health issues and the depression and things like that, but as far as support groups for suicide attempt survivors, I found very little. And so I came across you guys.

With resources out there for broader mental health issues, are resources specifically for suicide attempt survivors needed?

Absolutely. I think there’s a huge gap right now in society and mental health for … I don’t even know what the word is. There’s so much now for the mental health field, so much more research is done, we’re learning so much, there’s the new DSM, but I think that suicide is such a taboo in society, something that is unspoken, that’s so “You can’t go there” right now in society. And there’s support groups for suicide survivors, who know people who have committed suicide, but when it comes to suicide attempt survivors, we kind of get pushed under the rug or are tried to fit into some other mental health category. A lot of times there’s carryover, but not necessarily. I think that absolutely, we are a group that needs support. We learn a lot through the attempt, but there’s still all sorts of questions: How does this fit in? And right now, I don’t see or haven’t come across any kind of help in society with that.

The usual suggestions are crisis lines, therapists, medication. Are those enough?

Personally, no. I’m sure that absolutely, those help. I’m on medications, I’m seeing a therapist, and absolutely it helps. But for me, it’s hard for me to fit into quote-unquote normal living. How do I deal with, you know, all my friends knowing that I attempted suicide? How do I deal with getting back into normal living? It changes you, obviously, in such a marked way. And yes, you can see a therapist, get medication for different other issues, but even going to therapy it’s still a one-on-one thing. And I personally need help getting back into a larger group where I can talk about my struggles in a safe area, where people can understand what I’m going through. Even though I have supportive friends, there’s the gap of, “We don’t know what you’re taking about, we haven’t had those feelings.”

Have you found any kind of group?

I haven’t. I know there’s SA, Suicide Anonymous. I had gone to a couple of their meetings. And I’m sure there’s other stuff, I just haven’t found it.

What more do you think is needed?

I don’t even know if it is possible, but in a perfect world, I would love to physically be able to go to a group. With Skype, with the technology we have, you can sit in the comfort of home and attend a group, potentially. But to physically go and physically be with other people, I think there’s power in that, comfort in that, safety in that. I don’t know even if it’s possible to have such groups, but it would help me immensely.

(I mention the concerns some professionals have about people in such groups potentially comparing and refining methods and inspiring each other to kill themselves.)

Absolutely. I have come across that with the eating disorder groups I’ve been in. There’s a risk that people are gonna share methods, that talking about it will keep you stuck in it. I think the same thing would be the case with suicide attempt groups. I don’t want to diminish the risk by any stretch of imagination, but sometimes it’s worth the risk. You know, if you save some lives … To me, it’s worth the risk, but it’s definitely a risk.

What has been most useful to you in recovery, both shortly after your attempt and overall?

Well, I attempted suicide in a pretty graphic way, so I was in the hospital for two and a half months. So the immediate help wasn’t, you know, a couple days or a week after. I had two and a half months to sit and dwell on it before I came out. I have physical complications because of the attempt. A lot of it was just things I had to learn to do again and put energy into something tangible. I think part of it, even though it wasn’t getting back to a job or anything, was being busy, doing something tangible. Therapy is invaluable. I have learned to do so much. Finding a good therapist. I’ve had bad therapists, but I’m seeing an awesome one right now. Invaluable. I personally have the support of my family, and even though they don’t understand, they are hurt, they are angry about it, all those feelings, they ultimately … To have people to want you to live is awesome, and it’s safe and it helps me process things in a safe way. It’s hard because I can’t necessarily talk to them about how, you know, “Well, I lived. I didn’t want to live, and I’m alive.” I can’t necessarily talk with them. But to have them say on a daily basis, say, “We love you, we’re glad you’re here,” that’s been huge. But I think for me, it’s now a year and half later, it’s … I don’t even know how to express it. I’m a thinker, I like to think, I research things, and that’s personally helped me so much, to learn the reasons why I did what I did. Getting to the root issues has been very helpful. It wasn’t, “Oh I’m crazy, and one day I just chose to do this.” There were so, so, so many things that led up to the attempt. And getting to the root of them helped me stabilize.

Have you found reasons that you didn’t even know were reasons at the time?

Absolutely. I guess it’s hard, after doing work since the attempt, and still doing work, you know, as issues come up. It’s hard for me because the attempt still makes sense to me. I haven’t figured out how to take the information and the issues leading up to it and say, “Well now, looking back, I would make a different choice.” The attempt still makes the most sense to me. I know conceptually it’s distorted, but part of it is still logical, and I’m working through seeing the illogical side of it. That’s specifically what I’m working on now. That’s an issue that’s really surfaced, the illogical side of the attempt. So I guess what I’m saying is, a lot of issues I did know because I was going to therapy beforehand, but what surfaced after the attempt were the connections from point A to B to C. At some point, there’s a disconnect there. It’s OK from A to B, but you kind of missed it on point C. … It’s something that’s kind of opened my eyes.

Can you look to a day where the illogical side drops away, and do you know how to get there?

I don’t have a clue! Which is why I’m still in therapy. I don’t know, to be completely honest. Part of me would like that to be the case. Part of me doesn’t, because I don’t ever want to lose that relatability to someone who’s struggling. I want to use those feelings to reach others with those illogical thoughts, to say, “I’ve been there, but being on the other side of it, I know there’s another choice. I know you can’t see it, but there is one.” I hope for me, I come to a place where I see the illogical. But as far as helping others, I still want to hold a piece of that, so I can truly empathize with someone struggling.

Did you have someone who truly understood?

No. I … no. And I think it’s hard to find because it’s so swept under the rug. Maybe there are people I know who have attempted, but it’s one of those things that’s unspoken. Absolutely my therapist gets it, but outside of therapy, I haven’t had anybody who necessarily even tried to get it. Which I understand. That’s absolutely a scary place to go. But that is hard, and that’s one of the reasons why I personally would like to see a support group.

How did your family take it?

My family got help. And someone had once told me that the people that love you will change with you. And I’ve seen that firsthand with my family. They have gotten help to see, “How do we show her that we love her in a more real way for her?” And when I say that, I grew up in a very loving home, so that’s not an attack on them. But it helped them really open their eyes to, like, that something big is going on. They couldn’t live in denial when slammed in their face. “Your daughter wanted to die and tried to die.” They can’t ignore that serious internal issues are going on. My husband and I don’t have the best relationship, so it did not … It was rough, and it’s still rough. It’s still something he doesn’t acknowledge. He didn’t come to the hospital. And it’s a big black spot in our relationship. So that’s, I don’t know if that’s his form of coping, that being in denial is his way of coping with it, I’m not sure. But I feel very alone, for sure.

Did you bring it up with him, have you tried?

I’ve tried. It’s something where his mentality is, “You’re crazy, so go get fixed. Take medication, go to therapy, get fixed and life will be fine.” So there’s a big disconnect. In his mind, there aren’t reasons for it. “You’re crazy, and you went off the deep end here. Go get as much medication as you can, as much therapy as you can, get fixed and come home.” I have found in our relationship, it is an easier way of living in the home if I don’t bring it up. When I have brought it up, it’s been detrimental to both of us. So in our home right now, we don’t go there.

What if the feeling comes back, what will you do? Will you talk to others, will you be secretive?

Right. I have created a plan of when I start to feel this: “Here’s step one, two, three. If I start to feel this feeling, here’s step one, two, three,” and I play to different scenarios. I have people, my family, a couple of friends who have gotten help, who know as best as they can what to do if something comes up. The feelings have come back. A lot of times, people who attempt suicide, a couple of days later they feel like, “Oh, that was such a terrible decision, I’m so glad I lived.” I can’t say at this point I’m glad I lived. There are reasons I wanted to die, and they still make sense to me. The difference is, I’m not going to act on it now because I see that my life is more valuable than all those reasons. Maybe I don’t feel or see it, but the fact that I lived tells me that I’m here for a reason. If it was up to me, I would have died. But I think that one of the things that keeps me safe is, I’m not necessarily in complete control here. There’s something bigger than me that kept me alive for a reason. And that reason for me right now, what I hold onto, is helping others. To use it to say, “I went through this so others don’t have to.” So when I want to turn inward, just fester inside of myself, it’s that getting out and even just going to the park and sitting with people that’s just helpful for me. For me, it’s something I have to nip in the bud as soon as I have the initial feeling, get that plan in place before I get to a place where I’m melting inside.

Because what you did was so serious, do you think it put more space between you and those thoughts?

Yes,  absolutely. If it wasn’t so drastic and so blatant, I think I would feel like I still have an option of it. Now, after doing it so graphically and somehow living, it’s like, “Well, this is out of my hands a little bit, and if it didn’t work the last time, it doesn’t matter what I do, it’s not gonna work.” So absolutely, it’s one of those safety things I have written down on the cards.

Like index cards?

Yes. Because sometimes I have found in the past that when I just keep it all upstairs in my head, those distorted thoughts really have a way of worming their way in, twisting up my game plan a bit. If they’re tangible, written down, I can’t get away from this fact, right there, staring me in the face. It helps me stay logical when my mind wants to deviate.

I worry that some people take huge risks when they attempt because they have no idea what they’re getting into. And it goes both ways. People think they’re going to die and end up blind, in a wheelchair, with permanent effects. And other people think they’re not really going to go too far but die. Is there any usefulness in addressing methods and risks and realities? Or is that just causing more trouble?

I realize there are differing opinions on this. For me, absolutely, there’s value in awareness. And I have found that’s true in the eating disorder world, that yes, there are, if you’re sharing methods, that … A lot depends on how it’s presented. You can present it in a way that encourages it, almost. But if it’s presented in such a way as to highlight the severity of it and the realness of it and the potential side effects, I know for me, if someone would have, you know, talked me through it, “Here is something that can happen, OK …” Now, on the other side, I know it, but it wasn’t on my index cards before. I think it’s hard, especially for young people. There’s suicide baiting, like, “Why don’t you go kill yourself?” thrown out there, like a ha-ha statement, and it creates a state of invincibility, where someone just does it for attention or other reasons: Just pop a couple pills and, “Yeah, I just attempted suicide.” And it’s extremely dangerous. This is a serious issue. And I think awareness in respect to, you know, this isn’t a joking matter, people can die, people are dying, would save lives.

You mentioned wanting to help others. What would you like to do?

I have contacted the suicide prevention hotline and would like to do that. And it’s in the works, as far as my therapy is concerned. They have a span of, like, two years before you can hop on that if you have attempted. Something like that. I’ve kind of been waiting on that. Also, and I don’t even know if it’s possible, but I want to have my attempt figured out a little more in my head. For instance, right now, I can say that I understand the pain someone is in. I can relate, and I can give insight into other options. But if someone asks me if I am glad I lived, I can’t say “yes” right now. So, in that regard, I would feel bad helping someone while still struggling myself and wrestling with the attempt in my own life. I want to be as prepared as I can be to really, truly help. The last thing I would want to do is go naively into “I’m going to save the world” and not really be prepared to help people. So I’m treading lightly with it. But definitely, absolutely, I’ve always had a heart for people. And now, going though it, I wish someone would have been there for me. And I’m sure there were, but I didn’t know how to connect, to talk about it. So I’d like to offer it to somebody else.

How would you prepare yourself? Internally or actual training?

Both, for sure. I think the more knowledge I have on the subject, the better. For me, it’s a ton of research, a ton of background, a ton of psych work. Here are issues going on with people that could potentially lead to a suicide attempt. I think the more I can learn about others and about myself, the better prepared I can be. And saying that, I don’t believe that I can save anyone, I don’t have that power, but I believe people can be utilized to help. I really, truly believe for me it’s a lot of research, just connecting with people who are quote-unquote normal people, just to see how they tick, what’s behind the things they say. There’s something deeper going on there, and the more I can let myself go there and see the deeper side, the more able I will be … Training is absolutely necessary in my mind, so I think it’s a combination.

And who is this who would qualify as a normal person?

No, nobody is normal! I hate that word, but in society, that’s what people are like: Either you’re normal, or you’re crazy. And that’s kind of the way society operates right now. But absolutely, everybody has their own unique story, and everybody’s story makes sense in their context. So I don’t think there are any crazy people. People have mental issues, but no one’s crazy, and no one’s normal. There’s no set definition, “If you’re X, Y, Z you hit the criteria for being normal.” If there was, the world wouldn’t be the place that it is. The individuality of people really makes the world tick in a beautiful way.

(A very large-sounding dog barks in the background.)

You don’t just have a dog, you have a very big dog.

Yes, he is. He gets his way.

How can we make this topic a more comfortable one to talk about, both one-on-one and in general?

Great question. I don’t necessarily have the answer. I think awareness is huge on both sides of that question. When I say awareness, I’m not talking about like, “Oh, suicide is real!” Flippant statements. But true awareness of, you know, these are issues that lead into a suicide attempt. Here are some reasons why and the mental process side of a suicide attempt. If there’s awareness brought up on that level, that would really help. As far as someone reading this and saying, “That would be great, how to get there?” I don’t have an answer. I’m still working on it. I don’t relate. I feel old. People my age are having babies, and I don’t relate to that. I don’t, I feel old and disconnected, and I’m not sure how to just have fun again. I don’t know how to do that. And I don’t know, on the other side of that, how to say, “I’m ready to help people, this is how I’m going to do it.” For me now, it’s using the resources that are out there. I mean the hotline, the AAS, stuff like that, with the professionals who know what they’re doing. So, plugging into them, finding, “OK, what do I do with this?” If I tried to do it on my own, I would be up a creek without a paddle.

(I mention the situation where many professionals in the mental health and suicide prevention fields go into those fields because of personal experience but don’t feel comfortable disclosing that.)

I don’t think it should be this way, I don’t. I think that the more genuine you can be, the better able you are to reach other people. And I’ve found, the more someone is willing to share truly who they are, I feel safe enough to share my struggles and to ask questions of, “OK, you’ve been there, or on some level you get some issues in the mental health field. Can I run this by you? I don’t know if this is normal, I don’t know what to do with this thought.” And it’s hard for me to do that with someone who’s quote-unquote professional, that is, like, cold and textbook. And I mean, I’m the type of person and have done enough work that I’m willing to talk to someone who’s textbook, but it’s absolutely easier for the majority of people to open up when someone is opening up with you.

What else would you like to add? Or what are you glad that I haven’t asked?

No, I’m a complete open book, you could ask me absolutely anything. I guess my ultimate, I would just really hope that .. I want my message, I want someone to hear this or read this and think, “Hey, maybe I’m not crazy. Maybe this does make sense, the feelings that I have do make sense, and maybe there’s another choice for me other than suicide. If she’s saying she thought there wasn’t another side but there was, maybe that’s true for me, too.”

For the high-achiever types, or anyone who doesn’t want to disappoint people by opening up, that factor, how do we get over that?

I think a really helpful thing with that is learning to value your own life. To say, “No matter what anybody else thinks of me, I’m extremely valuable, and my life is worth more than what they think.” I found that was one of the things that led me to the conclusion, “I am always going to let people down, and there’s no other way to relieve them of the burden other than to die.” I valued their opinion and what they did say to me more than my own life.

Who else are you?

That’s something I’m working on discovering. I’m not exactly sure. I know I’m multifaceted. I know I have a gigantic heart that can truly … I have the desire to help others. And I think that I am capable of doing that. I could never say that before the attempt, I would never say I was capable of anything. But fact I’m still alive, though not my choice, says I’m capable of something. Of what, I’m not sure. But it’s a starting place for me.

What are some other parts of your life?

I’m Christian. My faith is very strong. Does that mean I’m perfect, I’m above a suicide attempt? No, but when it ultimately comes down to “Who am I,” I know I’m a child of god. That’s at the core of my identity. But you know, as far as on a day-to-day level, I’m an animal lover, I love to paint, I’m an artist, I love to work, I love to study, I love to think and feel and to be alive, I love to be outside. So a lot of things I’m learning to enjoy again. I had lost that for a long time. I’m getting back into that side of me.

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