I never realized how much trauma I would feel after my son’s suicide attempt.
Thankfully, his attempt failed, but I still feel aftershocks more than a year later. I guess I thought that I/our family would move in a mostly linear line from a terribly painful chapter in our lives to a more peaceful chapter.
We’ve made changes: a new school, a new living situation, and regular support from his therapist. But healing isn’t linear.
Sometimes the aftershocks are mild – a tone in his voice, a dark moodiness, or his head buried in his phone with his back to the world. I feel a slight vibration in the ground and I hold my breath. Maybe another big one is coming. How do I distinguish “normal” teenage behavior from the behavior that might lead him to try and harm himself?
Sometimes the aftershocks are big, but not always in the way you might imagine.
Sometimes the threat of an attempt lives only in my mind
It was December 24th, not quite a year after his first suicide attempt. After he was hospitalized the previous spring, we learned that December 24 had been a date he had chosen to die.
On this particular December 24th, things were not going smoothly. He was moody and removed, hardly interacting with the family. I felt so deeply sad and lonely, and my feelings only got worse as the day went on. One person’s mental health affects the health of the whole family but holidays seem to magnify mental health difficulties.
We woke up December 25th later than usual. Teenage boys don’t spring out of bed on Christmas Day the way they did when they were five. My youngest was up first but we don’t open presents until everyone is awake and downstairs. After several hours of waiting, I decided I would wake up my oldest while my husband and youngest took a shower.
I could hear both showers running in the background when I tried to open my oldest son’s door. I was startled to find the door locked. In that instant, I knew something dreadful had happened late in the night or early in the morning.
I swallowed a scream and frantically swiped my hand above each bedroom door jam looking for a door key. When I found none, I sprinted down to the utility room where we have a safe we purchased last year to keep our oldest safe from himself. As I knelt in front of the safe, I began to scream in agony. Of course the day before had been so awful, he had been planning to kill himself. How could I have been so stupid to have missed the clues?!
I shoved aside all the bottles of medication and knives we have jammed into our small safe and found a bedroom door key. Taking three steps at a time, I raced back to my son’s bedroom door. As I unlocked the door and pushed it open, I knew what I would find: a bloody and lifeless body.
I rushed into my oldest son’s room to find him sleeping peacefully on his back. In my totally panicked state, I ran to his bed and held him while I cried an ocean of salty tears all over his face. “Mom, what are you doing?” he mumbled.
I had just lived my own solitary hell in no more than five minutes on Christmas morning. My entire body had just participated in an aftershock that existed only in my mind. It is hard to explain to my friends that with the right stimulus, I can be instantly catapulted into a parallel, nightmare universe. Talk about feeling crazy.
I do believe healing will come but it won’t be in a direct line from here to there.