Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Migraine and Suicide

A private conversation with my friend, Heather, inspired both of us to speak out about Migraine and suicide. Heather wrote blog post,  Migraine and Suicide II, which was a follow-up post to one she wrote a few years ago on this topic.  As a result of our conversation and much thought, I have decided to do a series here on Fly With Hope about Migraine and suicide. Heather and I both realized that more needs to be talked about than is being talked about in regards to Migraine and suicide. In this series, I plan on discussing what to do when you are feeling suicidal, and ideas of what to do when you are close to the end of your rope. I also hope to share personal stories from those who have gone through attempts, and advice from sufferers for family, friends, and caregivers. And finally I hope to discuss faith and suicide.

Suicide is largely stigmatized and judged in our society, which is why I think we do not discuss it openly very often. If one talks about having suicidal thoughts or feelings, or if one actually attempts suicide, that person is looked at as “crying out for help” and often is ostracized or preached to.  The general population often does not know how to connect with someone who has had these feelings and experiences. However, quite often those of us with chronic disabling conditions that involve chronic pain are brought to the point of thinking of suicide, contemplating it, making plans for it, attempting it and even completing it. We're not crazy. We're in pain. We are suffering. I would guess that at one point or another most every chronic Migrainuer/chronic pain sufferer has thought “I want to live; I just don't want to live like this.” I’ve said this to myself, to George, to my doctors, to my counselor, and to my friends.

My goal is to try to help decrease the stigma of discussion of suicide so that we can be more supportive of each other in the community on this issue. Let's face it, most of us have felt so depressed by our condition that we have thought of suicide. If you have not, you are part of the very lucky minority. For those of us who have, if we come out and say, yes, we have felt suicidal, yes we have gone through depression and despair, then those who are feeling depressed and suicidal will realize they are *not* alone! And we can form stronger bonds with each other and be there to support one another when we are depressed, in despair and perhaps even suicidal.

So, hear me say, yes, I have often been so depressed that I did not want to live anymore because living with chronic pain is so overwhelming and consuming. Yes, I have thought about how I would do it. Yes, I have thought that the world would probably be better without me. Yes, I have thought that my pain would never end and the only way to end it was by stopping my life. Yes, I have thought about completing suicide. Period. (Though not end of story.)

If you are a loved one or friend of mine, that may be difficult to read, but it is the truth. And it is the truth for many many many other people who suffer from chronic Migraine and chronic pain. This leads me to my other goal, which is to create awareness so that those who do not suffer from chronic Migraine/pain can understand just what it means to feel like we do and why we get to the point of feeling like we don't want to live anymore.  I want friends and family to understand that we aren't crazy and selfish, but that in times of endless pain and despair, we feel stuck with no way out. We are tired of having this burden.

Losing hope seems to be a common thread for people who consider or have thoughts of suicide in general. We lose hope that tomorrow, or even the next moment will be better or different than the one before. We feel powerless to change what has been going on for one hour, one day, one month, one year, five years, ten years, ___ years.  We feel as though there is no way out as the pain feels as though it is unending and all encompassing. Because of chronic Migraine/pain, we have lost who we were, who we want to be, our dreams, our desires and the list could continue at length. It is like being in the middle of the storm and not being able to see an end. It is as though pain has a grip on our eyelids and all we can see is its misery in front, in place and behind.  I know that when I am in the middle of a bad spell, I get so depressed that I cannot see the that the storm will end and the sun will come out again.

We do not want to die. We just do not want to live the way we are living. We fight to live in so many ways: attending endless doctor visits, taking piles of medications, doing trials of complementary therapies, doing a complete change in diet,  participating in support groups, having a stock pile of ice packs, making heroic efforts to exercise, finding methods of distraction, reading research and connecting on blogs. We fight to have hope. We fight to find strength in each other, in a higher power and in ourselves. But sometimes, we do not have the strength and the burden feels too heavy and we just do not want to live this way anymore. Don’t judge. Don’t judge yourself if you’ve been here. Don’t judge us if you haven’t.  We don’t need lectures. We need love and support. We need to love and support each other; we need to love and take care of ourselves.

I look forward to sharing this series with you and hearing your feedback. My hope is that we will grow together and that through our discussion, we will not feel like this is an unacceptable or strange topic. 

Migraine and Suicide Series is currently underway. Please check out the following posts:
In the meantime, a great article to read if you are feeling at the end of your rope is an article by Teri Robert, Migraines and Feeling Hopeless. If you are in a difficult place right now or just want to talk, please reach out or call a family member or friend or check out the National Suicide Prevention Hotline . Or call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free number, 1-800-273-TALK (273-8255), which is available 24/7, can be used anywhere in the United States, and connects the caller to a certified crisis center near where the call is placed..

For those who may be concerned about my own well being after reading this article, please know that I am in a good place right now and not suicidal.

Would you like to share your story?
-Please post in the comment section. Many people read this post and would benefit from hearing that they are not alone! Please note, I will not publish comments that give detailed descriptions of suicide attempts. But feel free to discuss feelings and experiences.
-If you are a blogger and want to join in on creating awareness and support in our community by writing your own blog post on Migraine/chronic pain and Suicide, please post the link in the comment section so that I might share it! Feel free to reference this post as well!


  1. Thank you so much for tackling this topic. I've recently felt this way & didn't tell a soul because I was ashamed of the way I was feeling! I had tears in my eyes reading your entry. Its nice to know I'm not alone in the way I felt & have felt in the past!!

  2. i could not have said it better. as a 36 year old with chronic migraines since age 18, you put in words almost exactly how i feel. thank you. :-)

  3. Incredible post...and it was written at a time where I needed to read it most. I currently feel at the end of my rope. While not actively suicidal, I can definately relate to the feelings of hopelessness and despair. Of the thoughts that "I want to live....I just don't want to live this way."

  4. Jessica, I'm so glad that the post was helpful for you. I know what you mean about not being actively suicidal but just not wanting to live this way. I think the more people stand up and say "Yes, I feel this way too" the more we all will feel we are not alone. Thank you so much for commenting! Sending gentle hugs to you!

  5. I've attempted suicide & have been hospitalized following those attempts or when the urge was too intense. Most attempts were done shortly after being told by one doctor or another they had tried everything for the headaches. Yes, I have had coexisting diagnoses of mental illness, but I strongly believe that I developed these because of this headache I've had since I was 8-9. Unfortunately, issue is two-faced. While in periods of crisis, I have had some extra (very short-lived) attention given to this pain. However, in the long run, these diagnoses have also limited the treatment I'm given and impacted the attitude of some doctors when it comes to treating the headaches. That being said, going through and overcoming all this despair has brought me a whole lot of insight and other benefits... Having lived pretty much all my life in pain, I developed and attitude of "if I let the headache stop me from doing something, I'll never do anything". So, I pushed myself, too hard, ignoring the exhaustion, both physical and mental, that this approach created. Today, I have learnt to accept and respect my limits as well as knowing that it's OK to ask for help. If there is support out there and I'm entitled to it, might as well take advantage of it - there's no shame in that, that's what they are there for. If schools, hospitals, communities, the government, non-profit organisations, etc. offer services for people with disabilities and I have a disability, should I ignore them and tell myself I can do it alone, or to put all the chances on my side? I've opted for the latter, even if it means I have to step a little on my ego. Accepting the fact that you need help and actually going to get it is, in my opinion, a demonstration of strength rather than one of resignation. One resource that has proven time and time again to be the most helpful is my local crisis centre. When I'm feeling suicidal, or just at the end of my rope - before I get to the suicidal stage, they have been there to listen. Free of charge, they take calls 24/7, they will set up 1 on 1 meetings, and if necessary, they provide lodging and support for up to 2 weeks. You live in a home-like environment with workers present day and night. For me, it’s easier to call them than a hotline because I know who I'm talking to, I know that they have been there for me, and should I need it, will provide more than an ear to listen to; it’s a 1000x better than being locked away in a psych ward. When you haven't quite reached the point where you're a danger to yourself and don't require hospitalization but are feeling extra fragile and on the verge of getting to that point, it's a good idea to reach out to someone before you sink too deep. For me, the best resource has been this particular crisis centre and my social worker. Another resource one should not hesitate to use is the emergency room. When the crisis centre couldn't take me in until the next day and/or I'd sunk really low and don't know if I can get through the night, I've walked into ER and told them I was feeling suicidal, that I didn't trust myself right now and would like a safe place to stay the night. They'll give you a bed and you'll most likely meet a therapist and/or psychiatrist in the morning and, they'll provide you with alternatives. For example, they can make arrangements with a crisis centre, provide you with different resources, refer you to a clinic for follow up, give you meds to take as needed when it starts getting overwhelming, and/or suggest you stay a couple more nights. Sometimes, that's all it takes to get out of the quicksand. Does that mean you don't have to watch your step? No. But you'll be treated with more respect if you go into the ER with that attitude than if you've actually 'acted out'. I've rambled on, but this is a topic that hits too close to home. I've overcome it and I believe others can too.

  6. Geniale, Thank you *so* very much for sharing your story. I am sad to hear that you were in a place where you attempted. I am thankful that you are here to share your story and can give hope to others. You have so many great ideas of how to get support, how to support yourself. I think what you said about learning that "it is okay to ask for help" is a huge thing that we all need to do, but is so hard to do! With chronic pain, we really do need each other. Thank you again for reaching out and sharing. Your story will certainly help others! Support to you.

  7. Thank you so much for your post. I'm a college student with pretty much 24/7 headpain and weakness. I can't focus, sleep at the right times, or perhaps most frusterating, try to explain what is happening to me when I don't understand it myself. The pain can be so sharp or heavy that the thought of suicide brings peace. I don't feel like a person anymore. I believe that this life is supposed to mean something and that's the hope that's holding me together. hearing the stories of others is such an encouragement. really appreciate it

  8. Joy,
    I have so much respect for you that you are going to college while battling through headpain/weakness and the other difficulties you described. Way to go for fighting the fight!

    I am so sad to read that when the pain is so bad, you do not feel like a person anymore. There have been times in my life where I could've written that sentence. Pain can take away our perspective. Thankfully there is hope for the future. I also feel that life has purpose and meaning. There is a purpose for us being here that is bigger than our pain. As others have been an encouragement to you, I believe you can be an encouragement to others who are going though college with head pain.

    Thank you for sharing! And keep reaching out for support when you need it(to a friend/family/online community/1800-273-TALK).

    Hugs and support to you, Joy!

  9. Kelly, I am making a poster for Chronic Migraine Awareness group, would love to quote you on the poster and credit you as the originator of the statement. I'll run the whole thing by you if you are ok with that. I just love what you have said here - and as I am a designer, writing is not my strong point as it so clearly is with you.

    1. Hi susan-jillian!
      I would be happy to discuss with you what you would like to quote on the poster. I'd like to know what the poster is about (message behind it ect.) & what you'd like to quote. :) Perhaps we can discuss it more on email. My email is flywithhope AT gmail DOT com
      I am honored to get your request and look forward to talking with you!