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Suicidal Thoughts After a Spinal Cord Injury: Personal Experiences with Paralysis
Q&A: Did you ever consider suicide?
I’m too chicken. And, mom and I would talk about it, and it just, life was too positive, and everything was going my way. Did we have some hiccups in the road? Absolutely. But was it something that I couldn’t handle as much that I would want to take my life? No, no thoughts.
Sure. I mean, you love your children so much. And Talbot’s injury was very severe. He had a lot of problems. You know, I think the average stay here is like 45 days and for him to be here at six months—we kept running into roadblocks getting him in the rehab program and it really was just drawn out. I got very down because you know I didn’t know where he was going to get the drive to live. I knew he didn’t want to live. He had told me that he didn’t want to live at one point, he didn’t care if he woke up in the morning. And one of the people that was working at the Shepherd’s Center at the time, he was the vice president, he came to me, he said, “Billy, I think I know what you’re doing or what you’re thinking.” He said, “Look, if you do that you’re no help to your son.” And he was the one that made me see the light of saying, “hey, who’s going to help him if I’m not here to help him?” His mother, but she sure can’t do it all on her own. So, after I got past that point, and I got depressed when I went back home after being over here for three months, it wasn’t a matter of thinking about suicide. It was, I was just down, and I needed to find a way to get back up. And that’s when I went to the company I was working for and found a psychiatrist to go to, to talk with. They had a program and I knew that I had to get stronger for him, not only for myself but for him. And I couldn’t see leaving and letting him fight that battle by himself.
No, oh, no, no, no. That’s one thing that will never cross my mind. To me, things happen for a reason, we don’t know why, but we just have to live with it.
I never considered like not wanting to live because I was just always an optimist. And, like, one of the first things I remember saying, I thought, is that, "I still have my head."
No, no, I don’t, I think it comes down to, for a lot of folks that incur this, for me I sort of view as two buckets. There’re people that sort of never get out of the hospital phase, and then there’s the folks that move on. And I had responsibilities and then since that time my responsibilities have grown. And so, I just know that I’ve got work to do, and I need to be the best that I can for them and provide. And so, giving up in that respect, it would just be a huge injustice to them regardless of how I feel. But at the same time, why would I want to shorten what I have? I’ve already given up a lot, so I don’t want to give up more?
Come on, no. I’m a Christian, I believe in God, He’s a higher power so…Here’s the thing actually, if I may, I’ll flaunt my spirituality, it’s like if God saw me worthy enough to be in this situation, to be a Sebastian for the Lord, so more be it. So, if I’m able to be a better witness to Him because I’m in this situation, all right let’s do it. It took a long time to get to that understanding, it took a long time.
I attempted suicide; I also shot myself three times. This is what happened: I got out of the hospital; I was with a so-called friend of mine. I used to carrying a gun under my cushion when I first got out of the hospital because I was paranoid about getting shot again, and mentally I was just looking for the guy who shot me. So I was drinking one day, we were discussing what had happened to me, and I pulled a gun out and thought, "Damn, I don't want these legs, if I can't use them, I don't want them, I want them to cut them off." So he started laughing, so I pulled the gun out and said, "Okay, I want to shoot myself," and I said, "I'm going to shoot myself; and then I'm going to shoot you." And he said, "Are you crazy, you're not going to do anything!" So I took a swallow the Bacardi I was drinking and I pulled the gun down and shot my legs, three times, and he took up running. And, I started screaming at him, "hey it's your turn, it's your turn, come back." And, the last thing I remember was the ambulance came, they took me and put me in a mental institute for a while in the suicidal ward. That was dumb.
Thoughts, yeah, and I say this that I was the type I never, ever thought I would have. Sometimes it just—and then sometimes it will just come out of nowhere, you’ll have a couple of weeks, a month or so where there is nothing, everything is great. And then one night, you have a weird dream, and then it’s like “I don’t want to live, you know, I just don’t want to wake up. “So, it comes and goes in waves, anything over time gets easier.
Yes, you know, I think self pity settles in, and I say, “Well, it’d be better for my wife, it’d be better for my family,” that’s your excuse. You know it wouldn’t be better for them; it would be horrible for your wife to commit suicide. I think it’s maybe the easy way out saying, “Oh, if I ended this all, I wouldn’t have to put up with this, I wouldn’t have to.” But really, I’m doing it for them, you know, and I kind of caught onto my games early on, I says, “That’s the easy way out, you know, you can deal with this.” And those were way back in the early days, and I don’t think I had those thoughts very long. But, I’m kind of glad I couldn’t fool myself like I tried to do by saying, “If I commit suicide, it’d be better for them,” because it’s not really the reason people commit suicide, they’re just tired of dealing with life.
Never have, I mean, there’s too much to live for, you know. And just thinking the family came so close to losing you already and see how grateful they’re for you to be here. I mean you kill yourself, and then you’re going to be gone and they’re going to be needing you.
No, not even for a second. I was—the doctors thought I was going to die, so but I woke up here, and I had a family that supported me and loved me. And I got to roll my daughter down the aisle, see my grandkids born, so how could I ever think that for a second?
I would not say seriously. I've certainly entertained it, I certainly joke about it a lot, but not really because, you know, I, nonetheless you know, even as bad as the situation may seem to other people, I'm still a dad, you know. My daughter no matter what, she's, she's still, she still needs her dad at least for some things—I mean, who else is going slip her 20-bucks on a Friday when she wants to go out and do something? Or, you know, and I'm a husband, a son, and, you know, a brother and friend. And you know, it's just not my thing, things have never been that bad for me that I would say, or where I would have to resort to that.
No, I like life too much. Well hey, I should change that. Certainly, being a marriage counselor, I understand, and I’ve worked with clients who are suicidal. There are times, there have been times since I’ve been paralyzed where I’ve thought, you know, “sometimes it would just be better not to be here.” You just put people out, “it’s just too much for everyone, it’s too much for me and it would just be a whole lot easier if I’m not here.” But that doesn’t last very long. And usually during those times, and those pity parties that you get into at times, if you just wait a little bit, you look at things a little differently. And so usually after a good cry, and feeling sorry for yourself, I just kind of dry my eyes and go “alright, so now what I am going to do?” “Where am I going to go?” “How am I going to make this work?” And then I think of a different way to handle it, and then I go in that direction. I have had several friends, male friends, that have come up to me and have said “I could not do what you do, if I was in your shoes I would die, I would kill myself.” Now, I understand where they’re coming from with that, but I don’t think they understand what a put down that is to me being in the wheelchair to go “well, I wouldn’t want to do that.” And so, it is a very odd feeling when you have friends that said, “I just couldn’t handle what you go through, I would kill myself.” And I’m like “what am I doing then?” Because I really have this zest to live and basically the wheelchair is not the problem
It has crossed my mind, it did cross my mind early on, but lately no, no. I would think about my family, and what it would do to them after this major injury, and how much of a hit it was for them seeing me like this. And then thinking about them again if I, you know, would go through with something like that, yeah, that really helps to push the thought out of your mind.
No, I was too afraid of suicide. Although, I did think, “Would life be better without me here? Would it be a lot easier on everyone else if I was not here?” I did question that, and I really thought the answer would probably be easier on everyone if I was not here. So, if that’s contemplating suicide, maybe. I never quite got to the point where I thought that I could end my life, but I did think that life would be easier for those around me if I wasn’t here. And, now I don’t think so, which is a surprise. It would be more of a burden now if I left.
Yes, that was also, the pain was quite intense, and there was a point where nothing was working. You know, I had gone to specialists all over the country and everyone told me there was nothing they could do. And I finally went to, he was one of the preeminent pain specialist in Houston, Texas, and he basically told me that I was crazy, that I was just making up the pain for attention, and that kind of pushed me over the edge because I knew the pain was real. I didn't want to live with it any more. I don't think I necessarily at the time thought, "Oh, I want to die," but I didn't want to live the life that I was living. You know the life I was living evolved into pain and a lot of prescription medication, and it just it wasn't what I, I was not fulfilled with life, I didn't want to live like that. You know, I mean, that was the bottom. I realized, you know, that a lot of people would be upset if I were gone and that, I mean basically the thought that, you know, after all that my friends, and my mother and my family had done for me, that I would just say I don't care and give up. You know that's what was kept me from doing that. So you know, it was hard but at the same time, I mean, I think it's very easy to allow yourself to fall down that hole sometimes, but then if you realize that's it's usually just a temporary thing, that life can get better and does.
Actually, with this whole tragic event, I never wanted to commit suicide. I was so ready to push forward and contain my life. I mean I didn't die, so what do I do next? That has always been my thought.
I think anyone that goes through this, it will go through your mind. Okay, my life is not going to be the same as it was, I don't want to live anymore. Yeah, I think anyone who said it wouldn't go through is probably lying. But, then you get to a point where you see okay, I am going to have a life, not going to be the same life I had before, but it's going to be a life. Just...you got to be really thankful that you're still alive one, and that for me, I can drive and I'm happy every day I wake up, I'm happy just to be here still.
I would be lying if I said I didn't have suicidal ideations, especially at the frontend of the injury, especially when I am by myself at night. But, the thing that would keep triggering back is, “Who would take care of my kids?” “Who would love my kids more than me?” And, “how dare I think my life is written already?” And I think there was a point where I was beaten down, and beating was mostly done from me to me, where I was at the lowest of my low, and I thought, “I can't get any lower.” And I think that's when I started building myself up, you know. And I think it was at a point where I thought, you know, “it's so much easier to call it a day.” But at the same time, you say to yourself, “You know, I haven't been fully realized. I’m not being fair to me, and I am definitely not being fair to my kids.” And again, you know, “who would love them more than me?”
No, I always knew there was something worth living for. And if nothing else, at least for my family and friends, I’d never want to put them through that. So I’d always say that I worked towards getting better and that I wanted to be there for the people who had been there for me.
Early on, I did consider suicide, but I could never attempt it, actually follow through with it. It crossed my mind many times in the beginning phases of my life after my accident because I really thought I’d be better off dead than alive. So, it was just dealing with the situation at hand to try to better myself—that got me out of the mindset that I do not need to go to suicide, to that level, to try to get the help that I needed.
I never considered suicide. I had a three-year-old son that was the reason to live. I brought him into this world and he’s my responsibility. And there was something bigger than me that I could focus on, that gave me the requirement, the necessity, to persevere, to overcome and to hopefully one day again thrive.
Yes, yes, I considered suicide many times early on, the first time. And it was a lot of pressure on me, especially when I started thinking that it was something wrong with me, that I wasn’t trying too hard to get out the, this problem. I wrote notes, you know, like I gave, I got some 8x5’s that I wrote, like, little notes to my sisters and my siblings, you know, kind of like post-its. “Go on with your lives, get on, get on, it’s time to, like, do stuff.” You know, “Don’t hold back.” It kind of, like, chokes me up because that would’ve been dumb. To me, I had a lot of people pushing, I had a lot of people supported me. A lot of people gave me, again, not just a dollar; they gave me support, so I think I owe them a lot.
No, not particularly. Sometimes you think, I wouldn’t say considered suicide, but sometimes you think, you’re like “what if I hadn’t made it through this? Maybe that would be easier?” But I wouldn’t say that I highly considered that, you know, I mean, you do think, you’re like, “maybe?” It’s really the thought of having to transition through things taking longer that just drives you nuts. You’re like, “I don’t know if I can deal with this for the rest of my life.” But I wouldn’t say that I highly considered, I think everybody does for a brief period of time. If you lied about that, then you’d be or if you said that, that you weren’t you’d probably be lying.
I considered it once, but well, as I seriously considered it once, because I was in the hospital, I wanted to, but I couldn’t from being paralyzed from the neck down. Couldn’t move much but my eyes, there’s no way you can do it. So, but once I got out the first three years of being in a wheelchair were the hardest for me. So, I had my mom, like I said earlier, she would always cook for me before she leaves, so I had told myself the night before when she cooked for me the next day that was going to be my last supper. I said as soon as she leaves, I can get all my pills, put on my food and I was just going to commit suicide. So, I’m going through each step, because it was like routine what she do, and what I normally do throughout the day in process of her leaving. And so as soon as she fixed the food, I was watching TV, waited until she left by the door, I got all my pills. I remember to this day she had cooked burgers and fries. I got my pills and poured it all out on my burger, and as soon as I tried to bite, I heard a voice saying, “you’re not going to die.” And so, when I heard that, I just put it down, and I cried, and because it was like, “if I’m not going to die, there’s no use in doing it.” And so, I know I didn’t want to make myself worse than what I already was. So, that’s when—that was the only time that I actually was thinking about attempting it and that was the last time.
I think everybody at some point thinks about it, but suicide seems like the easy way out, and that’s the problem with it. It is the easy way out, it’s absolutely easy. If I did something to myself, I wouldn’t have any more problems, but I’m the only one with no problems, then everybody else has that many more problems. So, it’s just an extremely selfish view or thing to do. Yeah, I think it’s very selfish, but yes I did. I think everybody kind of has thoughts, but that’s all it was was thoughts. And that hasn’t happened; like I said, that was the first year or two of the accident.
After spending 36 years without having any problems to become totally disabled, and have the issues that you have, you wonder if it’s really worthwhile to be around. I contemplated suicide, but the only way I could do it is if I drove my wheelchair out in the middle of the street, got hit by a semi or something like that. That was in the first year after my accident where I sat out on my driveway, watched the semis drive down the highway. I counted the seconds from the telephone pole to the entrance of the subdivision. Well, I’d have six seconds to get out in the middle of the street, wouldn’t be able to stop. You know, don’t think like that anymore. I’ve got kids, need help, they need a little bit of guidance. And, I don’t know, I guess after that’s done, it would be I got my wife, what’s she going to do without me? There’s always good reasons why not to die.
It’s a hard question to say yes to, but yeah. I can remember laying in bed here, and thinking, “Wow, this is just—I’d probably be better off dead. I’m half dead; I’d probably be better off dead, because I’m just going to be a burden on everyone, especially my family and all that for the rest of my life, or as long as I live.” And so I thought, “Why not just get it over with?” In fact, my wife—I didn’t discuss that specifically with her, but I think she knew I would get kind of depressed at times—she was a little scared to let me drive by myself for a while there, and I guess that was the reason now that we talked about it. But, she was a little afraid that I was going to hit the wall or something like that with the van. But, I never acted out on anything. I can remember looking at the bottle of pills going, “I wonder if there’s enough in there just to take me right out?” At one point in time, I remember thinking that question, if I wanted to go out. And then when the pharmacy switched over from these 30-day things to this 90-day things, I’m thinking, “That’s enough to take me out there, that’s a huge pitcher of medicine.” So, yeah, I did, I have to admit I did. I haven’t in a long time, and that was in the first year, which I think was the hardest, it really was.