purple berries…

when non-suicide pacts go bad

here i go again talking about what shouldn’t be talked about. it’s looking like an obsession, i’m sure. often times obsessed talk about the ese word comes from someone contemplating their own life. don’t worry, i’m far, far away from the edge. this post is about the time i got way too close to the ragged edge.

i’m not sure if you’ve ever had a non-suicidal contract (nsd) slapped on you or if you even know what one is. it is an agreement between a therapist and a suicidal patient. when used correctly, the therapist readily make themselves available to a client in need if they feel on the edge and the client agrees to not give up on life between now and the next appointment. sadly, often times it is simply an ass covering maneuver by the therapist to prove they “did all they could” and they have no responsibility for their client ending their live.

the one time the nsd got used on me, it felt so much like an ass covering ploy. if felt mechanical and uncaring. those are not experiences for someone thinking about ending it all.

i’ve always felt like that day was handled incorrectly, but i pushed in way back in the recesses of my mind, never willing to admit how close i came to losing it all. the clarity of that day, what happened, what went wrong, and what could have been done better, has only happened in the last week. below is the letter i sent to my counselor discussing my feelings around that event.

dear twimc,

bipolar sojourner, here. a few years back my wife, Mary, and i used your marital counseling services. you’ll be happy to know this last summer, we celebrated our 25th anniversary.

while under your care, i faced a deep depression. at one point the grief and despair nearly equal the joy that i could envision for the rest of my life. because of that imbalance, i shared that i felt suicidal. this letter talks about that day and what the effects of the day and finally explores ways to ensure better results.

why now and not sooner? i can’t give you a great answer to that. i do know i’ve been dealing with suicides recently, one friend dealing with their own mortality and another friend losing their brother to depression. maybe that triggered memories of the time i walked too close to the ragged edge and how things happened, how that affected me and how the situation could have been handled better.

these are my recollections of the day. i expressed my struggles with suicide. immediately came a period of paper shuffling as the search ensued for the non-suicidal pact. next came a fair amount of browbeating trying to get me to sign the agreement followed by me half-heartedly and reluctantly signing the contract.

as you can imagine suicide is a time of low self-esteem. with the pact becoming the primary object, my feelings got ignored, totally invalidated and ignored. when someone is that close to the edge, invalidated feelings and ignored emotions only make things worse.

it would be better if the contract got used as a last resort and not the first. start by putting down the clipboards, pads of paper or anything that would get in the way of a singular focus. start out finding out where they are, how they are, what has happened recently that cause their change. because of the singular focus on the person, in a marital session, it might be good to have the other spouse step out. if the struggling person’s issues are partly driven by the spouse they likely will not be able to freely talk about their struggles without the fear of judgement. at this time, a bottled up emotion is a potentially deadly one. additionally, if two clients are in the room, singular focus would be much more difficult to have.

the purpose for the singular focus and questions are for the building the case that primarily you but other people care. if someone gets that close to the edge, they have lost the notion that someone actually cares for them. this is the time to be a surrogate parent and prove to them that you care. bring in whatever parts of their known history to help built your case. if it’s a marital session, you can make reference to their spouse. because of the singular focus, it still would not be good to bring them back in, yet. here, the hope is to get the person to take a few steps back.

when that has happened, then the contract can be brought out. know exactly where it is as to not lose focus.

i remember fighting and badgering and finally signing it, i felt as if my life had boiled down to a piece of paper, or worse yet, a scrawl on the piece of paper, that felt like a very dehumanizing and devaluing experience. as you can imagine those are not the best feelings to have for someone on the ragged edge.

as always, a contract is an agreement between parties. this contract should never be a question of me against you, but us working together. this contract is made possible by the care that you have built. present it as so. this is a continued sign of caring. this is sign that we care about each other. if met with resistance, stick to the message of caring. with the agreement, i make myself readily available to you and you agree i will see you at the next appointment. in case you can’t get ahold of me, these people are very capable people and will help you uphold your end of the agreement.

it has become obvious to me that one of the most important certainties to get someone on the ragged edge to turn away is a trusted, non-judgmental connection that the struggling person can turn to. without that connection, it is much easier for them to make the wrong turn. the used connection, on the other hand, makes it easier for them to walk away.

only this week have i put together the value of the connection and the non-suicidal contract and that has given me a new found respect for the pact. when the agreement is used properly, it becomes additional avenues for connection and that is good. used incorrectly, the connections are ignored and results could be detrimental.

i am hoping that with these discoveries, the likelihood that the non-suicidal contract can increase the likelihood of a connection and give someone the chance if their walk gets too close to the edge, that they make a connection. finally, with the connection, the person can step back from their danger.

my hope is you never have to face a situation like what happened with us on that fateful day. my next hope is that if you ever find yourself in that position, you will be able to project the ever so important messages of care, humanize, and value. those messages will at least not push the person any closer to their edge and better yet, have them step back from their precipice. with that step back, they will live a other day and perhaps, that choice will make all the difference in the world..

my hope is you accept this in the spirit send; improving someone else’s experience on an utterly difficult day.

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