Trigger warning: suicidal ideation
It was August of 2015. I had just had my third baby three months prior. We were preparing to send our son to kindergarten, and life was good.
I woke up in the middle of the night to nurse my daughter and noticed bladder symptoms, which I was sure was a UTI. I was on medication for that by the weekend.
On Monday morning my doctor’s office called to tell me I did not, in fact, have a UTI. It took about a month to finally get to a doctor who could tell me what was wrong with my body.
I had Interstitial Cystitis, or IC. IC is a disease of the bladder which causes symptoms such as pain, pressure, frequency, and urgency. It’s a fire in your pants 24/7 until your bladder heals, which can take a really long time.
When I found out I had IC, something snapped. The anxiety I had always battled took center stage and I was terrified about my future. I was sure I would never be able to be the wife or mom my family deserved.
Losing My Identity
This is actually quite a common response to chronic illness. In a 1983 study, Kathy Charmaz found that many with chronic illness feel this overwhelming loss of identity. (1) Suddenly you are told your life will be different forever, and you must not eat certain foods FOREVER, and it forces you to rethink every facet of who you are.
I remember having a sort of “Bachelorette” scenario going in my mind when I would see single women. This is truly disturbing, but it was the reality. I would imagine which one of them would be the best one to take my place and be a better mom and wife than I thought I could be.
I would pray, my body collapsed on the floor, and beg God to either take away the pain or take me.
I did my best to hide all of this from those around me but one night, in the worst of the symptoms, after feeling so beaten down by months and months of no relief, I told my husband I had been trying to come up with a time when I could kill myself and the kids would no longer need me.
I’m not sure why what he said surprised me, but he responded, “Callie, they will always need you. There is never an age when your killing yourself would not hurt them.”
His words were not a relief; they made me feel even more stuck. If I could never kill myself without ramifications to my family, then what? Forty to fifty more years of this non-stop pain?
Suicide is Not The Answer
I know it sounds unbelievable that someone could get to a point where they thought their death was the best answer for everyone, but the truth is (along with the loss of identity) suicidal ideation is common in those with chronic illness, and those with IC in particular.
The national average rate of suicidal ideation (suicidal thoughts) is 3%. According to a survey of just over a thousand people with IC, 11% , had contemplated taking their own life.(2)
This wrecks me. Thinking back on those days is difficult, but it’s absolutely heartbreaking when I consider how many are now in the place I was at three years ago. It’s why I am so fervent about writing to to the chronic illness community. I won’t stop because even if one person who has thought herself or himself unworthy enough to live stumbles upon some hope, then it is worth it. Completely worth it.
It took almost two years to get to a place of healing. I’ve heard it said that healing is not linear, and with IC, I would adamantly agree. I would have good days and think I was getting better and then get slammed with weeks of pain again. Eventually, though, I found the good days started to outnumber the bad days and now I am at a place where they are mostly good days.
I promised if I ever got to a place where I felt good again and moved past the pain, I would come back for those still lost in it.
Time to Fight Back
So, friend: if you’ve considered taking your life, or if you believe your disease has rendered your existence useless, stop listening to the lies and start falling into the truth.
I am not going to be one of those people who tells you this happened to you for a reason. I don’t think it did. In fact, I think people who tell you that have probably never experienced the kind of pain you are going through. However, I do think you are strong enough for it. And I do think relief is possible, but the first step to getting there is believing you can heal.
You need someone to fight for you, and that person is you. There is a warrior inside somewhere, but they have been neglected. It’s time for you to fight for the you which your illness holds no bearing upon.
Our bodies can only tell our souls who they are for so long. It’s then that we either give up or we fight back. My soul eventually told my body, “Fine – do what you want, but I’m back”. I became well again months, even years, before my symptoms went away.
You can be well again too friend, even in the pain. This is not the end. This is the beginning of your brilliant battle to regain control of you.
If you currently feel like you may want to take your own life, please don’t be embarrassed. Please seek help. Call 1-800-273-8255. You are not alone!
1: Charmaz, K. (1983). Loss of self: a fundamental form of suffering in the chronically ill. Sociology of Health and Illness, 5, (2).
2: Hepner, K.A., Watkins, K.E., Elliott, M.N., Clemens, J.Q., Hilton, L.G., & Berry, S.H. (2011). Suicidal ideation among patients with bladder pain syndrome/interstitial cystitis. Journal of Urology, 80, (4).
About the Author
Callie is a wife, mom of three, school psychologist, blogger, writer, and lover of life. Then there was the time when chronic illness hit and she wasn’t sure about any of it, even the life part. She has made it her mission to reach out to those in pain and offer hope, compassion, and friendship. She believes there is beauty to be found in even the darkest of places. Be sure to head to RiverandQuill.com to read more.