email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
"Are You There Alone?""How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?""My Madness Saved Me"10% Happier365 Days49 Up56 UpA Beautiful MindA Beautiful MindA Beautiful MindA Book of ReasonsA Can of MadnessA Child's Life and Other StoriesA Dangerous LiaisonA Fight to BeA First-Rate MadnessA Good Enough DaughterA Heartbreaking Work of Staggering GeniusA Lethal InheritanceA Lethal InheritanceA Life ShakenA Life Worth LivingA Little PregnantA Message from JakieA Million Little PiecesA Numerate LifeA Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth CenturyA Slant of SunA Special EducationA Tribe ApartAbout FaceAddicted Like MeADHD & MeAEIOUAgainst Medical AdviceAgents in My BrainAileen - Life and Death of a Serial KillerAlgernon, Charlie and IAll Out!All Seasons PassAlphavilleAlways Too Much And Never EnoughAlzheimer'sAn Anthropologist on MarsAn EducationAn Unquiet MindAngela's AshesAngelheadAnna Freud: A BiographyAnnie's GhostsAnother Bullshit Night in Suck CityAnthology of a Crazy LadyApples and OrangesApproaching NeverlandAre You There, Vodka? It's Me, ChelseaAs I Live and BreatheAs Nature Made HimAt Home in the Heart of AppalachiaAt the End of WordsAvalancheBad BoyBad GirlBeautiful BodiesBeautiful BoyBeautiful WreckBecoming AnnaBecoming MyselfBen Behind His VoicesBequest and BetrayalBereftBertrand RussellBlackoutBlanketsBloodlettingBodies in Motion and at RestBoneBorn on a Blue DayBoyBoy AloneBoyleBrain on FireBreaking ApartBreaking the SilenceBrokenBulimics on BulimiaBuzzCamus and SartreCharles DarwinChasing the HighCheeverCherryCity of OneCluesClumsyComfortComplications Compulsive ActsConfessions of a Cereal EaterConfessions of a Former ChildConfessions of a Grieving ChristianConfessions of the Other MotherConfidingConquering the Beast WithinContesting ChildhoodCrackedCrazyCry Depression, Celebrate RecoveryDamned to EternityDancing at the Shame PromDante's CureDaughter of the Queen of ShebaDavid Sedaris Live at Carnegie HallDays With My FatherDefeating the VoicesDementia Caregivers Share Their StoriesDepression and NarrativeDescartesDetourDevil in the DetailsDiagnosis: SchizophreniaDirty DetailsDirty SecretDivided MindsDivine MadnessDon't Get Too ComfortableDown Came the RainDress Your Family in Corduroy and DenimDrinkingDriving My FatherDrunkardDryEarly Embraces IIIEarly ExposuresEinsteinEinstein and OppenheimerElectroboyElegy for IrisElijah's CupElliott Smith and the Big NothingElsewhereEnough About YouEpilepticEvery Girl Tells a StoryEverything In Its PlaceExamined LivesExiting NirvanaFaces of Huntington'sFamily BoundFast GirlFearless ConfessionsFind MeFinding Iris ChangFirst Person Accounts of Mental Illness and RecoveryFirst Person PluralFixing My GazeFlanneryFolie a DeuxFor the Love of ItFortress of My YouthFrank Ramsey (1903-1930)Franz KafkaFraudFree RefillsFreudFreudFreudFriedrich NietzscheFrom Joy Division to New OrderFumblingFun HomeFuriously HappyGalileo Get Me Out of HereGirl in Need of a TourniquetGirl Walking BackwardsGirl, InterruptedGirl, InterruptedGirls on the VergeGoing BlindGoing Through Hell Without Help From AboveGraysonGrowing Up JungGuttedHalf a Brain Is EnoughHardcore from the HeartHead CasesHeal & ForgiveHeal & Forgive IIHeavier than HeavenHeinz KohutHeinz KohutHello from Heaven!Hello to All ThatHer HusbandHer Last DeathHigh PriceHole in My LifeHolidays On IceHolidays on IceHope's BoyHouse of Happy EndingsHouse of Happy EndingsHow I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill MeHow to Lose Friends & Alienate PeopleHow to Make Love Like a Porn Starhow to stop timeHumeHunger Makes Me a Modern GirlHurry Down SunshineI Am I Am I AmI Feel Bad About My NeckI Never Promised You a Rose GardenI Remain in DarknessI'd Rather Eat ChocolateI'd Rather LaughIf I Die Before I WakeImagining RobertIn Search of FatimaIn the Realms of the UnrealIn the Wake of SuicideInside TherapyInternInvisible No MoreIt Happened to NancyIt Takes a Worried ManJack Cole and Plastic ManJean-Paul SartreJohn Stuart MillJourneys with the Black DogJust CheckingKafkaKantLa SierraLab GirlLast Flight OutLearning to FallLet Me Make It GoodLife As We Know ItLife InterruptedLife ReimaginedLimboLincoln's MelancholyListening in the Silence, Seeing in the DarkLittle PeopleLive For Your Listening PleasureLive Through ThisLiving in the Shadow of the Freud FamilyLiving With SchizophreniaLiving with SchizophreniaLockeLonelyLong ShotLook Me in the EyeLooking for The StrangerLoose GirlLosing Mum and PupLosing My MindLove Is a Mix TapeLove SickLove Times ThreeLove Works Like ThisLove You, Mean ItLuckyLudwig WittgensteinLyingMad HouseMad PrideMadame ProustMadnessMagical ThinkingMalignant SadnessManicMarcel ProustMarcus AureliusMary BarnesMaverick MindMe Talk Pretty One DayMeaningMelanie KleinMemoirMemoirs of an Addicted BrainMemoirs of My Nervous IllnessMen-ipulationMisconceptionsMiss American PieMockingbird YearsMomma and the Meaning of LifeMommies Who DrinkMonkey MindMore, Now, AgainMortificationMy Age of AnxietyMy Body PoliticMy Brain Tumour AdventuresMy DepressionMy Father's HeartMy First Cousin Once RemovedMy Flesh and BloodMy Horizontal LifeMy Life Among the Serial KillersMy Sister LifeMy Stroke of InsightName All the AnimalsNeural MisfireNietzscheNietzsche: The Man and His PhilosophyNinety DaysNo Hurry to Get HomeNo Impact ManNo More ShavesNo One Cares About Crazy PeopleNolaNotebooks 1951-1959NothingOdd Girl Speaks OutOedipus WreckedOf Spirits & MadnessOn Being RapedOn the Edge of DarknessOn the MoveOne Hour in ParisOne Hundred DaysOphelia SpeaksPagan TimePassing for NormalPeople Who Eat DarknessPerfect ChaosPerfect ExamplePermanent Present TensePersepolisPlanet of the BlindPlaying with FirePlease Don't Kill the FreshmanPoisoned LovePollockPOPismPortraits of Huntington'sPoster ChildProzac DiaryPsychiatrist on the RoadPsychosis in the FamilyPuppy Chow Is Better Than ProzacQuitting the Nairobi TrioRaising BlazeReasons to Stay AliveRebuiltRecovered, Not CuredRelative StrangerRescuing JeffreyRestricted AccessRevengeRewind, Replay, RepeatRichard RortyRiding the Bus With My SisterRobert Lowell, Setting the River on FireRoom For JRosemaryRough MagicRunning After AntelopeRunning with ScissorsScattershotSchizophreniaSchopenhauerSecond OpinionsSectionedSeeing EzraSeeing the CrabSet the Boy FreeSex & Single GirlsSex ObjectShakespeareShe Bets Her LifeShe Got Up Off the CouchShut the DoorSickenedSilencing the VoicesSimone de BeauvoirSinging in the FireSkin GameSlackjawSlut!SmashedSome Assembly RequiredSome Kind of GeniusSometimes Amazing Things HappenSometimes Madness Is WisdomSongs from the Black ChairSongs of the Gorilla NationSoren KierkegaardSpeak to MeSpeaking Our Minds: Revised EditionSpecial SiblingsSpentStandbyStick FigureStill LivesStretchSunset StorySurviving OpheliaSwing LowTales from Both Sides of the BrainTales of PsychotherapyTalk to HerTell Me Everything You Don't RememberTellingTelling Tales About DementiaThe Accidental BillionairesThe AddictThe Anatomy of HopeThe Anti-Romantic ChildThe Art of MisdiagnosisThe Bastard on the Couch CDThe BeastThe Bell JarThe Best Seat in the HouseThe Big FixThe Body SilentThe Boy on the Green BicycleThe Boy Who Loved Too MuchThe Boy Who Loved WindowsThe Bright HourThe Buddha & The BorderlineThe Burn JournalsThe Camera My Mother Gave MeThe Cancer Monologue ProjectThe Center Cannot HoldThe Chelsea WhistleThe Churkendoose AnthologyThe Day the Voices StoppedThe Devil WithinThe DisappearanceThe Discomfort ZoneThe Doctor Is InThe Eden ExpressThe Family SilverThe Farm Colonies: Caring for New York City's Mentally Ill In Long Island's State HospitalsThe Fasting GirlThe First Man-Made ManThe First TimeThe Geography of BlissThe Glass CastleThe Good DoctorsThe Hillside Diary and Other WritingsThe Incantations of Daniel JohnstonThe Infidel and the ProfessorThe Last AsylumThe Last Good FreudianThe Last Time I Wore a DressThe Liars' ClubThe Lives and Loves of Daisy and Violet HiltonThe Lives They Left BehindThe LobotomistThe Long GoodbyeThe Looked After Kid: Memoirs from a Children's HomeThe Loony-Bin TripThe Madness of Our LivesThe Making of a PhilosopherThe Making of Friedrich NietzscheThe Man Who Couldn't EatThe Man Who Shocked the WorldThe Man Who Tasted ShapesThe Marvelous Hairy GirlsThe Maximum Security Book ClubThe Me in the MirrorThe Memory PalaceThe Mercy PapersThe Mistress's DaughterThe Mother of Black HollywoodThe Naked Bird WatcherThe Naked Lady Who Stood on Her HeadThe Night of the GunThe Noonday DemonThe Notebook GirlsThe NursesThe Only Girl in the CarThe Orchid ThiefThe Other HollywoodThe OutsiderThe Philosopher's Autobiography The Philosophical Breakfast ClubThe Philosophical IThe Pits and the PendulumThe Pornographer's GriefThe Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner The Professor and the MadmanThe Psychopath TestThe Quiet RoomThe RecoveringThe Red DevilThe Rescue of Belle and SundanceThe Ride TogetherThe Rules of the TunnelThe Secret of LifeThe Shaking Woman or A History of My NervesThe Shared HeartThe Shiniest JewelThe Siren's DanceThe Statistical Life of MeThe Story of My FatherThe Strange Case of Hellish NellThe Summer of a DormouseThe SurrenderThe Talking CureThe Thought that CountsThe Three of UsThe Undoing ProjectThe Vagina MonologuesThe Velveteen FatherThe Winter of Our DisconnectThe Woman Who Walked into the SeaThe Years of Silence are PastThe Yellow HouseThe Yipping TigerThick As ThievesThinThis Close to HappyThomas S. SzaszTiger, TigerTits, Ass, and Real EstateTo Redeem One Person Is to Redeem the WorldTo Walk on EggshellsTransforming MadnessTrue CompassTruth & BeautyTruth Comes in BlowsTuesdays with MorrieTweakTwitch and ShoutUltimate JudgementUndercurrentsUnholy GhostUnlikelyVoices of AlcoholismVoices Of Alzheimer'sVoices of CaregivingVoices of RecoveryVoluntary MadnessWaiting for DaisyWar FareWashing My Life AwayWastedWaveWe're Going to Need More WineWe're Not MonstersWeather Reports from the Autism FrontWeekends at BellevueWhat Did I Do Last Night?What Goes UpWhat I Learned in Medical SchoolWhat's Normal?When a Crocodile Eats the SunWhen Breath Becomes AirWhen Do I Get My Shoelaces Back?.....When It Gets DarkWhen the Piano StopsWhen You Are Engulfed in FlamesWhere Did It All Go Right?Where is the Mango Princess?Where the Roots Reach for WaterWhile the City SleptWhile They SleptWho Was Jacques Derrida?Why I Left, Why I StayedWhy I'm Like ThisWildWill's ChoiceWinnicottWinnieWish I Could Be ThereWith Their EyesWomen Living with Self-InjuryWomen, Body, IllnessWrestling with the AngelYou Must Be DreamingYour Voice in My HeadZeldaZor
Part memoir and part survival
guide, How I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill Me aims to
provide practical and immediate advice for those who are contemplating suicide
but genuinely do not wish to die. It
offers a wealth of information, both for suicidal individuals and their loved
ones, and should serve as a source of comfort and hope to all those affected by
Blauner has been plagued by major
depression and borderline personality disorder for much of her adult life. She confronted suicidal thoughts for
eighteen years and made three
"suicide gestures" in the 1990's.
Her understanding of suicide rests on five claims:
1. Most suicidal thinkers don't want to die; they just want their feelings
to change or go away. In Blauner's
estimation, suicidal persons nearly always prefer life to death. However, the sense of hopelessness that permeates
their consciousness is so great that suicide seems the only solution to the
misery and psychological hardship they face.
Suicide is neither the only strategy nor the best strategy for dealing
with such anguish, an important reminder for those considering suicide.
2. Every single feeling we experience eventually does change --
with or without any help from us. Suicidologists
have repeatedly observed that suicidal thoughts and behaviors are frequently
impulsive, rooted in essentially transient psychological states. Suicidal individuals stand a much better
chance of long-term survival if they can identify strategies to cope with these
impulses. Suicide remains a permanent
solution to a temporary problem.
3. Feelings and thoughts are just electrochemical impulses in the
brain. Blauner's general position
about the etiology of suicide is a sensible combination of nature and nurture:
While genetic or environmental factors may predispose individuals to the risk
factors associated with suicide, most notably depression and other mental
illnesses, suicidal thoughts are simply short-lived brain events.
4. It is possible to outthink
the brain, actively changing feelings and eventually eliminating suicidal
thoughts. Blauner sees suicidal
thoughts as a kind of habitual response to the feelings common to depression
and other mental illnesses. Once
suicidal individuals recognize that these thoughts are a contingent response to
such feelings, they can begin to adopt alternative non-lethal responses.
5. The reality of suicide is far different from the fantasy. Most suicidal thinkers romanticize their
death by suicide. Blauner litters
her book with anecdotes in which suicide attempts lead to embarrassment,
humiliation, long-term hospitalization, disability, or organ damage. Once disabused of the notion that their
suicide attempts are risk-free gestures that will win others' attention or
love, suicidal individuals ought to think twice about the ugly reality of life
after suicide attempts. And of course,
it should go without saying that suicide is not a treatment for the conditions
which often cause it: Attempting to kill oneself has never cured anyone of
depression, to my knowledge.
Blauner offers far too many tips
and strategies for suicide prevention to permit me to discuss any of them in
detail here. Nearly half of the book is
devoted to describing these strategies and how to put them to use. But as her five main claims would suggest,
the overall orientation of these strategies is cognitive or behavioral, emphasizing
suicidal individuals' self-understanding of their condition and the actions
they take in response to that condition.
The majority of the strategies fall into one of four rough categories:
• Seeking the assistance or support of others. Blauner advocates
creating a detailed phone list and a thorough "crisis plan" to be
implemented when suicidal feelings are at their strongest. She also credits her years in therapy for
allowing her to develop the daily living skills, stress management techniques,
and the sense of identity needed to survive her suicidal episodes.
• Description and documentation of feelings. Central to Blauner's recovery was the
careful description of her own suicidal feelings and the recognition of the gap
between her feelings and the facts to which those feelings are reactions. To this end, she explains how using personal
journals served to express, and thereby diminish, her anxieties. She also offers a comprehensive
"feelings galore list" to help readers distinguish subtle emotional
variations, and explains how "tracing feelings back" to their
triggering causes keeps negative feelings in check. Blauner also describes how to distinguish feelings ("I feel
defeated and I'm never going to accomplish anything") from the
corresponding facts ("I may have had a setback, but I am getting somewhere
and this rough spot will pass").
These strategies are effective because they divorce us from our feelings
so as to prevent our identifying ourselves with these feelings. As Blauner observes, being sad is not the same as feeling
sad. Describing and documenting
feelings in these ways reminds suicidal people that they are "only
feelings" and distances them from feelings, which, Blauner reiterates ,
will inevitably change.
• Diversion and distraction.
Perhaps the most elementary of Blauner's recommendations is to stay
busy, preferably with productive tasks likely to build self-esteem and
establish routine. These tasks can be
mundane (fold laundry), whimsical (juggle), altruistic (volunteer at an animal
shelter), or interactive (call a friend). (I liked her suggestion to draw
unhappy faces on eggs and smack them with a baseball bat!)
• Attend to physical health.
Blauner notices that mental and physical well-being are interrelated;
those suffering from depression or other mental illnesses often do not pay
sufficient attention to their physical health, which in turn further
exacerbates the symptoms of their mental discord. She recommends consuming healthy "brain foods",
exercising regularly, getting adequate sleep, and experimenting with sound and
color to enhance physical health.
Not that Blauner denies the utility
of psychotropic medications such as Prozac ("vitamin P," she dubs
it). But these medications are no
panacea; they provided what she calls a "safety net" enabling her to
stabilize her feelings and put in place the long-term approaches necessary to
overcome suicidal feelings.
The book also contains moving
letters from Blauner's therapist and loved ones, characterizing their own
feelings about her ordeal, and an extremely sensitive chapter for those trying
to help suicidal people. Nonetheless,
her emphasis falls on self-help -- on
the techniques suicidal persons need to survive day-to-day. The book is packed with information, with
literally dozens of phone numbers and resources for suicidal people to
How I Stayed Alive succeeds
in its pragmatic objective. But those
expecting deep insights into the origins of suicidal behavior or the mechanisms
of suicidal thought are likely to be disappointed. As a theoretical treatise on suicide, the book has little to
offer, and it suffers from the New Age-y fuzziheadedness common to the
self-help genre. Suicidal persons are urged to practice a bland spirituality
oriented around "God, Higher Power, HP, Goddess, Buddha, Great Spirit,
Creator, Inner Light," etc. And
Blauner's carelessness with some diagnostic categories and concepts may bother
some readers. For instance, she
repeatedly says that suicidal thought was an "addiction," her drug of
choice for dealing with stress and conflict, and by seeing that suicidal
thought was her chosen response to stress and conflict, she was able to
circumvent her suicidal feelings. Yet
what is gained by calling suicidal thought an "addiction"? Blauner seems to mean that suicidal thinking
was her usual or automatic response to life's vicissitudes, part of her
"brain style." By admitting
that suicidal thinking was a chosen response, she undermines her assertion that
it acts like an addiction. Apparently,
Blauner thought that only by invoking the fashionable pop-psychological
language of addiction could she encourage her readers to pursue alternative
responses to stress and conflict.
Still, Blauner's book will prove a
valuable resource. Her story will
undoubtedly resonate with suicidal people, and her own recovery can inspire
them to begin extricate themselves from the knots of suicidal thinking.
2003 Michael J. Cholbi
Michael J. Cholbi,
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Brooklyn College, City University of New