Interview with a suicide survivor

Hey guys, I recently did an email interview with my really awesome friend, Tan Meiling, who is a survivor of multiple suicide attempts. She has kindly allowed me to share her story so as to help those out there who need to hear this.


There are Christian elements that might not apply to all my readers out there, but I think it’s still very helpful in many areas. Read and be encouraged!

1) Tell us a bit about yourself.

Well, I’m now 28, working as a freelance writer/editor/tutor/trainer. I was trained as an English teacher, but decided to take a step of faith this year and pursue my dream of writing and editing.


2) At what age did you start thinking about suicide?

Around age 13. I’d just moved back to the States from Singapore, and was having a tough time fitting in at my new school and re-adjusting to American culture. I was also dealing with a lot of repressed negative emotions because I was badly bullied for an extended period of time in Singapore, just before I moved to the States.


3) What was/were the trigger(s)?

It was likely the slow build-up of all the emotions I was grappling with: anxiety about my new school and adjusting to a new culture, the loneliness of not having any friends, the anger and powerlessness I felt at being bullied for such a prolonged period of time, and the increasing isolation I felt because my family wasn’t able to support/understand me emotionally.


Eventually, everything just became too much, and I attempted suicide for the first time. I can’t even remember now what my first suicide attempt was. Between the age of 13 and 19, I think I tried to kill myself six times.


These attempts mostly involved trying to overdose on whatever pills I could find, though once I tried jumping in front of a train, and another time I tried jumping off the ninth story of a building. Oh, and one time I also ate 1kg of rat poison.


4) What treatment(s) methods did you/your family try?
After everything became overwhelming for me, I broke down and confessed to my mom that I’d been thinking about suicide. She sent me for an evaluation by a psychiatrist, who diagnosed me with major depressive disorder with suicidal tendencies. They promptly put me on various medications (I can’t remember which ones now) and started sending me for therapy.


In the next few years after that, they changed my medication half a dozen times, increased the dosage of each medication to see if it would help, and switched therapists and therapy styles and psychiatrists just as many times.


By the age of 14, I think I was taking like four or five different pills every night for depression, anxiety, insomnia, and so on. Of course, the number of pills I had access to didn’t help the suicide attempts, so I think eventually they decided to give me fewer pills and instead have me refill the prescriptions more often. That way, I wouldn’t down all of my medication at one go.


5) Tell us about the very last suicide attempt and what prompted that?

My last suicide attempt was the 1kg of rat poison along with about 10 grams of Paracetamol (Panadol). It tasted quite nasty — I had to put the rat poison in my breakfast cereal just to get it down my throat, and to this day I still don’t like the taste of Panadol.


What prompted it was an extreme feeling of abandonment and loneliness. There was this huge void in my heart that I kept trying to fill; I felt like no one understood me, and I believed that those who were supposed to be there for me were never around or didn’t have the ability to truly protect and care for me.


The recurring thought in my head was, “I am alone. I always have to fend for myself, and no one will ever truly know me nor love me.” It was therefore not a big leap for me to start thinking, “I am a mistake. I wasn’t meant to be here in this world. I am not important to anyone. My existence is an error.” So I acted on those beliefs and tried to correct the mistake.


6) How do you cope with depressive thoughts these days?

By being in relationship with God and learning to love myself the way that He loves me. If I find myself sinking into a place of hopelessness, I try and get reconnected to what the God of hope is saying to me. I allow Him to love on me even in my darkest times…and when I can’t do that, the friends He’s placed in my life help Him to remind me how much I am loved.


Practically speaking, I structure my life so that I filter out distractions, choosing to focus on His heart for me above what all the other voices are telling me. For instance, I choose my closest friends carefully and over a long period of time; for me to consider them a close friend, they have to consistently demonstrate that they value the whole of me (and not just the part of me that lives up to certain expectations)…because God values the whole of me.


In turn, I do the same for them, and my close friends and I have such a strong bond that I know I’m always going to be there for them just as they will be there for me. I also live my life and order my priorities based on what He tells me, and I can see day after day how He cares for me even in the little things.


But honestly, even though I now feel a lot more healed and whole than I did a decade ago, there’s still a small voice inside me that wonders if I am really significant to God. Does He really think I am that special? Does He really consider me His precious, beloved daughter? Does He really know and care for the desires of my heart?


This small, nagging voice may always be there until after I meet my Father face-to-face. “Then we shall know fully, even as we are fully known,” after all. But instead of focusing on that small voice, I’m choosing to maintain an awareness of my Father’s heart for me instead. That way, no matter what adverse circumstances come my way, I am more aware of His heart for me than I am of that little voice that tries to steer me off course.


7) What would you like to let friends and family members know about someone who has suicide ideation?

If your loved one is struggling with suicide ideation, don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t rush to fix them. And definitely don’t tell them that the solution is to “rejoice always” or “count it all joy when you meet trials of various kinds.” Validate their feelings, however extreme or drastic they may seem to be.


Be present with them in the moment. Sometimes that means simply embracing them and crying with them.


Other times it means listening to them pour out their hearts, not trying to hand out quick fixes so you can move on. Seek to understand their hearts, and seek to love them well. (By the way, if you think you’re loving them well but they don’t feel loved by you, it may be an indication to re-evaluate what you’re doing.)


That suicide ideation is a mere symptom; the real problem lies deeper within. For me, it was an overwhelming sense of being unloved, unsupported, and alone. There were many lies I believed about myself because of the things I went through, and it took time and a lot of love to unearth those beliefs and replace them with the truth.


For others, it may be that they’ve just lost their jobs, and they’d tied their whole lives to their careers. They’ll need time and a lot of support to regain their footing and develop a new, more secure sense of themselves that is not tied to something external.


Be patient with your loved one, and always endeavor to listen and understand what their hearts are actually saying. (The words that are coming out of their mouths are a good indication of what their hearts are feeling, but words can’t tell you the whole story.)


Lastly, if you have a relationship with God, find out what our loving heavenly Father thinks about them! It will change the way you relate to them. It will change you. And in time, it will change how they see themselves too.


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