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How I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill Me: One Person's Guide to Suicide Prevention

How I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill Me: One Person's Guide to Suicide Prevention

4.3 11
by Susan Rose Blauner

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The statistics on suicide are staggering. According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in 1997 in the USA more teenagers and young adults died from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza and chronic lung disease combined. It is also an international epidemic.

Susan Blauner is the perfect


The statistics on suicide are staggering. According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in 1997 in the USA more teenagers and young adults died from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza and chronic lung disease combined. It is also an international epidemic.

Susan Blauner is the perfect emissary for a message of hope and a program of action for these millions of people. She's been though it, and speaks and writes eloquently about feelings and fantasies surrounding suicide.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
For 18 years, Blauner survived obsessive suicidal thoughts with the help of three psychiatric hospitalizations, an excellent therapist, 12-step support groups, "spiritual exploration," Prozac and a network of family and friends. This personal account of what worked for her offers excellent practical advice to "teach you how to get through those excruciating moments when every cell in your brain and body is screaming, `I want to die!' " Approaching "suicidal thoughts" as an addiction, Blauner clearly explains how some people's "brain style" responds to environmental stresses or "triggers" with obsessive suicidal thoughts rather than cravings for alcohol or other drugs. Strongly influenced by the very successful 12-step model, she fashions a patchwork of strategies for understanding, preventing and treating suicidal "gestures," which she asserts are not actually attempts to die but efforts to stop unbearable psychological pain. Childhood sexual abuse and the death of her mother when she was 14 contributed to Blauner's long struggle, but she herself had to make the decision and effort to begin therapy at age 19, before her problem was even recognized or treated. Now Blauner provides others like herself with "Tricks of the Trade" that can literally save lives. With neither hollow platitudes nor medical doublespeak, she covers brain function, antidepressants, finding a good therapist, identifying triggers, creating a "Crisis Plan" for critical moments and heading off suicidal thoughts by coping with hunger, anger, loneliness and fatigue. Blauner provides an extremely valuable and much-needed tool for both suicidal thinkers and their loved ones. B&w illus. (On sale Aug. 6) Forecast: The World Health Organization estimates that one million people die by suicide every year, and there are 700,000 emergency room visits in the U.S. for suicidal behavior every year. This exceptional book should be a boon to suicidal thinkers and those who care for them. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, suicide is the eighth leading cause of death for all Americans and the third leading cause of death for those ages 15 to 24. Yet as Blauner points out, suicide is rarely talked about openly. In her heartfelt and important book, Blauner, who has survived multiple suicide attempts and developed a statewide suicide prevention program for teens in Massachusetts, offers guidance and hope for those contemplating ending their lives. The story of her 18-year struggle with suicidal impulses is followed by a concise explanation of the biochemical process inside the brain of a suicidal thinker. The bulk of the book consists of her 25 personal "tricks of the trade," practical, safe alternative activities any suicidal thinker can employ to "outthink" his or her brain and stay alive. These include asking for help, keeping emergency contact information handy, creating a crisis plan, keeping a journal, practicing meditation, and attending support groups, to name just a few. The chapter on helping others will be useful for mental health professionals. A resource list includes numerous crisis hotline telephone numbers, web sites, and contact information for support organizations. This vital resource is recommended for all public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/15/02.] Dale Farris, Groves, TX Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.79(d)

Read an Excerpt

How I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill Me

Chapter One


Congratulations. Your lungs are breathing, your fingers are touching these pages, and your eyes are reading these words. At this very moment the part of you wanting life is stronger than the part of you that thinks it doesn't -- otherwise you wouldn't be reading this book. Let me repeat that: At this very moment the part of you wanting life is stronger than the part of you that thinks it doesn't -- otherwise you wouldn't be reading this book. Every word, belief, and idea it contains is dedicated to you.

I wish I could make your suicidal thoughts disappear, but I can't. What I can do is teach you how to get through those excruciating moments when every cell in your brain and body is screaming, "I want to die!" By surviving those moments unharmed and learning new ways of coping, you will gradually create a set of tools that can make life more manageable. Suicidal thoughts will occur less frequently and with less severity.

The thing to remember is that change takes time and practice. Fortunately, you'll have plenty of time to practice. The good news is that practice and repetition can make these skills a part of you, and that increases your chances of getting rid of suicidal thoughts altogether.

How I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill Me is based on the following beliefs:

  1. Most suicidal thinkers don't want to die; they just want their feelings to change or go away.
  2. Every single feeling we experience eventually does change with or without any help from us.
  3. They never stay thesame or at the same intensity.
  4. Feelings and thoughts are just electrochemical impulses in the brain.
  5. It is possible to out think the brain, actively change feelings and eventually eliminate suicidal thoughts.
  6. The reality of suicide is far different from the fantasy. Most suicidal thinkers romanticize their death by suicide, failing to realize that any suicide gesture or attempt can result in permanent brain, kidney, or liver damage, loss of limbs, blindness, or even death.

When I was fourteen, I never thought I'd live to be twenty-one. Ironically, I didn't make my first major suicide gesture until I was twenty-five, one year after I found Sylvia, the therapist who saved my life. In the years following the 1991 overdose, I was locked in a psychiatric ward three times; wound up in the intensive-care unit twice; and made two more big suicide gestures -- an overdose in 1992 and another in 1998. During the eighteen years I had suicidal thoughts, I experienced the excruciating "I-want-to-die" moment thousand of times and did my best to destroy my life. Fortunately, I did not succeed.

The brain has a mind of its own, particularly when it's trying to kill you. It can say nasty things, based not in reality but in old patterns, fears, and intensified emotion. Since most suicidal thinkers don't want to die -- what they want is relief from emotional pain -- it's important to stay alive and healthy long enough to find the relief that's out there (and inside of you). To stay alive and healthy I had to develop new coping skills and philosophies. These tools I affectionately named "Tricks of the Trade." They've saved my butt countless times. I hope to teach you these tricks in part 3, leaving room for your own creative imagination.

Even if a person calls for help after making a suicide gesture (like I did) or leaves a clue so that he or she will be found before the suicide is complete, what most of us fail to realize is that we might not be found. We might wind up losing a limb or the use of a limb. We might wind up with brain damage, paralysis or internal injury. We might even wind up dead.

One thing I finally got after ten years of therapy was it's okay to have suicidal thoughts, just don't act on them. They are just thoughts. instead of feeling isolated or ashamed for having them, I had to acknowledge my suicidal thoughts, look beneath them at the feelings, and find a healthy way to address the feelings in order to diminish the thoughts. I had to grasp the notion that all thoughts are temporary -- even suicidal ones -- just as all feelings are temporary.

Letting go of suicide was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. It took tremendously hard work and determination, but if I can do it, anyone can. If you don't believe me, simply borrow some of my strength and belief in you. I had to borrow other people's strength and belief in me for years. Now I have plenty for myself with extra to lend.

That's not to say my road to healing was smooth and straight. I battled for years, ripped with despair and loneliness. Often my brain held me hostage and tried to convince me that I was pathetic, useless, and unloved, and that ending my life was the only solution. It was wrong.

If you feel resistance while reading this book, that's a good sign, and it's perfectly natural. It means something good and new is sinking into your brain. When I am starting to change a part of my psyche, my brain sometimes feels threatened. Resistance can take the form of fatigue, headaches, shallow breathing, distraction, a sense of being overwhelmed, tight shoulders, a swimmy head, a squirmy stomach, a "what's-the-use" message from the brain. If any of this happens to you, take a deep breath and read on, or take a break and do something nice for yourself.

If Resistance Gets Too Strong:

  1. Find some way to get it out of your body:
  • Take a look at the Tasks and Activities List and find a few things...
How I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill Me. Copyright © by Susan Rose Blauner. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

At the age of 14, Susan Rose Blauner never thought she'd live to be 21.

Now 36, she is the author of "How I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill Me: One Person's Guide to Suicide Prevention."

Born October 15, 1965 in Westchester County, New York, her family moved to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in 1979 where she graduated from high school in 1983. She earned a bachelor's degree in art from Bridgewater State College and graduated cum laude in 1988.

Highly creative and inspired, Blauner's professional life has crisscrossed many avenues: visual merchandising, therapeutic recreation, graphic design, photojournalism, studio assistant, production manager for a weekly newspaper. Writing has always played a key life role for Blauner. It became a profession in 2000, when she signed on with the Jane Rotrosen Agency in Manhattan. How I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill Me: One Person's Guide to Suicide Prevention is Blauner's first book. She plans to write a good portion of her next book this spring, during a four-week artist's residency in Georgia.

Suicide prevention is one of many areas Blauner hopes to explore through writing. In addition to her next non-fiction book, she has started several screenplays, one stage play and several novels. Among other things, she would like to write both a staged musical and a screenplay about suicide prevention, based on her own experience. The freedom she finds in writing blends perfectly with her endless supply of ideas and passions.

Susan Rose Blauner is active in the suicide prevention field. She speaks at high schools, presents at conferences, and is a spokesperson for Out of the Darkness, the largest suicide prevention and awareness event in our country to date. Out of the Darkness, a 26-mile overnight fund-raiser walk produced by Pallotta TeamWorks will benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). In addition to walking the walk, Blauner will speak at the closing rally on The Mall in Washington, D.C. To raise money for the event, Blauner produced a benefit concert this winter called "Shine a Light on Suicide," and raised $3,000.

Blauner offers a much-needed voice to the solution of the suicide dilemma. According to Iris Bolton, executive director of the National Center for Suicide Prevention and Aftercare, "Susan Rose Blauner has written THE best suicide prevention manual for the suicidal thinker, attempter, layperson or professional. It is a classic of this generation. She has transformed her own pain into a legacy of life-saving possibilities." Bolton continues, "If How I Stayed Alive had been available to my 20-year-old suicidal son Mitch, he might be alive today."

  • 10% of any royalty profit Blauner realizes from How I Stayed Alive will be donated to the National Hopeline Network Kristin Brooks Hope Center (1-800-SUICIDE).
  • Blauner was interviewed by NYC filmmaker/journalist Dara Berger for a documentary film on suicide to be released this fall.
  • Blauner has been accepted as a presenter by the American Association of Suicidology for their 2002 annual conference.
  • Blauner has developed a communication workshop to be used in conjunction with her book. The workshop will be available at HarperAcademic.com.
  • Blauner is developing a multimedia prevention program to bring to schools nationwide.
  • She is a member of a Youth Task Force and has recently been appointed to a Youth Consultation Committee.
  • In keeping with the Lifekeeper Memorial Quilt, "Faces of Suicide," Blauner is starting a Lifekeeper Quilt for Attempters of Suicide, "There Is Hope!" Attempters will make quilt squares for themselves as a commitment to staying alive.
  • Blauner would like to produce a benefit CD "Shine a Light on Suicide" to raise money for suicide prevention/awareness. She is soliciting donations from various music professionals and will release the CD in late 2003/2004.
  • A longterm goal for Sue is to start the Shine A Light on Suicide Foundation, through which financial aid will be given to individuals in need of quality psychiatric care. Blauner will use profits from her book as well as grant money, private/corporate donations and fund-raising events.

Susan Rose Blauner survived eighteen years of suicide obsession, three suicide gestures, three psyche hospitalizations and ten-plus years of intense psychotherapy to reconfigure her brain and how it processes the world. She has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, post traumatic stress disorder and major depression.

A true Renaissance woman, she creates sanctuary in her life through art, music, people, nature, spirituality and inner vision, all supported by her boundless faith, determination and resilience. Sue lives on Cape Cod, where she draws strength from the nature around her. Susan Rose Blauner is alive, feeling everything -- difficult and easy -- living a life full of dreams come true.

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How I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill Me: One Person's Guide to Suicide Prevention 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book has detail information from a person who had to deal with her own suicidal behavior. Filled with exercises to learn how your brain malfunctions and how you can slowly change your destructive thought processes. The text includes phrases to use when listening to someone who is extremely depressed. It points out what "not to say". The author realistically talked about improved mental stability, but not really a cure. I felt more hopeful as the examples showed how growth is possible. Bi-polar or chronically depressed patients, as well as their loved ones will benefit from this book.
Lynn_C_Tolson More than 1 year ago
On the jacket of the hardcover, Susan Rose Blauner writes, "I searched for a book like this, but found none, so I wrote one." The first edition was printed in 2002, when there were few books about suicide. What was available lacked a story of recovery, and Ms. Blauner filled that void. Making oneself vulnerable by writing about one's own suicidal thinking takes courage. It's brave for an author to state that she has borderline personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and major depression. It's difficult to continue the cycle of life under these conditions. Blauner says that she was a victim of sexual abuse. (Rape victims are 13 times more likely to have attempted suicide than their non-assaulted counterparts.) Blauner shares her personal journey from suicidal thinking to hope and healing. The premise of the book is that most people who think about suicide don't want to die; they want relief from emotional pain. Blauner was responsible to the readers by doing her homework. Included in her book are notations from specialists who study suicide, thereby offering research as a foundation for her statements. (Those who experience the suicidal thoughts are also experts on the topic.) In the "Tricks of the Trade" section, Susan shares sources of help, as well as skills developed in therapy. Blauner explains the difference between statements such as "I am depressed" versus "I feel depressed." She uses analogies to illustrate the "Neuron Superhighway," simplifying a complex neurological pattern. She offers numerous suggestions for the reader to explore. Sometimes, when one is suicidal, there are no other options. She encourages the reader to explore an activity, such as journal writing. It's not the answer, but each bit of information is a step toward life. If you are looking for a book that will help you help someone with suicidal thoughts, How I Stayed Alive has specific instructions, including how to listen well and respond appropriately. Blauner put an enormous amount of work into this book. Part Seven includes hotlines, websites, and resources. There is a sectioned bibliography, references to citations, permissions, and an index. It takes effort to convey this helpful information to readers. Susan Blauner structured her intangible journey into a book that has substance for therapists, suicidal thinkers, and those around them. A portion of the proceeds of the book go to the National Hopeline Network 1-800-SUICIDE. If you are in crisis, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Snuck out of camp. "Who are you."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I stumbled across this book by chance when I was searching for something to help me better understand and survive my depression. Reading this book is what turned a life that was heading down the road to complete self destruction and even death back to a renewed sense of hope and healing. After reading this book, I encouraged my family and closed friends to read it as well, to help them better understand what I was going through and how they could help.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My sister mailed this book to me. i was highly skeptical. i had tried the drugs, spiritual reference, friends, vacations, massage --- anything to try and reroute my brain's hideous negativity and suicidal urges. my life was falling apart. all i need to say is this: this book is NOT patronizing or too medical, psychological. it is as if a friend or a trusted therapist is helping you thru the most difficult first steps. it helped me, and i thought i was a lost cause!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Socrates said, ¿The unexamined life is not worth living.¿ In ¿How I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill Me,¿ Susan Rose Blauner pursues a courageous and painstaking examination of a life of pain and suffering, discovery and remarkable personal growth. Bearing witness to history, culture, and personal experience is perhaps the most crucial responsibility of being human. With her willingness to disclose the details of her personal journey from despair to hope, Ms. Blauner has borne witness to a very personal struggle in a way that provides guidance to others who suffer similarly. This guide through the minefield of suicidal thoughts and impulses will inevitably save lives. While the author provides considerable insight regarding the nature and origins of suicidal thoughts, the heart of the guide is Chapter Three, entitiled ¿Tricks of the Trade.¿ In this chapter, she offers a variety of practical steps that can be taken to overcome suicidal impulses when they occur. While every step may not appeal to everyone, there is enough variety to provide useful strategies for most people who struggle with suicide. Trick #19: Helping Others is particularly pertinent. I would add to this step imagining the possibilities for helping others in the future. Had Susan Blauner envisioned sooner the influence that she would eventually have upon so many lives, her will to live may have grown stronger years earlier. Perhaps the most crucial message of this work, then, is that it is worth going on if only to discover our capacity for bringing light into other lives.