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

by Susan Rose Blauner


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An international epidemic, suicide has touched the lives of nearly half of all Americans, yet is rarely talked about openly. In this timely and important book, Susan Blauner breaks the silence to offer guidance and hope for those contemplating ending their lives — and for their loved ones.

A survivor of multiple suicide attempts, Blauner eloquently describes the feelings and fantasies surrounding suicide. In a direct, nonjudgmental, and loving voice, she offers affirmations and suggestions for those experiencing life-ending thoughts, and for their friends and family. Here is an essential resource destined to be the classic guide on the subject.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060936211
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 07/08/2003
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 294,700
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.79(d)

About the Author

Susan Rose Blauner, MSW, LCSW, is a writer, motivational speaker, artist, singer, and educator who changes the way people think about suicidal thoughts, suicidal behavior and mental disease. She is the 2002 recipient of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Survivor of the Year Award for Distinguished Creativity in Suicide Prevention and transformed eighteen years of suicidal ideation, three suicide gestures, multiple psychiatric hospitalizations and decades of therapy into the life-saving resource, How I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill Me: One Person’s Guide to Suicide Prevention. Susan presents motivational keynotes and seminars throughout the United States designed to destigmatize mental illness; enlighten practitioners, educators, first responders and military personnel; and empower individuals and families affected by mental illness and suicide. She has appeared on Good Morning America, American Family, and in the documentary A Secret Best Not Kept. Following a 2008 breast cancer diagnosis, two surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, Susan went on to earn a master’s degree in social work from Simmons College in 2015, at the age of 50. She now lives in New England with her dog, Fiona, and continues to find ways to enhance her enjoyment of life. For more information, visit

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.

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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."
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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.