Choosing to Live: Stories of Those Who Stepped Away from Suicide – Clifford Williams

Content Warning: Please be aware that if you find a topic triggering, you will most likely find it in this book. Topics include alcoholism, drug addiction, self-harm, all kinds of abuse, domestic violence, bullying, eating disorders, and of course, suicide attempts and suicidal ideation.

I applaud the intention of Choosing to Live: stories of those who stepped away from suicide. This book is aimed at reducing the stigma associated with talking about suicide and is marketed toward anyone who has ever had or now has suicidal feelings, families and friends of those people, therapists and psychology students and professors.

I would like to give acknowledgement to the courage of the individuals who told their stories for this book, and compassion to the families and friends of Hannah and Alistair who are grieving their loss.

The stories in this book are from people ranging from 18 to 61, with various precipitating factors that led to their suicide attempt/s. The following questions were asked to each participant:

  • What led up to your suicide attempt?
  • What keeps you alive now?

Told in sections, the individual stories are grouped by themes of rejection, overwhelming stress, bullying, not feeling good enough, painful memories, teenage stresses, ups and downs, a strange impulse, parental abuse, depression and anxiety, break up of a significant relationship, ambivalence, lack of support, shame and addiction, dysfunctional relationships, suicide of a parent, medical conditions, and being in hospice care. Of course, there are overlaps with some stories fitting just as well in multiple categories.

The From Despair to Hope chapter towards the end of the book has answers from survivors to the following questions:

  • What did you feel like when you were struggling with despair and hopelessness?
  • What did you feel when you realised you were still alive?
  • What do you like most about living now?

There is also a chapter that asks survivors what they would have wanted someone to do or say to them when they were suicidal. Finally, there is a chapter giving tips on how to deal with someone who is suicidal and American phone and internet resources.

Overall the stories, while painful and heartbreaking, are definitely useful teaching tools for anyone who wants to understand what would cause someone to make an attempt on their life, what may prevent it from happening, and what may help after an attempt has been made.

However, there were a few pretty big concerns I had about this book.

  1. Specific mention is made in the introduction that none of the participants were interviewed while they were suicidal and they were reflecting on previous experiences. I was surprised when I read later in the book that some participants had only attempted suicide a matter of weeks prior to being interviewed and questioned the judgement used in choosing participants this soon after such an experience.
  2. I personally feel it is reckless to recommend a book to people who have been suicidal or currently are that contains so much detail about how the individual attempts were made. I understand that part of each person’s story includes the method they used but there are ways to do this without it reading like a ‘How To’ manual. Surely it would have been more prudent to say someone attempted suicide by overdosing rather than specifying how many tablets they took and which class of medication it was. Of course if someone is determined to die they will find a way to do it but in a book that is hoping to prevent deaths it just doesn’t seem wise to include such detail.

This last point is more a small marketing concern. If I saw this book surrounded by others on the subject I doubt I would pick it up. This sounds really petty but I really do judge books by their cover and the cover design of this book is clichéd and doesn’t scream, “Hey, you! Pick me! Pick me!” A more professional looking cover would help draw people to it.

Thank you very much to NetGalley and Smith Publicity for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Choosing to Live contains stories about people who tried to commit suicide, told in their own words, based on the author’s interviews with them. Each story serves as a source of encouragement and speaks with a clear voice to all those who struggle with suicide to assure them that they are not alone. 

Choosing to Live is a must-read for individuals with suicidal feelings and for their relatives and friends who have suffered with them. Caregivers will gain new insights into the mental anguish that taunts individuals who battle the inner turmoil of facing each new day. 

The author believes that people crave to tell the story of their lives, even if it involves wanting to die. The names of the people involved have been changed, including identifying details, to preserve anonymity. 

Specific topics include: rejection, overwhelming stress, bullying, painful memories, teenage stresses, ups and downs, parental abuse, depression and anxiety, breakup of a significant relationship, lack of support, shame and addiction, dysfunctional relationships, and suicide of a parent. 

Choosing to Live provides a voice to those who have attempted suicide. It will serve as a valuable resource for psychiatrists, social workers, crisis counselors, clergy, medical practitioners, social welfare personnel, human service workers, and primary care providers.

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