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91 of 98 people found the following review helpful
on October 15, 2002
Format: Hardcover
If you need to change a fan belt on a 1994 Fiat, you buy a Chilton's manual, and not a treatise on the joys of high-speed touring. If you need to make a lemon meringue pie, you get a cookbook, and not a memoir on the joys of great French cuisine. Car manuals and recipes are not always great literature by any means, but they are often necessary in helping to get a job done.
Susan Rose Blauner's HOW I STAYED ALIVE WHEN MY BRAIN WAS TRYING TO KILL ME is nobody's idea of great, or even good, literature. From a purely literary standpoint, the book is chatty, tiresome and irritating, filled with sentimentality, New Age nonsense, and ghastly psychological claptrap. It has been edited with an over-gentle hand, preserving every little cliché and every annoying scrap of poetry and personal reflection. It is a book that very few people will pick up for pleasurable reading, and rightly so.
And yet, it will undoubtedly save lives.
HOW I STAYED ALIVE WHEN MY BRAIN WAS TRYING TO KILL ME is not, as you might think, merely a personal tale of survival from mental illness. It is primarily a manual, a reference book, a resource for people who have suicidal thoughts. Although the book is guided by the author's own experiences with mental illness and suicide attempts, it is written not to chronicle her life but to provide direction and guidance for others in the same situation. And as such, it is an undeniable success.
Blauner's book is guided by several hard-won insights. Suicide begins as a thought, driven by negative feelings, and such feelings are temporary and changeable. "Suicidal," Blauner tells us, "is not a feeling." Suicidal thoughts are paired with feelings of anger, guilt, loneliness, and desperation, and it is necessary to separate those feelings from thoughts of suicide. Suicidal thoughts can be addictive, we learn, with romantic notions of one's death and funeral building upon each other. And these suicidal thoughts from one's brain war with one's spirit, which doesn't want to die, creating the conflict in the title.
The heart of the book is the "Tips of the Trade," 25 different ideas, strategies, and plans that people with suicidal thoughts can use to help avoid harming themselves. The most invaluable of these is the "Crisis Plan," which is easily the best thing about the book. Blauner details the plan that she, along with her therapist, worked out to help her deal with suicidal thoughts. It begins with "Take a deep breath," and proceeds from there to prayer, activities, exercise, and phone calls to family, friends, and professionals. Applying the principles of strategic planning and crisis management to one's personal life may seem a little unorthodox, but it is undoubtedly effective, and may prove to be so for people with a variety of different needs.
The "Tricks" are extremely varied, and more than a little eclectic. (This is to be expected from an author who describes herself as a "Jewish Unitarian Zen-Quakerish earth-loving type.") Not all of the "Tricks" will help everyone, and more than a few of them may seem a little goofy, if not out-and-out weird. Realistically, though, you never can tell what might help someone set aside a suicidal thought. If throwing eggs at trees, or sitting in a chair with a bucket between your knees helps someone, then it's a trick worth sharing, no matter how odd it sounds.
HOW I STAYED ALIVE WHEN MY BRAIN WAS TRYING TO KILL ME is not an incredibly well-written book, but it is brave and courageous and helpful, full of resources and tips and ideas and strength for anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts or anyone with a friend or family member with such experiences. More than that, it is a book that is, quite simply, "normal," if not invaluable, in helping people in this situation finish the job of life.
--- Reviewed by Curtis Edmonds
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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on November 15, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I wish I'd had a copy of this book when I was suicidal. It's full of simple, practical ideas for keeping yourself safe and beginning to feel better. The crisis plan is especially good, and easy to follow even when you find it hard to think straight. The only reason I gave this book four stars rather than five is that I came across it after I'd recovered, and haven't tried out all of its techniques myself - but from my experience of what did help me, they're all excellent.

"How I Stayed Alive..." would also be a useful self-help book for people who self-injure, even if they don't feel suicidal. Most of the suggestions work just as well for getting through the urge to self-harm.

I've heard two main criticisms of this book. The first is that the author wasn't "really" suicidal, but just attention-seeking. I disagree. All suicide attempts should be taken seriously, even if the person's done it many times before, or chooses to get help afterwards. In fact, the more unsuccessful suicide attempts a person has made, the more likely they are statistically to die by their own hand. And seeking medical help after one has taken an overdose can, tragically, be too late. That's why books such as this one are so important, because they help prevent the suicide attempts in the first place. Admittedly, this book is aimed mainly at people whose suicidal thoughts and feelings come and go, and who need help in getting through those difficult times without harming themselves. Someone who is unrelentingly suicidal and not interested in alternative courses of action probably needs to be in hospital, not reading a self-help book.

The other criticism I've heard is that not all the book's suggestions can be used by everyone. That's true. Some people may not have a good friend they can ring up in the middle of the night, while others may not be able to afford therapy. But "How I Stayed Alive..." also contains many techniques that require nothing more than a copy of the book. I'd encourage anyone who uses this book to adapt the crisis plan to their own particular situation, removing any steps that aren't appropriate and adding in anything extra they can think of.

"How I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill Me" should be required reading for anyone who struggles with suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, or self-harm.
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44 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on June 25, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I found this book quite by accident laying obviously in the wrong place at the public library. I've suffered from depression for 7 years and it got worse and worse until I became suicidal. From page 1, the author's words caught me and I recognized myself in her. The best thing for me in the book was the Tricks of the Trade section where I was guided through ways to help cope and the almost 'work-book' like style. It gave me strategies and hands on things to try to when I needed it the most. I took the book to my psychiatrist and showed him what I was doing and he applauded me. Now my husband is reading it and I'd highly recommend it.
The book is written in an everyday tone of voice, it's not medical, it's not preachy, it's just like talking to someone who's been there.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on July 8, 2012
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This book saved my life today. Here, as I write this review on 7/8/2012. Without the words and comfort offered by the author of this book, I would have been dead on this day at about 11:00 AM, from a shotgun blast to the head.

IF YOU ARE HERE READING THIS RIGHT NOW, CALL Call 1-800-SUICIDE / 1-800-784-2433 or 1-800-273-8255. DO NOT WAIT ANOTHER MOMENT. THE FACT THAT YOU ARE HERE READING THIS MEANS THAT YOUR SITUATION IS SERIOUS, NO MATTER WHAT YOUR BRAIN TELLS YOU, THIS IS VERY, VERY SERIOUS. DO NOT SHRUG IT OFF.

***PLEASE**** PICK UP THE PHONE, RIGHT NOW AND CALL Call 1-800-SUICIDE / 1-800-784-2433 or 1-800-273-8255 (The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline). I am telling you this because I know how bad you are feeling, and even though you don't know me, I love you because I know what you are feeling and have felt it myself, and want to help you. The way I can help you is if you make the call. I care about you, and so do the people at that telephone number...it is true, they do not know you, but they are there because they know what you are going through, and are waiting for your call because they love you. It's OK, go ahead, pick up the phone and call Call 1-800-SUICIDE / 1-800-784-2433 or 1-800-273-8255. Do not be afraid, the people there are caring people, and want to help you. Please pick up the phone and call, do it now. And then continue reading this after you have finished the phone call.

If, after you have made that call, you are still feeling bad, drive yourself or have someone drive you to a hospital as soon as possible and tell the hospital staff that you are feeling suicidal. No one will judge you. They understand, and are there to help you. Even though they do not know you, they also love you, as I do. If there is no one to take you to the hospital, call the hospital and tell the operator that you are suicidal and need help. They will send people to help you and bring you to the hospital. Do not be ashamed. They understand, they have been trained to do this and to help people in situations like ours.

***AFTER*** YOU HAVE MADE THE CALL to the hotline and/or have been at the hospital, THEN PURCHASE THE KINDLE EDITION OF THIS BOOK AND BEGIN READING IT ON YOUR PC OR MAC. (You do NOT need the actual kindle to begin reading it, you can download the kindle sofware from Amazon here [...]). PURCHASE THIS KINDLE BOOK NO MATTER WHAT YOUR BRAIN TELLS YOU. You can purchase the paperback book which will come in the mail in a few days if you wish (I did this too), but like me, you may need to begin reading it right now and do not have time to wait while the book comes in the mail so BUY THE KINDLE BOOK NOW AND START READING.

I will now tell you my story...

It was Saturday evening (7/7/2012), and I was about 10 hours away from the end of my life. The previous week I had spent circling Gander Mountain in my car from time to time broken and in tears, thinking about what size shotgun I would purchase so I could turn the barrel around and still reach the trigger.

I was sitting in my car in the parking lot, 20 yards away from the store entrance, crying, knowing that it was getting pretty close to the end. I had spent the previous days drafting suicide notes in my mind, now all I needed were the gun and a round of ammunition. I wiped away the tears and prepared to calm down enough to approach the gun counter and purchase the gun.

Everything had gone wrong in my life. I had made mistake, after mistake, after mistake. Job loss, foreclosure, bankruptcy, family problems and lack of family emotional support, legal problems and trouble with the law. Nothing seemed to get better, it was just one thing after another. I cried in the parking lot, sobbing to myself "I just can't do it anymore."

By some miracle I was able to drive myself out of that parking lot twice that week, barely hanging on. That Saturday evening, while doing the research online for suicide methods and reading suicide quotes, I became convinced that there was no way out for me. Legal troubles and fees and bills were piling up that I knew I would not be able to pay. I had a court date coming up with possible jail time. That next morning, at 10:00 AM, I was going to go to Gander Mountain and purchase the shotgun. This was it. It was firmly cemented in my mind.

I had read many books on depression in the past, and had been to therapy on and off. None of that seemed to help me in my darkest hour. By some miracle, in my searching the internet last night (Saturday 7/7/2012), I came accross this book.

This was the book that saved my life today. I began reading the preview of the book online, and then I ordered the kindle edition right then and there and downloaded it to my PC (I don't have a kindle, and used the Amazon kindle software for my PC) and started reading it at about midnight. It provided a shelter from the pain, and help from someone who had been there and was offering an outstretched hand to help. I read for an hour or so last night, and then some this morning. Tomorrow (Monday) I will be contacting a therapist and will receive more help and support.

I am writing this because I know what you are going through, I know how bad it hurts. I know the feeling of finality that comes with the decision to commit suicide. I do not not know who you are, and you do not know me, but know that there is love in the world because I am here today extending my hand and heart to you because I love you, and want to help you. When it seems that no one else will listen or understand, I am here with you right now as you read this, I am here to help you. Please, please, please...call the hotline 1-800-273-8255. Get to a hospital if you need to, and then buy this book. I am not in any way associated with the author or publisher of this book or Amazon. I am a man, aged 41, who reached the end of his rope, and almost pulled the trigger. This book saved my life. And it will save you too. This is the most important $9 you will ever spend, because it will provide an immediate shelter from your suffering, and a place where you can begin to safely build a new life.

KNOW THAT I AM HERE FOR YOU, RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW. I LOVE YOU. Please do these things...

1. Call Call 1-800-SUICIDE / 1-800-784-2433 or 1-800-273-8255. They care about you, and love you, and are there to help
2. If you are still feeling bad after making this call, go to the hospital or have someone drive you there or call the hospital.
3. Order the kindle edition of this book and start reading
4. Contact local mental health professionals and start therapy. They understand and are there to help you.

Do these things, and you will make it through this. I promise.

With Love,

Jeff
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
This is an interesting book and a good resource. The book's title in itself truly depicts what happens in a suicidal person. In a way, it's not really the person that kills the self but rather it's the brain and the "chemical imbalance" associated with it that causes damage. So can changing the brain chemistry effect a change and save lives? Sure-that's what medication does. This is how psychotherapy works.
In Ms. Blauner's book, several "tricks of the trade" were discussed. Asking for help, emergency contacts, and keeping a journal are just some of the practical ways of dealing with suicidality. Her "crisis plan" is a useful formula that a person should have to avert any self-destructive thoughts or behavior. Likewise, the chapter on spirituality is a gem.
Written in a layman's prose, the book stands out in making complicated concepts (such as neuron and electrochemical transmission) more understandable and seemingly "easy" concepts, clearer.
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31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on January 2, 2004
Format: Paperback
This is gentle, kind, loving, familiar, HONEST - susan has the conversation --- you're having with yourself --- with you. And talks you out of it. And talks you out of discussing it anymore... it may take a while to take, to completely sink in... but this book put the cabash (sp?) on my periodic suicidally depressed times (I voluntarily checked myself into a hospital twice - and the unreimbursed cost was going to be a few 1000 dollars - and I am CHEAP and told myself I could go to PARIS AND ROME on that money --- but knew that I had no more than 3-5 hours to live unless I got myself quickly to a place where I wouldn't be able to end my life. Also, this book just made me feel better somehow: not happy or OK --- but better. REALLY. A great gift to all of us. Thanks a million to the author!
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on June 7, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This book was given to me by my husband when I was in a psychiatric hospital's program dealing with suicidal ideation related to extreme depression and my diagnosis with multiple sclerosis. He picked it up at our library; I bought it in hardcover when the library copy had to go back.
I opened this book, and started to cry -- This could have been someone who picked up my journals, it so mirrored my FEELINGS, though not my exact situation. I felt an instant rapport with the author and understood her struggles intimately.
There are parts of this book that didn't resonate for me, as I am sure there are for others. But on the whole, this book helped me to re-start the process of being, and building, a strong and resilient me. There's something here for everyone, whether you are struggling or well. I have used it now for nearly 9 months. (And I see a psychiatrist too. Incidentally, he thought it very strong as well!) It is still relevant and helpful though I am happy and well now.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on August 30, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I love this book. I sleep with it next to my bed, and I plan to buy additional copies for some loved ones.
The author has a wonderfully fresh and immediate style. She welcomes me into her book with warmth and grace, and she has a way of telling her story in such a thoughtful, natural way that I feel very much at ease in her "presence", even when the matter discussed is of a frightening and disturbing nature. I am not currently suicidal, but I have been in the past, and this book communicates perfectly the kinds of feelings I experienced at that time. I was fotunate enough to get through my situation-- and I can't help but imagine how this book might have helped me if it had been around then. Thankfully, it is now here to help the many in pain who need this author's insight and clarity.
Another thing that strikes me about this book is the fact that although it specifically targets those struggling with suicide, I find it to extremely helpful in helping me out of the despair associated with difficulty and tragedy in my life. The "tricks of the trade" that help a suicidal reader to find her way back to life also help me away from sometimes seemingly insurmountable despair and back toward feelings of hope and possibility, simply by reminding me that feelings are fluid and impermanent. They always give way and change eventually.
I love this book, and I highly recommend it to those having suicidal thoughts as well as to anyone who might benefit from a new perspective on finding one's way through the darknesses of living. I can hardly wait to read more from Susan Rose Blauner. Well done!
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on January 30, 2007
Format: Paperback
Susan Blauner's book has helped me immensely. I am so grateful to her for her strength and courage, to stay alive and live so well and share her story, and for being so devoted to helping others do the same.

When I had depression, what helped me the most - despite the fact that I did not actually contemplate suicide - was reading this book and doing the exercises in it (i.e. the "Tricks of the Trade"). I appreciate Susan's clear writing style, her candidness and directness, and her pragmatism. I had been spiraling into depression for weeks, but something "clicked" inside of me when I began reading Susan's words - I realized that helping myself was possible and a worthwhile endeavor! I called in sick to work that day and for the first time, didn't feel guilty and selfish for doing so - I spent the whole day reading the book, and trying Susan's suggestions. I wrote a crisis plan (Trick #3, p. 69), made a "God box" (Trick #7, p. 103), wrote positive affirmations and put them all over my house (Trick #17, p. 165), and called a family member to talk even though asking for help had always been really hard for me (Trick #1, p. 59). It was a great start, and for several days, I carried that book around like a security blanket. One morning I noticed myself start to meltdown "randomly"...and in the past, I wouldn't have known how to stop it, but this time, I went back to the book. I did the "Feelings" and "Feelings vs. Facts" exercises (Tricks #4 and 5, p. 82 and 94), and analyzed what I was thinking and feeling and why. I was able to identify several things that had "triggered" me in the past 12 hours, and thus understood why I was feeling on the verge of a meltdown, and then I was able to see that my feelings were different than the facts. It really worked, and I avoided the meltdown.

When someone I love very much attempted suicide, I immediately bought a copy of Susan's book for him. He has told me it's very helpful, and the book is clear and flows well. I agree - depression clouds the brain, and when just getting out of bed and eating breakfast feels like climbing a mountain, I need simple, clear, gentle words. When I'm deep in depression, I need to read things like step-by-step instructions on how to breathe!! I appreciate how the book teaches coping skills and strategies for people who may not have (m)any.

My depression was situational and I fortunately caught it early before it became very severe. I'm feeling much better now that I've made big lifestyle changes - changes that Susan gave me the courage to make. I'm no longer experiencing depression, but I still refer to Susan's book often, as preventative medicine, in a way. Her philosophies and practices are sound, and help me through rough patches.

I highly recommend How I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill Me to anyone who has depression or cares about someone who has depression.
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100 of 127 people found the following review helpful
on August 24, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Several of us have passed this book around, and our conclusion is that the author does not have the reader in mind, despite what she claims.
The assumption is that suicidal people are otherwise functioning well in society, and that their only problem is suicidal thoughts. To us, this makes very little sense. The only valid section of the book, "Tricks of the Trade," encourages us to write a Crisis Plan which includes Things To Do, such as going to a movie. For those with panic disorder, anxiety, or other "nervous" conditions, going to a movie alone just is not feasable, and seeing it on a list proves more disabling than encouraging. And the entire book is presented this way.
The author admittedly never wanted to die, but chose to make weak attempts at suicide and then call someone for help. She had friends and family, giving her a support system. She apparently had enough money to seek out a "good" therapist. She could afford to run to the emergency room if she couldn't find another de-stressor. Again, this just isn't realistic for most of us with nervous disorders and suicidal thoughts.
Unless you function well within society and have random suicidal thoughts that frighten you, this book just is not for you. If you are suicidal because of a loss or losses, illness, abuse, long-term depression, or poverty, you won't find anything here to help you. This book is specific to suicide, and disregards other psychological and physical factors.
This book was an enormous disappointment to those of us here who read it. Don't waste your money.
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