I’m visibly disabled as the result of a suicide attempt. Do you have any advice on how to respond when people ask what happened?
I think it’d be uncomfortable to tell casual acquaintances or strangers etc that I attempted suicide, but I don’t really know what else to say other than a flat-out lie.
(It was an overdose, so saying the cause without mentioning suicide would also make people uncomfortable and they might think less of me)
I think there are three basic approaches that allow you to keep your privacy without lying:
- Tell a partial truth
- Use humor to deflect the question
- Say that you don’t like to talk about it
Telling a partial truth works by saying something that is true or true-ish, doesn’t cause their mind to jump to suicide, and (ideally) doesn’t invite further questioning. Some possible phrases along these lines:
- “It’s an old injury”.
- “I’m used to it.“
If you want to use humor to deflect it, one way to do it is to tell an absurdly obvious lie, eg:
- “I lost a fight with a penguin”.
- “You know how they say not to look directly at the sun? They’re right.”
- “Alien abduction.“
Absurdly obvious lies mean (and are at least sometimes understood to mean) “I don’t want to talk about this, and I’m giving you a way to drop the subject without having to state explicitly that you asked an inappropriately personal question.” There’s an affective piece of how to pull this off that I’m not sure how to describe. It requires a certain tone of voice and body language.
You can also say explicitly that you don’t like to talk about it.
- Bodies are personal and you have no obligation to answer questions about yours
- If you say that you don’t like to talk about it, it’s best to follow that up with an immediate subject change
- (If you follow it with a pause, some people will reflexively try to fill the pause by asking why you don’t like to talk about it)
- It might work best to keep your tone polite and friendly at first, and then get more firm if they push the issue
- Them: So, how did your face get to be like that?
- You: I don’t really like to talk about that. How about that local sports team we both like? Can you believe they lost to that team we all hate?
Other things that mean “I don’t want to talk about it”:
- “That’s a long story.” (plus immediate subject change)
- “That’s kind of private.” (plus immediate subject change)
None of these are foolproof, but they all work at least some of the time.
Short version: If you don’t want to talk about something, telling a boring truth, an absurd obvious lie, or saying you don’t want to talk about it are all sometimes effective methods.