PSA: Five Thoughts on Suicidal Ideation

I have been sitting on this post for months and months and it has held up production on this blog because it feels so important to get right (which means I can’t cut it short).

To share even one experience and bring into the light those ghouls that haunt the darkness feels like one way to take back power from the black, cold night.

I cannot pretend to speak for everyone — or even most people — who experience the urge to end their lives.

If you’re contemplating suicide, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.

I can only speak for myself.

But I need you to hear me.

When I’ve contemplated death by suicide it hasn’t been because I wanted to kill myself. I have never wanted to kill anyone. I don’t know what that feels like.

Instead, it’s about not wanting to live. That’s an entirely different point of view.

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The first time I experienced suicidal ideation many years ago, I was engulfed by crippling guilt over a mistake that seems so inconsequential now.  I was convinced that everything about me was a burden on the world, that I was truly bad and the pain of existing like this was simply too much to bear.

For reasons that I’ll never quite understand, I was convinced that I was never going to escape my misery and never stop being a burden.

1. You Can’t Just Talk Yourself Out Of It

There are many times when a person can simply change their attitude or their mind and feel better. When I’m healthy, even getting fired or dumped won’t bring me down for more than a week or so.

But when I’m moderately or severely depressed or experiencing suicidal thoughts, I’m way beyond that.

When I’m depressed if I try to smile to trick myself into feeling better, I break down in tears. I attempt affirmations (“Kristin you’re beautiful and loved”) and there’s always a mental backlash that follows (“but looks aren’t worth anything and no one would love you if they really knew how ugly you are inside”).

Therapy can work for a lot of people.

With a great deal of work, many are able to get at the root of those thoughts or at least come to understand that feelings are transient and they don’t always reflect reality.

But for many, when you don’t know what’s going on, and if no one has told you what’s happening to you, you think that these thoughts represent just how fucked up you really are. You think that these thoughts are true. And when your impulse is to stare off the balcony daydreaming about what it would feel like to fall, you think it’s coming from a very real place.

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2. Sometimes, Your Thoughts Aren’t You

These thoughts are intrusive.

They’re thoughts that come out of nowhere and over which you have no control. Everyone has experienced intrusive thoughts of some kind.

For instance, don’t think about elephants. OK now you’re going to have a barrage of thoughts about elephants for a while and you won’t be able to stop it.

You’re welcome.

Of course, suicidal ideation is more dangerous than, and quite distinguishable from, your typical intrusive thoughts.

When I didn’t know much about depression, I thought that all of my thoughts were really me. And I thought they were permanent.

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After getting LOTS of help, I can distinguish much more readily between healthy thoughts and sick thoughts.

When the suicidal ideation started the first time, I had no idea what was going on and I thought that I really, really, really wanted to jump.

3. It Was Never About Getting Attention

There’s no question that suicidal ideation or suicide attempts are a cry for help. But not always in the way that you’re thinking.

For starters, when I first experienced suicidal ideation I didn’t really think that I needed help. When I was thinking about jumping it really didn’t occur to me that I needed someone to talk me down from the ledge.

african-american-883376_1920Suicide was just something I was thinking about doing as a “practical” solution to a longstanding problem. I would come home from class and stare out the window and think about whether today should be the day. I mentioned it to a couple of people in passing in the way that I would mention that I was thinking about changing majors.

It wasn’t a plan or a commitment to me, it was just a reasonable option.

Also, I wanted to use suicide not for attention, but to finally end the glare of the spotlight. I felt that my flaws, my badness, my mistakes, my guilt were all lit up brightly for all to see and I wanted to spare others from experiencing me any longer.

I wanted to cease to exist so that nothing would be about me anymore.

There’s something else that people don’t seem to realize about suicidal ideation.

4. Suicidal Ideation Itself Can Be Traumatic

During my most recent experience with suicidal ideation, I knew what was happening to me.

The details are unimportant, but suffice it to say that a very clear image of how I should end it all popped into my head as casually as a memory about some cake from the previous Thursday.

It was gruesome and graphic and honestly it scared the shit out of me.

I saw my death. And it horrified me.

I knew enough by then to know that I did not actually want to kill myself, so I removed myself from the environment, surrounded myself with other people — who didn’t even know that they were saving my life — and called my doctors.

I have not been able to go back to that setting since that day. Those horrible thoughts ruined something that I used to enjoy. That image was burned into my brain for weeks.

5. We All Need to Heal

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After experiencing suicidal ideation, or an attempt at death by suicide, everyone involved needs to heal. Anyone who cares about someone who expresses a serious desire to end their life needs to face that trauma.

If you have expressed the desire to die by suicide, understand that it will take time for your partner to stop worrying when you lay around binging Netflix and cookies just because you’re feeling lazy (my partner still asks if I’m having a “crisis” everytime I do this). It takes time for your friends to realize that you’re the same person and that you weren’t aiming to hurt them or punish them.

It takes time for your parents to feel sure that you’re not going to break their heart at any minute.

If you are close to someone who has desired to die by suicide, understand that it will take time for them to get back to themselves. Understand that they have essentially been assaulted by their own mind. Understand that it is not your fault that they are experiencing this. If you can handle it, do what you can to make sure that they get the help that they need.

But also, please take care of yourself.

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This is quite personal and I’ve rarely shared this much information about my experiences with desiring to die by suicide, but it is too important not to.

One thing that it took me a long time to understand is that most people never get truly depressed or experience suicidal ideation. I thought that what I was experiencing was normal, but now I know that many people simply cannot relate.

I can only imagine how terrible it is for someone to experience the suicide of a loved one. I know how difficult it is to have close relatives who struggle with chronic depression and anxiety.

I just want to share this, as a survivor, because I want those who have never suffered to understand just a little bit more.

Because every person who has a little more compassion and understanding may get us a little bit closer to healing.

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