Before this week’s essay, here are a couple of good videos from young comedians who speak openly about their experience with suicidal thinking:
As a founding member of this site, GC writes from the point of view of someone who both wrestles with suicidal thinking and keeps the fight a secret from others. His latest post has been put together from recent writings on his personal site, and it explores the ambivalence that many of us might feel, or remember:
I am feeling a little lost today. I was supposed to kill myself today. That was the plan for the longest time. But then I thought, “I don’t feel like killing myself.” That doesn’t mean I’m not suicidal. I just feel like I let myself down, again. I don’t know why I bother saying I am going to kill myself if I’m not going to go ahead with it. I’ve “cried wolf” so many times that I actually think I’m not capable of killing myself, despite coming up with elaborate plans.
Ever since I read an article about the reactions of people who survive suicide attempts, I’ve been thinking about this. I am a multi-attempt survivor. Maybe my ratio of reasons to live vs. reasons to die is not high enough, or maybe I suck at trying to kill myself. Maybe I’m not meant to die, my time truly has not come, but I digress. There were nights I hated myself for surviving my attempts, and I still do.
Suicide attempters can be a challenge to clinicians. How to deal with this population that is at risk for attempting again? Research suggests that asking how they feel about their attempt is useful. A 2005 study by Gregg Henriques and others found that people who were glad to be alive or were ambivalent did not go on to kill themselves, while those who felt they intended to die were 2.5 times more likely to end their life later. This could explain why some people attempt suicide once and never do it again, and why some people continue to try.
Reactions to how an attempter feels afterward can be an important clinical assessment. If we ask how people felt when they first survived, we might find a clue and prevent another attempt.
My therapist and I have tried to work on what to do if “Mr. Hyde” shows up while she is on vacation. But the thing is, I don’t feel the need to ask for help. I go about my business like I normally do, except that I write dark stuff and plan the end of my life.
All I need is a pad and pen or my laptop, and I’m good. I express all the dark stuff on paper, or I send messages to people I care about, telling them I love them and that I will be in a better place. It seems normal to me, but I know it’s not normal when I wake up from this dream/dissociative state. The yellow legal pad, or the messages I get in the morning, remind me it wasn’t a dream. That I wasn’t in my “right” mind at all.
I think the stigma around suicide needs to change. People need to be able to think about suicide like they do vanilla ice cream. They like it or they hate it, but vanilla ice cream is still going to be around. As long as there are conscious people, there is going to be suicide. It might be by people like me who are in chronic physical pain and suffering from depression. It might be by people who have voices telling them they should not be around anymore. But I do know that people should listen to the person who is bringing up thoughts of death or thoughts of killing themselves or harming themselves.
The stigma needs to stop. The hurting needs to stop. I hope that people will read this and know they are not alone. The feeling of being able to talk about this openly needs to spread. Too many people feel they are crazy, and they don’t need to feel that way. Too many people seek help and are turned away because they have suicidal thoughts and need help. They just need an understanding ear and an open mind.
So the next time someone is thinking about death or thinking about killing themselves, I hope you ask them why, and listen. Because hearing their story is going to be the deciding factor for whether that person lives or dies.
My therapist often asks me how I get through this. There is a quote that I got from one of Kay Redfield Jamison’s books: “Only one option left, to suffer.” She is my inspiration, as she has bipolar disorder, tried to kill herself and is one of the leading researchers of the disorder.
I know it sucks, but the trick is to realize that when we feel this way, it is not our true selves. It’s the disorder talking. One reason why I’ve read so much about depression _ and there are a lot of good books out there _ is that you have to know the disorder, understand it, before you can know what to do. Sometimes knowing the demons is better than not knowing them. I know that it isn’t always easy when our physical bodies wreck our lives and we have physical pain that drives us insane. But things aren’t always going to be this way. It doesn’t last. Eventually it lifts. The hardest part of this disorder is that we forget that we have survived the worst of it. Every time we are stuck in an episode, we think it’s for the first time, that we are never going to feel better, ever.
I am telling you that you are.