This is a continuation of a previous post, and talks about suicide. If this is a subject to which you are sensitive, please do not read any further. If you have not read the previous post, you may wish to read “When Life Is Just TOO Hard – Part 1” before reading any further.
Shortly after my “Island Dad” died, my struggle with symptoms of depression and anxiety began to really take over my life. I would spend hours each day lying in bed, unable to make myself function or focus on anything positive. I could make myself get up and take care of my child, but as soon as they were at school, I would sink back down into my own muck.
My mind would spin out on various horrible scenarios, and the voices in my head would tell me terrible things about myself – most effectively and notably, that my husband and child and friends would be better off without me. This was when suicidal thoughts REALLY became a standard part of my repertoire…as if suicide was one of a variety of equally viable possible solutions laid out on a table in front of me.
Decisions, decisions: medication, counseling, changing something significant in my life…or death. I was just SO tired, and death seemed like it would be a sweet release from the constant struggle my life had been. After all, it had worked for other people, right? Like so many people, I had a pretty rough childhood, and now I was living in constant physical pain all of the time, dealing with being chronically ill and no longer able to live how I wanted to live or do the things that made me happy.
Being Aware When Your Brain Is Lying To You
When I am lost in the black hole of depression, it feels like that is ALL there is and all there ever will be. During those times, hopes that I will ever feel better, or feel happy, or feel alive…well, there IS no hope in that vacuum. Even though I know that my brain is lying to me, it feels as if this is how it has always been and how it will always be.
When anxiety is in charge, my body feels even more pain than my new “normal”, and my brain is on fire. I can’t sleep, my heart races, the inflammatory elements of my illness take over and my mind just runs on a hamster wheel for hours and days on end. It’s exhausting, and at those times, suicide seems like it would be a chance for some really good rest – like the best nap EVER.
This experience of suicidal thoughts was in full swing when I got the phone call in April of 2006 that my brother had shot himself in the head after leading the police on a “slow speed car chase” through a small town in Arizona. When I heard the news I experienced a multitude of emotions. None of them were surprise.
Saying Good-Bye To “The Monster In The Basement”
As I mentioned at the beginning of the previous post, I really did resent that he had gotten to it first. Mostly, however, I grieved as his little sister, and I sank into profound sorrow that my big brother had suffered so much. He was in his early 40’s when he died, and he had fought a really long battle with debilitating and untreated mental illness.
About two years prior to killing himself, my brother started alluding to the possibility. We were on the phone one day, and he said, “It’s ok. I have a gun. I’ll just go out in the desert and shoot myself and get it over with.” It was two years later that I got the call from the police in Arizona. In the two years leading up to his suicide, he talked about it in emails and phone calls more than once, and I did nothing.
I didn’t believe him, and I felt that old feeling of being manipulated. An unfortunate reality is that my brother was, in fact, a sociopath, a con man…a very manipulative person – so my response to him was based on a history of believing lies only to suffer the consequences. He was “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”…and his cries had made me deaf.
Nevertheless, when I got the phone call from the police telling me he had done exactly as he had said he would, it was too late for me to realize that this time my brother was actually telling the truth. He had needed help, and wasn’t just trying to get me to give him money! I know his suicide was not my fault. I also know that I wasn’t able to give him what he needed at the time. There is no reconciling these two things – they are both simply the truth.
His suicide was his way of going out on his own terms, and knowing how much he had struggled with his demons his WHOLE life, I was oddly at peace with his choice. I found I couldn’t judge him at all. When my brother killed himself, my father’s main problem was that my brother’s suicide was just “so selfish”. All I could find in my heart was a hope that he had finally found the peace for which he had been yearning.
Months later, after struggling with my own issues again, I found myself lying in bed one night having hit a moment of decision after weeks and weeks of thinking about my own death. No longer was I just playing with the idea of suicide…in fact, my brother’s death had actually made it a more real possibility and something I was genuinely considering.
At this point in my life I was on multiple medications for fibromyalgia – a cocktail of pain meds and brain meds – in fact, I was very OVER medicated. I didn’t realize that the drugs were having a negative impact on my mental health – something I could ill afford.
So I lay there in bed, having planned it out. I had figured out what I would do so my young child didn’t find me, so my husband didn’t have to deal with the body…and I thought to myself:
“This can’t go on. Either you DO this, or you stop thinking about it and take back your life.”
Luckily, when I played the movie out and allowed myself to really imagine what my husband and child would have to deal with if I killed myself, I couldn’t bring myself to take that final step. I couldn’t make myself do that to them. Plus, I wasn’t sure who would take care of my dog. So, I stopped thinking about it and made some changes that, for a time, really helped.
It was a several years before suicide showed up as a possible “solution” to my problems again, but it has never returned to its former status as a really REAL possibility. I have a support system and measures in place so that if I feel myself really heading into dark waters, I have people I can call and a plan in place. So there is no real danger…but I try to stay aware anyway.
Strategies So The Monsters in my HEAD Don’t Win
I’ve figured out a few strategies to keep myself above water…at least, most of the time. One thing that helps to keep me from going completely off the deep end is the realization that I wouldn’t be around to enjoy the benefits. Now, stay with me…there’s a train of thought here that might make sense if you stick with it.
The first thing I do is remind myself that my brain is a liar, and that I’ve felt this way and then felt better before. I just have to “wait it out”.
THEN…I ask myself a simple question:
“If I have that, what will it do for me?”
In other words, if I can get myself to imagine for a moment that I have succeeded in killing myself then I can imagine the feeling I would get from that. The feeling is one of tremendous release, of rest and relief from pain; physical, mental, and emotional. I also realize, just in asking the question, that there is an inherent “want” that has nothing to do with death – but only what I imagine death might give me.
So if I can keep that thought train going, next I wonder: “If I have that rest and relief in exactly the way I want…what would that do for me?” The answer usually leads to an understanding that getting that level of rest and relief would help me start to feel better!
Feeling Better is WAY Better Than Death
It’s usually around that point that my mind skips to the end and I remember one very important thing:
If I kill myself, I won’t be around to ENJOY the peace and relief and subsequent glorious nap and ultimate happiness that my brain thinks death would give me.
I mean, really – who cares if you get a really good nap if you don’t get to wake up and enjoy having just had a really good nap? Who cares if you have peace if you aren’t actually here to FEEL peaceful??? I have no beliefs about an afterlife – as far as I’m concerned, when I die I disappear with no awareness, no consciousness…just lights out.
If I’m not alive to experience the perceived benefits of suicide, why bother?
So if rest and relief that enables me to do more and feel better, which would lead to happiness, is what I actually want out of death…than my real goal is not death at all. What I really want is happiness. Kind of the opposite of death.
I can’t feel better if I’m dead, now, can I?
This is the work I do while my brain is functioning, so that it is simply THERE for me when depression hits. I have had to develop this pattern as a habit because being rational when in the depths of a depressive episode is really hard work.
Play The Movie Out To The End
I also make myself play the FULL movie, to the very end, of how my death would affect the people who love me. Would they REALLY be better off? If I value and trust them at all, I have to believe them when they say they would rather have me around and deal with ALL of my issues, than lose me.
That’s REAL love, people, because I have a LOT of issues. Luckily, I also have people who love me and friends who value my place in their lives…so when “the ultimate nap” shows up as a temptation, I remind myself of these things…and then I ask one of the people who love me to hug me, and help me distract myself in some way so my mind can’t keep trying to convince me that it’s time to give up.
I don’t always tell them why. They don’t always need to know. Lucky me, however, they ALWAYS respond with whatever I ask for. At some level, the people who know me know that if I’m asking for help, I need help…and they are there for me. Not everyone has that, and that is why it is so important that we be compassionate with people.
Show kindness, and allow for the possibility that we don’t know everything that is going on in their lives.
It is also why it is SO important that we talk about what is happening with us. That we let someone KNOW – because things can only get better if we stick around long enough to find out how.
Once again – if you need help, give yourself the chance to find out what you really want. Call someone, or go to: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org.