Trigger Warning: This post contains discussion of suicide prevention and suicidal ideation. If this is a trigger for you, please stop reading now and go do something nice for yourself.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide,
have a survival plan.
Part of that plan can be calling a hotline like this one:
I saw a post on Facebook today that let me know that it is #WorldSuicidePreventionDay … Then the Bee Gees started singing in my head. I don’t actually like the Bee Gees’ music, so this is not a good thing. It’s stuck in there now, “ah, ah, ah, ah, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive”…over and over and over in very high pitched voices.
I just tried to switch it to “The Chipmunks” singing the same song, to bring the pitch down a bit, but apparently my brain can’t tell the difference.
The #WorldSuicidePreventionDay post was linked to an article on the Scientific American website. The post said something about scientists “closing in” on a way to stop people from taking their own lives. For some reason it sounded ominous and made me feel a bit panicky, which I’m guessing is not the intended result.
I think it’s meant to be hopeful and reassuring.
Something Hopeful And Reassuring
I suppose the most appropriate thing for me to do today, on #WorldSuicidePreventionDay, (because we only need ONE, right???) would be to be hopeful and reassuring. I had intended to write a bit of fluffy nonsense about how you can start every sentence with “I love…”, and change your mood quickly.
Which, actually, IS true, if you have the ability to take hold of your thoughts. You can play various games with yourself and your mind, and change the trajectory of your thoughts and feelings.
My daughter and I were driving the other day, and she was telling me about a computer game she played that has some kind of robot vacuum cleaner thingy that is programmed to love, and only love, so all of its statements begin with “I love”.
So we drove down the highway saying “I love the trees”, “I love the clouds”, “I love not having to eat haggis”. I know, that last one seems a bit random, but it made us laugh. The point is that we had been focusing on all of the things we hated about where we currently live, and this game helped us change our focus.
When You Have The Power
Changing our focus was great, and worked in that context, at that time. Here’s the kicker, though – you have to be able to choose to do that. People who are really in danger of ending their own lives may not have the resources to be able to engage in such a game.
I get so frustrated when I see all of the well meaning comments and words of “advice” from people who obviously don’t get it.
You can tell people to do rational things all you want, but if you are expecting rational behavior, then you don’t understand what is happening. For people considering taking their own lives, rational thought is often not possible or realistic.
All of the rational advice in the world isn’t going to change that. You have to give people tools that they can access when they are NOT rational. Otherwise, you’re just pissing in the wind.
When Depression Rules
When my depression is at its worst, a rational thought game is unreachable for me. My mental processes are, for the most part, out of my own reach. I have to plan ahead and give myself things I can reach when I can’t reach my own brain.
Sometimes, it takes hours for me to be able to get to the things I’ve set up in advance, so asking me to be rational is out of the question in that moment.
For one thing, I would have to think of it, and in those moments, those thoughts are often inaccessible. OR I would have to have someone with me, and when I get really bad, I make sure I stay away from people. Not because I’m thinking rationally – that’s kind of the point. I don’t want people around because I don’t want to “be a bummer”, and because I “have nothing to contribute”, and because I hate myself and imagine that everyone else hates me, too.
So in my own mind, I am doing other people a service by removing myself from their presence…or awareness. You may or may not understand this thought process, but you can certainly understand that it is not necessarily a rational one. When I need to be around people the MOST, is when I stay as far away from them as I can.
Rational Advice Only Works For The Rational Mind
All of the advice I see online and from friends and articles, etc, is that one should “reach out”. Except, that would require rational thought and choices during a time when a person is not able to be rational. For me to reach out I would have to be ABLE to go against every thought and instinct I have in those moments, which is to hide and be alone….and usually, to hurt myself in some way.
Not rational, right? Would it surprise you to realize that at those times, suicide seems like the rational answer to STOP the pain I am causing myself? Mind you, I am speaking only of myself here. Thoughts of suicide and their causes range far and wide and are not the same for everyone.
For ME, ending my life can seem like the only rational answer to the shit storm that my life has become, or that my brain serves up. I can’t escape myself ANY OTHER WAY.
Maybe that is why I panic when I read that scientists are “closing in” on a way to force people to stay alive. That panic is not rational, I get that. Panic rarely is.
To be clear, I’m not in danger of hurting myself or taking my own life today. I am, however, painfully aware that the depression I’ve been in for the last year or more, is threatening to take another dive into the abyss. I can feel it, like a heavy storm on the horizon. So I know without question I will have to face this very thing again…possibly soon.
It’s there, and right now I am tiptoeing around my own life and my own brain, aware that I’m fragile and susceptible to getting lost in my own swamp of despair. (hee hee – that sounds like something from The Princess Bride).
I am still present enough in myself at this moment that, with concerted effort, I can control my thoughts. Which means things are currently “OK”…but can, and might, get worse. When I can no longer control my thoughts is when it gets really scary and painful. Then, my brain takes every opportunity to cause as much damage and pain as possible, and I am relatively helpless to stop it.
I have a weak hold on the edges of my own brain during those times, and with a lot of effort can keep things within the bounds of thought and not action. So far, anyway.
At those times, the thought that I COULD end it all is actually a relief. I know … it’s not rational, but it does actually feel GOOD to think that I have that power. To acknowledge that I am CHOOSING to stay alive, and I have the power to end that at any time, and end my own suffering. “So, I don’t have to do that NOW”, I tell myself. It’s an option on the table. I can make it through this, and keep that option out there, just in case.
Sometimes, that thought is actually what saves me. I can indulge in imagining the peace that death could bring … without commitment. I can know that it’s out there, and I can wait, and choose it another day if I want to.
I know a lot of people might read something like that and see weakness or self pity or a cry for help. Or whatever other judgmental thing people think when they don’t want to allow for the possibility that ending one’s own life may SEEM like an act of self love in that moment.
Understanding that it feels like that for some people may help those of you who judge to understand that your judgment is irrelevant, if not harmful.
Let’s be honest – it’s usually harmful.
BUT – if not harmful, then it’s irrelevant, because suicidal ideation is a very personal thing.
MY Brain, My Thoughts…
You Can’t Have Them
For many of us who suffer with depression or some other mental illness, imagining an end can be a type of fantasy. I don’t actually want anyone to take that away from me. It give me a way to look at ending the current experience of pain and suffering. A way to imagine there CAN be peace, relief, an escape from the circumstance that seems untenable.
Something that, oddly enough, might give us a feeling of hope or even power. Power over self. Power over pain. Power over circumstances. Power to stay alive one more day, or one more week, or one more year…or until our child is grown up and able to care for themselves.
Bargaining For Our Lives
Stay alive until my daughter doesn’t need me anymore.
That’s the bargain I made with myself about 15 years ago, and would remind myself again and again…every time death seemed like a viable option from that point on. At that time, I couldn’t make myself put my husband and child through the trauma of me committing suicide.
Also, I didn’t know who would take care of the dog, because my husband didn’t LIKE the dog, and I worried that my gentle giant (the Great Dane, not the husband) might be put in a shelter. Honestly, the dog may have been what initially tipped the scale toward life.
I had a plan, I knew what to do and when I would do it. I formed that plan over several weeks, and gathered the tools I would need. Then, I forced myself to imagine THEM – my husband, my dog…my daughter. I made myself face the possible reality of my then 7 year old daughter having to deal with losing her mother to suicide. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t put them through that.
THAT is what kept me alive, and the ONLY thing that kept me alive at that time. That is the closest I’ve come to actually going through with committing suicide. That was when I made the deal with myself that I would stay alive until my daughter (and the dog) no longer needed me.
Well, the dog died, my husband left, and my daughter is now 22 years old and able to take care of herself without me.
I guess I better come up with a new “deal” with myself pretty quickly, eh?
Sometimes Thoughts Of Suicide Are A Way Of Life
Some people have struggled with depression and thoughts of suicide for years and year, fighting against themselves just to stay alive. I have pulled myself back from that edge several times over the years. I know some of the people that read this blog struggle with similar mental health issues, so YOU guys know.
But what about those of you who read for other reasons – possibly to try and understand? Does it surprise YOU to know that for some of us, fighting against our own brains is a way of life?
The first time I TRULY had to fight myself to stay alive was over 30 years ago. There have only been about 5 times when I almost didn’t win that fight, and only once when I had a full blown plan and clear intention to follow through with it. During those 30 years, there were months when it didn’t come up at all.
But it has always come back – even during what in retrospect were the best times of my life. Depression has been a relatively constant companion for most of my life, and even in those years when it wasn’t so bad that it was life threatening, it was still THERE. I never told my parents. I never told my siblings. I’m not sure I told anyone until a few years ago, actually.
But, I digress, as usual. Back to the discussion at hand…
Can Suicide Be An Expression of Power?
My brother lost his battle with his own brain when he was 44 years old, and he had been fighting that fight for most of his life, as well.
I don’t know the deals he made with himself, although I can guess at them. By the time he chose to end his own life, it may well have felt like the most powerful thing he could do. After much internal debate, he chose to leave, rather than continuing to live with the pain he couldn’t escape.
I wrote about my brother’s story a few months ago. If you didn’t see it or want to read it now, you can find a part of it here: Joe’s Last Day.
Power Over Life
So thoughts of suicide can seem like having power over one’s own pain. Scientist’s “closing in” on a way to stop people from taking their own lives sounds like a nightmare to me. I picture a bunch of people, depressed and in pain, chained to a wall in a dungeon, desperate for relief but forced to stay alive.
I fully recognize that I may be alone in this particular response. However, just in case I’m not, I’d like to suggest that people who are considering taking their own lives may need a different approach than one that takes away their power. Power over whether we live or die is sometimes the only power we feel like we HAVE.
Empowering people to choose to live may be a much more effective way to help them, rather than a headline that brings up images of a dystopian future in which even our power over our own lives is taken away.
To be fair, I did finally go actually read the article. It’s not at all what I thought it was going to be. It’s actually pretty good and talks about some useful and empowering ways to deal with suicidal thoughts. You can find it here, and judge for yourself.
At one point, they talk about creating a plan for when thoughts of suicide take over. THAT is empowering. Having a survival plan, and putting it in writing. Having that plan accessible for when you are at your worst. Giving someone a choice to take control of their moment and choose to live.
Empowerment. Choice. Self efficacy. These are the things someone needs when their brain is trying to convince them that the only way out is to die.
Fighting For Life
People fight for their lives every day. They fight cancer, they fight against armies, they fight “the elements”. The common thing in all of these cases is that the foe is someone or something “other”. Something attacking you, and therefore something you can fight.
The fight is no less significant when it is in your own head. When the fight to stay alive is against a part of your self that doesn’t necessarily think that ending your life is a bad thing, it can be difficult to identify the foe. Whether that part of you is you hating yourself…or you loving yourself.
Death can sometimes seem a mercy, so don’t make the mistake of thinking that all suicidal thoughts come from a place of self hatred. Ultimately, for some of us, it might seem in the moment to be a kind of mercy killing. It might seem like a courageous and loving thing to do for ourselves … or for those we love. This is not logical. It’s not rational, and it’s not true. But that doesn’t really matter.
Let me repeat. To an irrational mind, taking one’s own life may SEEM like a loving and merciful thing to do for the people around you. Or, in words MY brain often uses, for the people who “have to deal with me”. That is one of the most powerful arguments that MY foe has…the seemingly genuine belief that “my people” would be better off without me.
Yes, it’s irrational, and it may or may not be true. It certainly isn’t what the people who love me would say or choose. The point is that my brain is really good at making me believe these irrational things. Even now, in a relatively “sane” moment, there are arguments I can make that have me wonder whether my presence has made my daughter’s life worse than my suicide might have. So if that is something I am able to think when I’m NOT in the deepest and most irrational parts of depression… Well. It can get pretty bad, I’ll just leave it at that.
When I feel powerless and hopeless, when I feel like I am a burden, THAT is when my brain is able to convince me of the worst things. My only really useful weapon against it is choice. Choice is POWER.
Some Ways To Help
So, scientists and friends and family: Give us a way to have power over our lives. Empower us to choose, and help us find reasons to choose life. Don’t ask us to be reasonable and rational when we are unable to BE that, because it just makes things worse.
Help us remember that we CAN choose to stay alive and fight another day. Let us know you’ll be there to help us in the fight – and acknowledge that you know we have the power in this situation. Let us know that you WANT us in your life.
Try to empathize. Imagine for a moment that whether you understand it or not, suicide SEEMS like an option, a solution, or a way out of pain.
If that were true for you, what would you REALLY want from someone who was trying to help you?
Would you want options? Power? Choice?
What can you do or say to give someone else those things? To help someone find the power to choose life, when death seems appealing?
We have the power to choose, and sometimes knowing that is enough to choose to live.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide,
have a survival plan.
Part of that plan can be calling a hotline like this one: