Yesterday I talked about desperation… today I want to tell you about what it was like, what the of feeling suicidal was actually like for me.
I think we use that term…. but there isn’t a lot of awareness or understanding for what it means. I think sadly too, that there are a lot of assumptions about what is happening in the head of someone who wants to end their own life. It can run the gamut from: that person must be actually insane to this must be some sort of a cry for attention, a way to be seen and noticed and feel important, to that person must be incredibly selfish.
I certainly can’t speak for every single person who has ever been suicidal, absolutely not. It is such a complex thing and no two people are going to be exactly the same. But I can speak for myself and so many people I’ve talked to, when I say for me being suicidal was not about wanting to be noticed – and although there are certainly irrational things about the way in which suicidal thoughts hit me, it was more about solving a problem in my head, than it was about this crazy out of control insane thing.
…but let’s go back a little. I told you how I found myself having flashes of impulses to hurt myself, one of my earlier (although not early enough!) warning signs that something was seriously wrong. Well, even though those weren’t thought out or meditated on… as time went by and my emotional state declined – the feelings of worthlessness and loneliness were increasingly overwhelming. I was very loved, surrounded by a precious family and caring friends… but no one could really understand what I was feeling, when I tried to talk about it, it didn’t quite make sense to those people who knew for a fact how precious and important and loved I was… I felt more and more and more like a burden to my loved ones, because I couldn’t carry these feelings I was carrying alone, but when I tried to share the load, I felt absolutely awful about bringing anyone else into my own space of broken-ness. It was too hurtful, too awful, too painful to ask anyone to feel it with me.
I started to feel like the pain of all of that was just too much, not only for me but for anyone unlucky enough to be in my vicinity. I started to fear being alone, yet fear not being alone too because even when I was surrounded by friends – I felt like I was in a different parallel universe. When people say they feel like they are in a cloud or a fog, it is a real thing, there is like something tangible that fillls that space in between you and everyone else.
Everything I did felt wrong, not enough, off-kilter in this world that was spinning and filled with people who were all “just fine”… (how harmful it is to ALL of us, this myth that everyone else is doing fine)…
This combination of feeling sad, and worthless, and lonely… plus being certain that all of these things make you a burden to the universe. THIS is the pain that leads to desperation. THIS was the recipe that made me want to end my life. I was sure that I was draining from the lives of the people that I loved, and I was also sure that this would never ever change. That this was going to be forever.
Truthfully, I know that my struggles actually were hard on my family. My precious husband who fought so hard, who held me both literally and figuratively, who listened, who hid every sharp thing from our whole house and scheduled out our lives so that I would never ever be alone. What I didn’t realize then though, was that the hardest part for him was actually the fear of losing ME.
It got to a place where I couldn’t be alone, at all. Something strange would happen, every single time I was by myself. When I was with a person, when they were right there with me… I could feel ok, not happy or great, not better, but I felt like maybe I could manage from one minute to the next and I would not need to die… but something would happen, and as soon as I was alone – like one single room away from other people, I would start to feel the desperation.
Something happened for me with the idea of taking my own life. It got to be addictive, it was a quick coping mechanism my brain would grab for as soon as my emotional intensity started to elevate. First it was like my brain just tally, here are the variety of things I could potentially do, here are some ways it could end the suffering. Then, I got more specific, I searched for things that might work, I made a mental note of where different resources were. I worked through the details how effective would it be to do this or that? I started to get step by step specific of what I could do… It was almost like a way to reassure myself: it IS possible… if I need it to be… this pain doesn’t necessarily have to last forever.
Of course, there were things that made my options seem impossible: the idea of my kids finding me, the idea of causing any trauma to my family, the idea of potentially losing my nerve… So I even started to plan around those things as well. I was determined to figure out a way to make it not hurt anyone… (which was, of course crazy – but these were the things I was thinking about.. obsessing about actually…) Now, this might be hard to understand if you have never been there, but hear me out: In a strange way being suicidal kind of felt safer than not being suicidal, it kind of felt like the closest thing I had to hope…
…The thing is… going from SI (suicidal ideation) to contemplating actual suicide is not a far leap. I normalized things in my head so much that it started to feel like the answer, for reals. I KNEW that I didn’t want to die, simply for the sake of my family, so I started having to fight urges constantly. I would walk into the kitchen and see the medication cabinet and struggle to resist it. I came up with this strategy of waiting. I would tell myself, walk away from that cabinet for at least 15 minutes. If it still feels necessary at that point, you can come back… 15 minutes started turning to 5 minutes because this is just how it goes, it gets harder, it the weight of pain gets heavier, and fast. One day I remember standing in the kitchen and staring at the clock change 5 full minutes, before having the strength to walk away.
The night I gave into the medication cabinet, nothing really was especially different, I hadn’t gotten in a fight, or had some trauma. I just felt that same sad, and alone, and more sad. When I walked into the kitchen, I left my husband and my friend in the other room, just to get a drink of water I said… Truthfully, I didn’t go in there with the intention of overdosing… and actually when I tipped back the bottle of my son’s liquid opioid painkiller and drank as much of it as I could (while still leaving just a bit in the bottle just in case someone looked for it), I didn’t really think it was going to end my life. It was just a stop gap, I thought, maybe it will dull the pain for reals…
… or maybe something might happen to me…
When that thought hit me, I didn’t CARE. I just wanted to feel nothing and this was something I could do, and get away with potentially, that might or might not kill me. It wasn’t a TRUE suicide attempt I told myself, even now I struggle because part of me says “I don’t want people to think, I think it was a bigger deal than it was”… Only it was. It WAS a big deal because it was a step, it was the first step of not resisting the impulse, it was a cavalier message to my body and brain that i wasn’t going to fight anymore. I was going to escape, and I didn’t actually care about the cost.
I want to say this part, because I want to be clear with any of you who are reading this, that there is no “small” suicide attempt… I really believe that there is no trivial level of feeling suicidal. These thought patterns and ways of surviving grow and increase and worsen with time, they are addictive and obsessive and dangerous because it leaves you wanting more… it makes your own self the least safe person you can be with. Which is a terrible, vicious cycle because you are always with yourself.. then you just want to escape more. Your story doesn’t have to end with you getting rushed to the er, for it to be a serious one, and you don’t have to explain yourself, defend the severity of what you are experiencing. You should want to live. If you do not, that is a big deal friend.
I didn’t get sick, or end up hospitalized for an overdose, I don’t remember if it even affected me or what the amount of medication was that I had ingested. I honestly can’t even remember if it numbed the pain… but sitting in therapy the next day I was brave enough to realize that I was in serious trouble, and I told my therapist the story of what had happened the night before… THIS truth, it saved my life. With my permission, my Doctor called my husband into the office (who had been driving me around for weeks now and was just down the street at the park)… and the rest is history.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts of any kind, PLEASE talk to someone, don’t keep your thoughts a secret… tell the people in your life every gritty detail and get real help. It is too easy, all too easy to go from imagination to action when you keep things in the dark. Had I spoken to my husband about the medication cabinet and the things I knew were in there, you’d better bet I never would have made it to the point where I crossed the line (he would have cleaned that sucker right out!). Your story can be different, speak up friend, speak up.
Over and over again, every step of speaking the truth brought me closer to wellness. Every time I kept a secret, it lead me deeper and deeper into the dark. Over and over and over again this was the pattern. That day in the office with my therapist, in a lot of ways it was the first day of the rest of my life… but not before we faced some more serious demons, and braved the darkness of the emergency room…. tomorrow I’m going to talk about the hospital friends, both the most frightening and the most beautiful place I’ve ever been in my life.
I know this is kind of a dark, and certainly a long post… these things are hard to read, hard to hear, and certainly hard to speak about… but we can do hard things friends, and we MUST If we are going to prevent suicide. We have to be brave enough to share the truth of what it is like, and to ask the hard questions. Maybe even the REALLY hard questions… Don’t be afraid to use the words, “Do you feel safe with yourself?”, “Are you thinking about hurting yourself?”, or even “Have you thought about taking your own life?”… all the while reassuring them that they are safe to share with you, that you want to be there for them, that you can handle it, that you absolutely do not judge them for it.
I literally googled “how to ask someone about suicide” because I didn’t want to misstep in my advice here, and I found a really great article that you can read if you are wondering more about how to open up the conversation with someone you know is struggling. I am going to quote these words they say because I think this is so true:
Another possibility is that the person will actually welcome your question. Many people who consider suicide feel isolated and ashamed. They, too, may have grown up thinking that it is sinful or insane to seriously consider suicide. Or they may feel terrified of their thoughts and desperate for help, but unsure of how to broach this stigmatized subject.
Suffering alone with suicidal thoughts is a terrible burden. By asking your friend or loved one this difficult question, you are offering to share that burden with them. They might feel relieved that you have asked.
Hearing someone you care about is truly suicidal is a very hard thing to endure, but PLEASE resist the urge to jump in right away and smooth it over. “Don’t Do That,” or “Your Family Would Miss You,” or “Suicide is never the answer!”… these are all well and good sentiments, but first let your person share this space they are in, sit down right next to them in the darkness and ask them to tell you what it is like. After you have asked every open-ended question you can think of and made all the room in the world for them to share without an ounce of judgment in response. Tell them you love them, tell them you are SO sorry they are hurting. Ask them what you can do in this moment, and most of all, urge them toward getting real help. Sometimes I will tell people that I know they don’t feel any hope right now, and that that is ok, because that I am holding all the hope in the world for the both of us.
Friends, I HATE that part of my children’s legacy, is this story, the story of living with a mother that was so emotionally unwell she nearly didn’t make it. But you know what I love, that part of my children’s legacy is having a mother who SURVIVED. I have a maternal grandmother who lost her battle with mental illness when my mom was only 11, and every time things were their hardest, I mentally held on to the mental image of a tree, our family tree. Of my children, and their children, and their children’s children, who could forever hold on to the story of a mother who LIVED. I had no idea, at the time, all of the other things I had to live for, but looking around I see it now. The legacy reaches further and wider than my own little family tree, it reaches out to everyone I meet. ALL of us reach out and change the lives of everyone we meet.. and I’m SO very grateful that our lives have intersected, that you are here, that I am here with you, and that we are all choosing daily to be brave enough to LIVE.
*Please remember too, if you are in trouble, and thinking about suicide, don’t wait, reach out. Here call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 or go to their website here.
(ps. you may note that when talking about planning out my suicidal and methods I was very vague, this is entirely because although I believe in the power of TRUTH and honesty, I also KNOW the power of the internet, and I want the things I post to be a safe space for people that are hurting. Never would I want to be a trigger for someone in who is in that desperate place. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t speak all of the truth when you tell your own stories, you absolutely should and must. I just want to care for this online universe, because it can easily be a scary, intense place.)