How (some) suicidal thoughts feel
Suicidal ideation didn't feel like I expected it to
(Content warning: suicide, self-harm, mental health, anxiety, brief strong language)
I feel like I owe some explanation for why I'm writing this and particularly why I'm choosing now to publish it. Suicide is currently the tenth leading cause of death in the United States for a variety of reasons, and somewhere between 2 and 8 percent of people with Major Depression eventually end their own lives. I have had friends struggle with suicidal thoughts, and my mental picture of what they were going through has not matched at all with what it's been like for me. Perhaps it's something you have to go through to experience. Perhaps they were just going through something differently. But in any case, I think trying to understand how suicidal people feel is a worthwhile exercise in learning to love our friends better.
I want to be very clear: I am very safe and am being treated professionally. I chose to wait to publish this until a moment when I'm safe at home with my parents and not feeling suicidal, because I wanted to be able to honestly say I'm okay and you don't need to worry about me, because I don't really want to receive a bunch of messages that are like "omg are you okay???" cuz that'll stress me out.
I can speak only for myself. I'm sure some parts of my story resonate with other people, and some parts do not. I do, however, want this to be as honest and accurate as possible, so: if you struggle with suicidal thoughts and want to share your story, I will be more than happy to post it here either with attribution or anonymously.
That said, this post is for people who are not experiencing suicidal thoughts to understand what (at least mine) are like. If you are already experiencing suicidal thoughts, I don't think you will get much out of this post and am concerned that you will find it triggering. Please don't risk your mental health over a blog post. And if you think you will find this upsetting, please don't feel like you have to read this or anything like that. I won't know. Your well-being is more important than this post, I promise.
The window of my office looks out on a seven-story parking garage. I know this because I've counted the floors to see if it was high enough.
I also know that none of the knives in my kitchen would be sharp enough, the electric drill on our tool shelf is too slow, the pills I have are too safe, and I will never, ever be comfortable owning a gun.
I guess I know a lot of things now.
(Take that, impostor syndrome!)
I started having "pre"suicidal thoughts in the worst parts of my last depressive episode, spring-to-fall of 2016. I didn't really want to kill myself, but I figured if I were to die by mistake or something, it wouldn't be too bad.
That's not technically suicidal, right? I mean, I'm not, like, depressed depressed
(Fun mental health tip: if you're struggling with suicidal thoughts, then you're definitely depressed enough to seek treatment. Also don't be Romeo in Romeo and Juliet.)
Slightly before this current episode hit (early 2018), the thoughts came back with a vengeance. They started out like before: vague and theoretical, but they slowly started to creep into realer and scarier territory. Having categorized myself as "not really suicidal," it was easy to ignore the red flags as idle thoughts gave way to fantasies and "it's ok, I don't have a plan" gave way to googling "easiest ways to die."
I didn't want to mention them to my psychiatrist, because one of the boilerplate warnings the psychiatrist gives you when you start seeing her is that if she believes you're a danger to yourself, she can have you involuntarily committed, which sounded bad (and, unfortunately, is occasionally abused.) But after reading an earlier post, a close friend correctly guessed what was going on and encouraged me to "be open with whoever [I was] talking to about this."
So I did, somewhat reluctantly, and it went better than I expected. I still feel awkward talking about them, but at least I now feel confident that both my psychiatrist and therapist are acting in my best interest, and am able to speak openly with both of them about how I'm really feeling. It doesn't "fix" me, and at times the thoughts are still around , but it helps.
I can't tell you exactly what it's like, partly because I don't have the right words and partly because it's like a whole lot of different things. But for better or for worse, I'll try:
It's like a song, stuck inside your head. Except instead of a song, it's a vision of wrapping a piece of razor wire around your neck and cleanly pulling it tight. Over and over. It feels painless and kind of freeing. Until after, when you're stuck trying to explain to people why you weren't really listening that closely to the sermon.
It's like a panic attack that goes on for hours and you can't get out and everything feels awful and oh my goodness why isn't it stopping and ahh you want to scream but you have neighbors and asdfjkl;jk just stop, stop, you would do anything to stop it, wouldn't you?
It's like nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing, and you don't feel anything at all -good, bad happy, sad, angry, excited, nothing and no matter what you do or how hard you try it's nothing, nothing, nothing, and eventually you start to wonder why you're even trying.
It's like an angel of light, and you feel like suddenly everyone will pay attention to you and say nice things at your funeral and the people you're mad at will feel like shit (and of course it's all a lie - people will be pissed at you, and anyways they're already really nice and give you lots of attention, and also you'd be dead so what would you care, but depressed brain is really whiny and selfish. This is a weird one because you don't necessarily feel sad.)
It's like a temptation like lust or pride or any other sin it sits in the back of your head and says "hey! indulge me! pay attention to me!"
I can make you feel better Just a little taste - you don't have to go all the way
and it lies and lies and some part of you knows it's wrong but it's still nice and comforting to indulge this little devil on your shoulder and so sometimes you just want to jump.
It's like standing near an open window and tightly gripping the biggest piece of furniture you can find in the hopes that this will somehow keep you safe if you're tempted.
It feels really minor, to be honest. It's this huge thing with potentially life-changing consequences and it feels... small. Like a little fantasy that starts with "oh this could be nice" and then at the more dangerous times grows into "hm i could actually do this" but it never feels big and it never feels consequential because depression brain hides all the downsides and feeds you this sanitized, painless version of "freedom."
And it feels like a bunch of awkward conversations where you're smiling and trying to make small talk but your brain is focused on making lists of things to do to keep yourself safe ("nothing bad can happen if I'm lying on the floor!") and people who would be sad if you went away and reasons you have to stay safe("who would give the speech at RJ's wedding??") a few weeks at a time. It takes up all your mental effort so you're a terrible conversation partner and sorry if this has happened in one of my conversations with you.
(here i'll add other people's experiences if anybody chooses to share)
A monologue from a play I've been writing, that perhaps captures a slightly different angle of these feelings:
I’m not the sort of person who kills herself. Not that there’s any shame in that — it’s a real problem, and there are people who are seriously struggling and I’m not one of— I don’t want to take away from — I’m not depressed, it’s more like— (Pause.) and then one day, I was. I mean, not really. There wasn’t a reason for it, not a good one, and I wasn’t actually going to do it, it was just there. In the back of my head. A thought. “Kill yourself”, or “Kill yourself, Alice”, or— but it was just that. I didn’t think— there was no plan, no will behind it, it just seemed like — a fantasy. A cry for help. I don’t know. And just every once in a while. Just once a week. Just every fucking day, every time I wake up, when I’m lying in bed at night, when I’m walking, sitting, standing, and it’s everywhere and it’s all the time and it never leaves me alone, you know why? Because it’s me. The pain, the problem, the bad thoughts, it’s me. It’s all me. I don’t know if I even want to get better. (Pause.) Don’t. Please. I know. “It doesn’t define me.” “I’m not going to do it again.” And I have to say it over and over until I believe it because thinking happy thoughts is supposed to change everything and then it’s all gonna be okay and I tried to kill myself. That’s just how it is. I’m five-foot-three, I’m left-handed, and I’m the kind of person that tries to fucking kill herself.