Dear Suicidal Person,
I know you feel the only way out of your pain is to stop your pulse. That, unfortunately, is a fantasy. Swallowing the pills will only result in more pain. It is my theory that you will have to work out the gunk you’re running from in some alien world without a body. And then, of course, there’s the pain that you would leave your loved ones, especially your children.
The only real solution, I have found, is to tell someone. Anyone. You might not have a supportive partner. Then call a friend. If you don’t have a trusted friend who won’t judge you, then call a suicide hotline or check yourself into the hospital. Trained volunteers, such as those at The Samaritans, provide an invaluable service to severely depressed people who call or email them in desperation.
The important thing is to stay real. Suicidal thoughts exist in a fantasy world. And fantasy worlds only result in more pain.
Your suicidal thoughts might not be contained to one evening. They may extend through many months or years, and you can’t live in the hospital psych ward indefinitely. Keep on talking. Keep on being real. Keep it out on the table. Try your best to learn how to become your own trained professional and tease apart your thoughts until you arrive at the truth that will keep you safe from harming yourself.
The most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life is to resist taking my life in the midst of intense suicidal thoughts. I try to remind myself every now and then that no matter what I do from here on out, I am already a success because I am alive. I somehow managed to resist the incredibly convincing messages of my brain — the forceful urges of my psyche — to make an exit out of this world. As I mentioned in another blog, not taking your life in the midst of intense suicidal thoughts can be like not sneezing when you have an urge. Everything inside of you thinks that disappearing from this world is the only way that the pain will subside, but that is a lie.
Talking about suicidal thoughts saves lives. I know this. Because people realize that other good, grateful, Zen-like people experience them, too. The thoughts that try to convince you to leave this world simply come with severe depression. They are mere symptoms, like hiccups, of a brain condition or fragile chemistry that feels at times too painful to endure. Just as chills, nausea, and fatigue are symptoms of the flu, the chronic ruminations demanding a fast exit from here are symptoms of acute depression and anxiety. They mean you are sick rather than “bad.” They are not an indictment of your character.
Martha Ainsworth of metanoia.org explained that suicidal thoughts are an imbalance of pain versus coping resources. The answer rests in finding a way to reduce your pain and increasing your coping resources. “People often turn to suicide because they are seeking relief from pain,” she explains. “Remember that relief is a feeling. And you have to be alive to feel it. You will not feel the relief you so desperately seek if you are dead.”
Making that distinction has saved my life on countless occasions. I don’t want to die. I simply want a reprieve from my pain. I must trust that the relief will eventually come because all of our feelings and thoughts — and especially our most excruciating pain — are impermanent. They can’t last forever because nothing does. So taking your life is a permanent action for a temporary problem.
Your only job today is to stay alive. Keep breathing, one moment at a time. You will eventually see that the painful thoughts, as convincing as they are, are a season and won’t last forever.
You’re not alone. I want you to know that you’re in the company of very competent and likable people. This isn’t about you being pathetic or not holding it together. Certain brain circuits are just over-activated from stress or grief or some other reason and your neurons are firing off nasty text messages to the wrong communication centers. Your illness is flaring up much like a case of psoriatic arthritis under stress.
Please tell someone.
Know it will pass.
And keep breathing.