Living with suicidal thoughts is a juxtaposition in itself, the paradox here referring to my thoughts of death and suicide as a way to cope with life.
How can I explain what it is like to experience thoughts of this nature on such a regular and sometimes life-interfering basis? How can I justify myself as being a “productive member of society” – volunteer, student, nanny, etc – at the same time as feeling (at times) consumed with these apparently unhealthy fantasies?
The truth is that the thoughts don’t just plague me when I’m struggling for consistent periods of time with immensely low mood, during depressive episodes. They also come into my consciousness when I am experiencing temporary bouts of intense emotion which I don’t feel able to manage within a moment. Sometimes this can be multiple times in one day. Other times I won’t experience such thoughts for a number of weeks.
Oftentimes when the pain feels unbearable, instead of jumping straight to “What skills can I use?” or “What is this emotion communicating to me?“, my go-to thoughts, still to this day, are “I can’t cope, I want to die”, or even “I can’t cope, I NEED to die”.
Thankfully the thoughts and actions which follow are along the lines of asking myself what next moves I can take in order to manage the situation effectively, considering what is going on in that moment. And it’s not like I have acted on any of the suicidal thoughts in almost a year, which shows something is working!
However, this is not easy. It is so much harder than it sounds to simply dismiss or distract from thoughts of any kind – especially suicidal ones – when my emotions are so intense. Just because I don’t give in to them, doesn’t mean it’s not horrifically difficult to fight so often. Many times giving in to strong urges is a much easier route to take in that moment. However, I am realising that this isn’t actually what I want for myself, long-term.
Another problem I encounter is that I often jump to suicidal ideation when I am experiencing feelings of dissociation. This is because I find it unbearable to feel like I am “alive but dead inside” and so my brain convinces me I may as well be “dead, full stop”. Also, when dissociated, it is harder to connect to the part of myself which is willing and able to be skilful, simply because I become so disconnected from myself and reality, full stop. I occasionally find myself ‘coming to’ after minutes or longer of being totally lost within a mindless dissociative daze, pondering over details relating to my “impending” (imaginal) death.
It is so frustrating to me because I can spend a lot of wasted time feeling trapped within such related thoughts, despite knowing in my core that it is truly not an option for me, nor something I ultimately want to do.
Yes, these moments may be temporary. But sometimes they last many many moments. And many temporary moments can feel hellish, too.
So, this is what has helped me the most:
I am learning to recognise that most of the times I notice thoughts such as “I want to kill myself“, or variations on the theme, it is not necessarily because I actually want to be dead. Usually, it is because I am in a lot of pain which I am struggling to manage – pain which I desperately want to be freed from. In these moments, suicide becomes the only tangible ‘solution’ that my brain can compute as an option.
It is almost like a safety behaviour when I engage in this type of thinking; like there is a security in the knowledge that the option can be there if I genuinely ‘need’ it.
I want to point out that the thing which has helped me the most during these situations is not in trying to distract myself from what is going on, but in asking myself what is really going on and consequently attending to that.
If I know what the problem is (e.g. an immensely painful emotion, a difficult situation, a distressing interaction, a cognitive distortion), and if I can label the experience without the judgement or all-or-nothing thinking, I am far more likely to be able to target what is going on in a way that can be effective – and possibly even healing for me.
The suicidal thoughts are not cues to action. They are merely thoughts – albeit unpleasant and challenging – communicating something to me which holds a far deeper meaning than simply “I want to die”.