An inside look at suicidal thoughts for Suicide Awareness Month
*Some of the content that follows may be sensitive and triggering to certain individuals*
September is Suicide Awareness Month, and with that, come remembrances of those we have lost to its suffocating grip. One of these heartbreaking losses for me came when I found out a dear friend had been struggling in silence for years and had finally taken her own life. To have someone who has been so close to you for so long take their own life was both gut-wrenching and eye-opening for me. How many others were suffering in silence? How many more would mental illness selfishly take?
In the wake of the pandemic, we have had to learn to live with a new normal –one characterized by pain, confusion, and the ever-present threat of being taken by a disease that we did not choose. With the effort we have had to enact to fight back against Covid-19, my suggestion is that we take that same fear and that same preventative awareness to fight against another condition that unfairly takes so many every year, and often for so many whose lives are already qualified by daily struggle and suffering. Suicide is as much of a threat as any physical illness we will fight against in our lifetimes, but here’s the thing: it is preventable!
Those who struggle with suicidal thoughts do not choose to think this way, but there are things that you can do for yourself, or for others, to decrease the chances that suicide will win its fight. I remember long nights laying on the ground, wondering what was wrong with me and why I had the sudden urge to swallow the entire bottle of my medication in front of me, or take a razor to my wrists. Feeling that out of control is scary, but thankfully, I had a support system and the foresight to get help before I did something I would regret.
I didn’t get therapy until I started grad school, but BOY did it change my life! I no longer suffered with these thoughts by myself. I grew the strength to tell a close friend or the man who is currently my fiancé when I was feeling particularly low or suicidal. I sat with what I was feeling and was kind to myself when I was feeling down, instead of beating myself up for how I was feeling. The more we fight with our emotions, the more they will fight back. The best thing we can do is develop a mindset of acceptance for these emotions and develop a plan for what you will do when you feel this way.
I no longer thought of myself as broken—well, most of the time. I’m only human. I was an otherwise strong individual who had a chemical imbalance and a long line of traumatizing situations that led to continuous fantasies of the escape of death. My brain and my body were tired of fighting alone. They needed me to understand that something was wrong and that I needed help with it—I couldn’t do it all by myself anymore.
If you are a loved one of someone who struggles with depression, suicidal thoughts, or any other mental health condition the most important thing you can do for them is be there. Let them know you are available if they need you but that you won’t force them to talk about what they are struggling with if it makes it worse. That being said, don’t let them suffer in complete silence.
If your loved one has become detached from other people, or from reality, help them reach out to a professional. Offer to make them an appointment or to go with them. Offer to listen—often those who are struggling want someone to listen and understand their concerns can’t be fixed overnight. Don’t let “not knowing what to say” keep you from offering help to those you love. The support and the fact that you are helping them carry whatever it is they are going through is what matters to them.
Oh, and on personal note, exercise followed by hot showers are my favorite things when I am feeling anything on the scale of overwhelmed to emotionally numb. Getting into my body and grounding myself through my senses whether that is through a workout, hot water, delicious food, a short meditation, music, smelling a beautifully-scented candle, or anything else that connects my internal experience with my external experience is extremely helpful to me in times like these. Making sure I take my medication daily and live a relatively healthy lifestyle is another. Whatever makes you feel good is important to healing and keeping suicidal thoughts at bay.
I know how terrible suicidal thoughts can make a person feel, and they’re not fair. You didn’t ask for them, and you don’t want to keep them. Come up with your own coping or safety plan before you feel bad again (or worse). I can’t stress this enough –when you are in fight or flight against yourself, it is harder to figure out what you need to do in that moment to keep yourself safe. That is why, along with prevention, preparation is key. Plan for the possibility of your suicidal thoughts ramping up or feeling like crap again. Don’t live your life stuck there but know there is always a possibility of returning and prepare accordingly.
In this new normal where we’ve had to learn to wear a mask, not touch our faces, and wash our hands more often; take the necessary preparation to prevent suicide for yourself and those you love. There is no second chance when it comes to suicide, but there is always the chance on the frontend for healing and maintenance.
This Suicide Awareness Month, and every month, don’t forget to prioritize yourself and your mental health and watch for opportunities to help your fellow human. You will get through this just like you have before, and you will be stronger for it. Trust yourself and trust your support system. I believe in you.
“Soak up the views. Take in the bad weather and the good weather. You are not the storm.” -Matt Haig