I’ve lived with chronic suicidal ideation for so long that I can’t really remember what it feels like to not live with it. Sometimes I think about ways to actually end my life, other times I think about just never having existed, or disappearing in a way that erases all trace and memory of me. And while I appreciate that this may sound really depressing, and like every single day is a struggle to stay alive, this is not the case at all. To me, and I am sure to many others, thoughts of suicide are often a security blanket that keep me alive. I have no doubt that this sounds counterintuitive, but if I couldn’t fantasise about having that option out, I’m unsure I could cope with life and how suffocated it often makes me feel. Ironic as this is, suicidal ideation saves me.
Not many people know this about me. It isn’t exactly the happiest conversation starter out there. Hi, I’m Steph and I spend about 70% of my life thinking about ways to end it or fantasising that I don’t exist. But it is the truth and I do think it is time to talk more openly about suicide. Yes, it is incredibly taboo and incredibly hard to talk about because it can be one of the most painful things to experience, whether you yourself want to die or you lose a loved one to it, but this is why we need to talk more about it. Too many people struggle with the extremes of these thoughts alone and all too often find themselves taking the next step to suicidal tendencies, and then they are gone. We have a had habit of dismissing talk of suicide as either too hard, too taboo, or we simply don’t take it seriously enough, and we need to turn this around because it could save a lot of lives.
My own thoughts of suicide range from mere fantasy when I am struggling emotionally, to the full on belief that today is the day I am going to end my life, to attempts. The fantasies happen when my emotions are marginally overwhelming. I retreat into myself and remember that, should I need to pull the plug to end the pain, this is always an option out that nobody can take away from me. It is mine. It is hard, and I know I am not alone on this, to hurt. And sometimes that hurt is too much and you think it is never going to end. Knowing that I can end my life and end that pain ironically helps me breathe. Emotions can be too claustrophobic and death feels like a welcome exit. So they are my security blanket, those thoughts; a worst case scenario option available to me that helps keep me going most days.
On my darkest days, when I am totally drowning, the urge to act out those fantasies does become all consuming and I mean it when I tell myself or someone else that today is the day. Needless to say, none of those days were the day, not in any successful sense. Sometimes I wonder whether there ever will be ‘the day’ but then I think that if I have come this far without managing it, then I never will. My ‘attempts’, I believe, were designed to fail out of a subconscious will to live.
I have also grown very self aware. I understand this feeling now and know it well, we are well acquainted. When it creeps up on me closer than usual, whispering to me and lulling me into its sweet escape of nothingness, I recognise it for what it is now, and experience has taught me that it will go away again. I have learnt how to look suicidal thoughts directly in the face and say yeah what? I may feel like I really want to do it, but it isn’t going to win. We have a love/hate relationship, I suppose; sometimes it wants to kill me, but I don’t know how I would live without it.
My darker moments mean that I can empathise with anyone who wants to end their life or has, and there are two phrases that I find deeply distressing. The first is this: ‘it is just a cry for help’.
Think about that for a moment. Just a cry for help. Just? We hear this a lot in response to people saying they want to end their life, and my worry is that these words alone are enough to push someone already close to the edge right over it. There is nothing more demeaning or belittling that you could tell someone who wants to die. The implication is that their feelings are unwarranted, insincere, that they are merely attention seeking. Sure, some people may just need the attention, but how do we know the difference? We don’t. All voices saying they want to die should be heard and treated equally, with compassion and sensitivity, and taken seriously. And even if it is just about attention. So? A cry for help is a cry for help. It means someone needs help. So help them, and if you can’t, then help find someone who can. But please don’t brush them off with the words ‘oh, it is just a cry for help.’
The second phrase I find intolerable is: ‘suicide is the easy way out’. No it fucking isn’t. If it was, I wouldn’t be here to write this. Wanting to end your life is an excruciatingly complex thought and tied into it are all sorts of fears and worries. I cannot speak for everyone who feels suicidal, but I know that when I have seriously contemplated it I have felt a tremendous tug of war between what I feel I need for me, and what I know it would do to loved ones I left behind. It would destroy them. This said, often my suicidal thoughts are very much driven by a belief that they would be better off without me, and on days like that the tug of war is the reverse. When my postnatal depression was at its worst, I truly believed my son would be better off without me, and this pushed me closer to the absolute edge than I have ever been, my mind telling me it was in his best interests. I am sure this is a driving factor for many people who want to die, and if nothing else pushes you to make those you love feel appreciated, I don’t know what will.
And what if things could get easier? But I just can’t cope anymore. But what if I am wrong about this? But I need to disappear now. But what if there are better days to come? But what if there aren’t and this pain carries on? This conflict alone is extremely exhausting.
Suicide is also not an easy way out because of awareness of potential failure. This aspect terrifies me. Not failure per se, but the potential for living out the rest of my life in what I believe would be a fate worse than death because I am paralysed, or on life support, or now someone has to care for me, and I am in no position anymore to actually end my life and can no longer even use the thoughts as a security blanket. These thoughts must cross the minds of all people who contemplate suicide. When I hear someone did commit suicide, I never think they took the easy way out at all; in the devastating sadness that they couldn’t hold on to life anymore, I think about just how brave they were to do it.
This is not to say that choosing life is weak. Not remotely. There is so much bravery and strength in telling suicide to fuck off and fighting through it and picking yourself up and carrying on despite the pain and will to disappear. Also, the above is just my personal experience of suicidal ideation, I speak for nobody else. For now, I don’t want suicidal thoughts to fuck off entirely. I have not yet learnt how to live without them, even if I do believe I have learnt how to stand far away enough from the edge for them to never again become tendencies. But I still need to know that, should I need it, I have my way out, my escape. I need to know it’s there because suicidal ideation saves me. For now.