For many years I have had suicidal thoughts on and off. I have never yet acted upon them and I hope never to do so. Yet the thoughts remain, waiting for me to hit another low point before popping up again. The last couple of weeks have been difficult for me. My relationship broke up, and it affected me far more deeply than I could ever have imagined. At first my reaction was one of shock, but that has since moved on to one of grief. And with the grief and the overwhelming emotions that accompany grieving, came the suicidal thoughts.
I’ve never known what to do with these thoughts. There really is a difference between thoughts and actions and furthermore, between thoughts and intended action. My thoughts have never been anything more than just thoughts, until last week. Then they became intended action, but thankfully not action. I was driving home, a 4 hour drive, and I thought of intentionally crashing the car. Then I had to talk over that intended action by telling myself that my mum was waiting at home for me. I just said that over and over in my head “Mum is at home waiting for me, I have to get home for Mum, I can’t do this to Mum, Mum is at home waiting for me…” Round and round in my head I repeated it, over and over again until the moment passed.
Those kinds of moments are terrifying. Some people believe that they have control over their mind, but others, who have experienced depression, know otherwise. The mind is a powerful tool that can take over the body, take over the soul, and destroy itself from within. The mind can simply be managed, not controlled or coerced. And it’s by learning how to manage the mind that depression can become a condition that can be lived with.
It’s important to discuss just how difficult expressing suicidal thoughts to those around us, those who can help us, can be. Last night, as I was in bed and feeling out of control, having suicidal thoughts, I looked up “how to cope with suicidal thoughts” and came up with this resource (click on the image to access the webpage):
One of the things that stuck out at me was this:
Feeling suicidal is not a character defect… It only means that you have more pain than you can cope with right now… with time and support, you can overcome your problems and the pain and suicidal feelings will pass.
The first step in helping oneself is to “Promise not to do anything right now”:
Thoughts and actions are two different things—your suicidal thoughts do not have to become a reality. There’s is no deadline, no one pushing you to act on these thoughts immediately. Wait. Wait and put some distance between your suicidal thoughts and suicidal action.
This, I think, is the crucial point. “Thoughts and actions are two different things…. suicidal thoughts do not have to become a reality…” Often, when my head is a swirling mess, it can feel that my mind is telling me what to do without my consent. I feel out of control and scared about what I might do to myself. Knowing that thoughts do not have to become action helps to keep me grounded.
But back to my main point: it’s important to talk about suicidal thoughts with people around us who can help. The problem is, though, it’s not easy. People around us don’t know what to do to help. They can panic and sometimes make the situation worse by forcing the person having the thoughts to minimise the severity in order to calm down the other person, the listener. I have found that whenever I try to talk about suicidal thoughts to people who care about me, they freak out. They want to “make a plan”, or keep me under 24 hour monitoring, or treat me like someone about to die. What the people in my life don’t understand, is that these reactions only prevent me from talking to them about anything remotely related to suicidal thoughts again. And keeping it in is not healthy or helpful.
So, in times like this, what should I do? There are suicide helplines to call, with trained mental health professionals on the other end of the line to offer support. There is this blog, which I find helpful to write in and to make sense of it all. There’s the mantra “thoughts are not actions, they do not have to become actions.” And then there’s the thoughts of loved ones – guilt, I have found, helps immensely. I don’t want to hurt those around me. And I don’t want to die either. Sometimes it feels like a fantastic option, but most of the time I just think “what a waste” and I try to remember that suicide is a selfish option. It can also seem like the only option, when the depressed mind has taken over the soul and identity of the individual in question, so it’s important to remember that there are other options. “Promise not to do anything right now.” There’s no rush. Give it time. Get some fresh air. Meet a friend. Put yourself somewhere safe, and if none of these things are working, ask for professional help.
If you’re someone who knows another who has suicidal thoughts, understand that freaking out about it makes everything so much worse! Ask what you can do to help. Make them a hot drink. Get some warm food into them. And listen. Don’t fix it, just listen. You can’t make it better but you can offer support and love. Remind them that thoughts are not actions and get them to make a promise not to do anything, if it seems like the thoughts have become intended action. Most of all, keep calm. Control your emotions while they tell you about theirs. They need your help more than you need to freak out! Remember that!
Thoughts and actions – one does not have to become the other. I’ll leave you with this quote: