TW: Mentions of Suicide/Suicidal Thoughts
Every year I write something during Suicide Prevention Awareness month. While I try my best to share helpful educational information, I’ve always avoided talking about my own experiences with suicide. I’ve felt a little bit like a fraud in doing so, encouraging people to reach out and that their mental health is nothing to be ashamed of, but never practicing what I preach.
For the better part of last 8 years I was suicidal. But for the first time in a very long time, I don’t have any suicidal thoughts, and I haven’t in a while. There was a brief period where I thought I was in remission because I was only suicidal 2 of the 7 days of the week, but it turns out, it’s actually possible to be not suicidal every day of the week. I’m writing this blog post not because I want attention (obligatory reminder that suicide/dealing with suicidal thoughts is not something people do for attention), but because I don’t think I read anyone talk about what that transition to not being suicidal is actually like.
What people don’t realize about suicidal people (especially young suicidal people), is that every one of us lowkey has a college degree in psychology. If you convert the past 8 years to med school, I’m fully in my residency in depression at this point. We have scoured the internet, reading everything on mental illness, to search for some article or tip or comment on a message board that has the golden ticket to how to either be fixed or how to kill yourself quickly and painlessly. When you read these articles on suicide, they follow a similar narrative, “my life was so dark, I isolated myself, I considered/attempted suicide, it failed, I got help, I am better now.” There’s this need to wrap up every discussion on suicide with a bow, that suicidal thoughts can be gone after an attempt, or that the help just immediately works for you. But that wasn’t how it was for me. When I left the hospital, the thoughts were still there, I just knew I didn’t want to be in a hospital anymore, and I had the stark realization that what I was dealing with was ‘Very Bad’ and if I told someone it would be a Hot Mess™.
I’ve written a little bit about it before, but there is a less discussed phenomenon known as ‘chronically suicidal.’ These people deal with suicidal thoughts frequently, but are not in such duress that they feel like they will act on them immediately. As someone that got the privilege of being a member of such an elite class (/s), I assumed that because I had the thoughts for so long, they were just engrained in my brain forever. I remember reading an article about neuroplasticity, and that your brain likes to take the ‘road more traveled’ and with each thought you have, your brain is more likely to problem solve using that path again. Bridging these two pieces of knowledge, I had resigned myself to just having to deal with suicidal thoughts forever, in the same way that people deal with traffic on their morning commute, or when gas prices go up and you just have to accept it.
When my doctor recommended that I try Wellbutrin, I brushed it off but ultimately went along with it. I’d been through the cycle of medication before and nothing had worked. But, as many who get mental healthcare know, if you don’t take the drugs, they’re always going to insinuate you aren’t doing enough to get better, so just take the drugs and report back in 2 months they don’t do anything. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. However, this time, and I hate to be the cliché that praises antidepressants, the drugs actually worked for me.
I can’t say when exactly I realized the antidepressants were working, it was more I just realized what I wasn’t doing anymore. If my brain was a computer, it was like years worth of saved cookies were cleared out, and suddenly I could just think about way more things that weren’t suicide. It felt like I had gained back hours of the day.
Before antidepressants, there were days (tbh weeks sometimes) where I would wake up and it would just feel stormy in my brain, my body already tense with guilt and anxiety that somehow I’d already done something wrong and committed the ultimate sin of existing and taking up too much space. Now, I don’t have those days anymore. I wake up, and I feel nothing, other then slight resentment towards my alarm that makes me do math problems to shut it off. When something goes wrong, my brain no longer sets off the BWAAAAAN alarm from Inception (sound clip to the right) and spirals down into how everyone would be better if I’m dead. Now I just feel mild cringe, but I’m able to move on from it. They often tell people with Bad Thoughts™ that you should take every thought and reframe it with something positive. But that gets exhausting, and sometimes its hard when you’re not even in a situation that’s prompting the Bad Thoughts™ and your brain decides to defy thousands of years of evolutionary self-preservation and to tell you to kick dirt. Now, my brain just doesn’t pull that stuff anymore. I don’t even know how its possible, but my brain just up and stopped doing that.
If the overused metaphor is that suicide is drowning, then recovery is swimming towards the shore, and eventually getting your bearings to walk in the water. For those who haven’t gone to beaches, walking in water is awful. Its uncoordinated, ungraceful, and generally not fun. It feels like you’re going nowhere, or if you are going somewhere, you’re getting there painfully slow. But just like how it gets suddenly easier once you’re closer to the beach, and then you’re just out of the water all together; the suicidal thoughts seemed to disappear and I’m forgetting how I ever used to feel that way, happy that I’m just somehow out of the water again.
I know that this article has not been an instructional guide on how to get yourself out of the deep pit of suicidal thoughts. And I’m sorry I can’t give that. But I hope to impress this:
- Try the stupid drugs.
- It was never an epiphany where I saw the sunrise or kissed a girl or baby Jesus spoke to me in a dream that made me stop feeling suicidal, and the thoughts just slowly went away.
- Your suicidal thoughts are never permanent, your brain is so so powerful and resilient and you deserve to have a life without them. No matter how long you’ve felt like this, it’s always possible they could go away
With that, I’ll attach some of my favorite affirmations from thelatestkate, checkout/buy their art work, I find it really soothing.