If you have ever thought about suicide or attempted suicide, this article could potentially be triggering for you. If you ever need help, please reach out to those around you, or use the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to get help.
What a topic to choose, right? Who wants to talk about suicide? Those of us who haven’t lost someone or haven’t thought about suicide would rather not talk about it – it’s an uncomfortable topic. Talking about suicide forces everyone – mentally ill or neurotypical – to struggle with the thought of someone choosing to take their own life. That’s not a comfortable topic.
However, as someone who has struggled with thoughts of suicide, and who has lost someone, it’s a topic that I no longer want to avoid.
So if you’ve never had the desire to kill yourself, awesome! If you’ve never lost someone to suicide, that’s great. But I encourage you to read this article anyway, and maybe walk away with a better understanding of what it means to be suicidal.
If you have lost someone, let me say from the bottom of my heart, I am so sorry. Losing someone is never easy, but having to grapple with the reality that someone you knew was so miserable that they chose to die is even harder. It’s hard not to feel guilty and play the what-if game. “What if I had reached out to them? What if I had been a better listener? What if I had asked more questions?”
Take it from me. The what-if game will bring you nothing but misery.
Being Suicidal v. Suicidal Ideation
I’m sure at this point, most people now know that there is a difference between having suicidal thoughts and being suicidal. I’ve been in both places. So, I’m going to take a moment to try and explain the difference between them. It’s a bit of a blurry line, so hopefully I can clear it up for people who don’t quite understand it.
This is where I most often am when I talk about having ‘suicidal thoughts’. Suicidal ideation is a weird place to be. Imagine you’re just living your life, doing what you love to do, hanging out with your friends, and suddenly someone screams in your ear why don’t you just die?
For me, it’s often like that. Some days, if I’m having bad suicidal ideation, the smallest thing can bring on the thoughts. My debit card is declined. Well, you could always just die! My car won’t start. Death would be easier than this. I try to sort out my budget after over-spending. If you can’t pay that bill you can always die.
That’s what suicidal ideation feels like for me. Sometimes it can get a little more serious, though. Some days, it feels as if nothing is going right. We all have those days. And on those days – when I begin to feel that I am worthless, or that I can’t do anything right, or that all I can do is mess things up – it’s easy to see the appeal of death.
Death would be easier than having to fight on day after day.
There’s a huge difference between suicidal ideation and being suicidal. Because one is thoughts that float in and out of your head. And while one can lead to the other, the second is much worse.
Being suicidal is actively wanting to die. This happens when people start to write a suicide note. Sever ties from people they care about. Decide what way they’d most like to die – and then start to gather the things they will need.
People who are suicidal stop caring about themselves. When I was I didn’t eat for two days, because I simply didn’t care about my body. I wanted to die anyway, so why not just starve?
Sometimes they’ll take stupid risks, like driving without a seatbelt, crossing the street without looking both ways, or stopping in places they know they’ll be in danger. Because the risk doesn’t matter anymore when you’re suicidal.
If something else kills me now, it’ll save me the trouble – and my family the pain – of doing it myself.
Wait, What’s the Difference?
The main difference between suicidal ideation and actually being suicidal is that I don’t want to die.
Let me say that again, because it’s important.
I don’t want to die.
These thoughts pop into my head not because I actually want to be dead, but because life is hard, and sometimes the fight to keep living is just exhausting. But I don’t want to die. I’ve made no plans. I have nothing I could use. That is the main difference.
This can vary from person to person. Some people with suicidal ideation do want to die, but won’t make plans because they value people in their lives. Some people who don’t want to die can still be suicidal. This is just my experience, and my limited view. But hopefully my perspective will help some of you understand what I – and others in similar positions – go through.
Real Life Experience
This is going to be an unpleasant topic. Let me just warn you in advance.
Some of you may already know this – but I lost a friend of mine to suicide in October of last year.
He, like many people who suffer so profoundly, was loving, kind, generous, warm – and left a lasting impact on everyone who met him. I knew that he suffered from depression – I’d been his friend for his first suicide scare in 2013. I remember that heart-pounding day as we waited for news after he disappeared, and I remember the relief when I heard he’d come back alive.
I wasn’t prepared for his loss. Who is, really? I wasn’t prepared to attend his funeral – it’s hard to see someone so young (23) in a casket. I wasn’t prepared to see so many of my friends – all of us so grief-stricken – absolutely shattered by this sudden loss.
But most of all, I wasn’t prepared to see the reality of what suicide does to the people it leaves behind.
Barely a month before my friend passed away, I was suicidal myself. I wanted to end it – stop having to struggle. Stop stressing. Stop existing. It was so hard.
I’d always told my friends that if I ever thought I was a danger to myself, I’d seek treatment. So that’s what I did.
I found a therapist. After a couple weeks, my therapist recommended I seek psychiatric help and referred me to a psychiatrist.
Four days before my friend committed suicide, I started my first day on antidepressants. I don’t know how I would have handled the loss without them.
I mentioned before that I refuse to play the what-if game because it brings nothing but pain – there’s a reason for that. The last time I saw my friend alive was six days after I hit rock bottom – three weeks before he ended his life.
He was in a wedding and I attended. We got to chat and he hugged me, a huge, dimpled grin on his face. “I’m so glad you made it! It’s so nice to see you!”
We chatted for a while, and both expressed interest in hanging out soon – hopefully once our lives got in order once again.
I left the reception early, citing that I had a long drive to get home. But the truth was that I was exhausted. It had taken nearly all of my energy to just to come to the ceremony, and I needed to go home and collapse. I remember giving him another quick hug and a grin, and promising to text him soon to make plans.
Three weeks later, I’m attending his funeral.
It’s so easy to think of what-ifs, and blame yourself for things you didn’t know. I did it for a while.
What if I’d reached out sooner?
What if I’d stayed longer at the wedding?
What if I’d checked in with him?
What if we’d stayed in touch better?
I shy away from those thoughts now. I can’t change what’s happened, and thinking like this only makes me more miserable.
By far the worst thing about this experience is that it forced me to take a good, hard look at what happens when someone commits suicide.
I got to see – up close and personal – what friends and family go through with this kind of loss. I saw how it destroyed everyone around me. I saw people who’d barely known him cry when they heard the truth.
I saw his family struggle with questions and howl at the sky, asking why this had happened – why was he gone?
I saw friends who I thought were strong shattered into tiny pieces at the sight of his body in that casket.
I lived with the reality that someone I knew – someone I loved as a friend, and in some ways like family – was in so much pain that he chose to take his own life, rather than reach out for help. I’m not, and have never been angry about all of this. I’ve been too close myself to be angry at my friend. But I am still sad, and grief-stricken.
In that time of grieving, I lived with a paradox in my head. The sadness and pain at my friend choosing to end his life, and struggling with my own not-so-distant desire to do the same. I felt like a fraud, a hypocrite. How could I mourn my friend while still feeling the same as him? How could I grieve his loss and feel the pain of his choice while still feeling the same way myself?
I’ve given myself permission to feel both of those things, and through that made my way toward healing. One doesn’t cancel out the other. In fact, those feelings – the depth of them – are what help me know that I’m alive.
It’s not easy to understand, but I am not my mental illness. I am the one who mourns the loss of my friend, my mental illness is the thing that makes me want to die. This dichotomy that I struggle with is making me a better person, a better friend, and has taught me to love deeply, tell people how I feel, protect what I love fiercely, and not be afraid to talk about my struggle.
To end on a positive note – have a nerdy quote that always brings me hope, even in a dark time.
“The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad thing, but vice-versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things and make them less important.” – The Doctor, Doctor Who
I know I said this at the beginning, but if you’ve ever felt suicidal, please get help. Your family and friends don’t want to live life without you. If you don’t like to talk on the phone, use the Crisis Text Line (if you’re in the USA) to talk to a counselor. Text HOME to 741741 to talk with a counselor now.