What’s It Like to Be Suicidal? This Is My Experience, and How I Got Through It

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How we see the world shapes who we choose to be — and sharing compelling experiences can frame the way we treat each other, for the better. This is a powerful perspective.

At times, I’ve struggled with suicidal thoughts, even on a weekly basis.

Sometimes I’m able to ignore them. I might be driving to meet a friend for brunch and briefly think about driving my car off the road. The thought might catch me off-guard, but it quickly passes through my mind and I go about my day.

But other times, these thoughts stick around. It’s like a huge weight is dropped onto me, and I’m struggling to get out from underneath it. I suddenly get an intense urge and desire to end it all, and the thoughts can start to overwhelm me.

In those moments, I’m convinced I’ll do anything to get out from under that weight, even if it means ending my life. It’s like there’s a glitch in my brain that’s triggered and my mind goes haywire.

Even if that glitch is actually temporary, it can feel like it will last forever
With time, though, I’ve become more aware of these thoughts and found ways to manage when things get tough. It’s taken a lot of practice, but simply being aware of the lies my brain tells me when I’m suicidal helps to combat them.

If this last year has taught me anything, it’s that no matter what depression tells you, there’s always hope.
Here are four ways my suicidal ideation shows up, and how I’ve learned to cope.

1. When it feels impossible to focus on anything other than my pain, I look for a distraction
When I’m suicidal, I struggle to listen to reason — I only care about relief. My emotional pain is intense and overwhelming, so much so that it’s hard to concentrate or think about anything else.

If I find that I can’t focus, I sometimes turn to my favorite TV shows, like “Friends” or “Seinfeld.” They bring me a sense of comfort and familiarity that I need in those times, and it can be a great distraction when reality gets to be too much. I know all of the episodes by heart, so I’ll usually lay there and listen to the dialogue.

It can help me pull back from my suicidal thoughts and refocus on getting through another day (or just another hour).

Sometimes all we can do is wait for the thoughts to pass and then regroup. Watching a favorite show is a great way to pass the time and keep ourselves safe.
2. When I’m convinced that everyone would be better off without me, I challenge those thoughts
My loved ones would never want me to die by suicide, but when I’m in crisis, it’s hard for me to think clearly.

There’s a voice in my head that tells me how much better off my parents would be if they didn’t need to support me financially, or if my friends didn’t have to take care of me when I’m at my worst. No one would have to answer the late-night calls and texts or come over when I’m in the midst of a breakdown — isn’t that better for everyone?

But the reality is, I’m the only one that thinks that.

My family wouldn’t recover if I died, and my loved ones know that being there for someone when things get tough is a part of life. They would rather answer those late-night calls than lose me forever, even if I struggle to believe that in the moment.

When I’m in this headspace, it usually helps to spend some time with Petey, my rescue dog. He’s my best friend and has been there through it all this past year. On most mornings, he’s the reason I get out of bed.

I know he needs me to stick around and take care of him. Since he was already abandoned once, I could never leave him. Sometimes that thought alone is enough to keep me hanging on.

Challenge your thoughts about loved ones being better off without you by not only thinking through the reality, but spending time with loved ones — pets included.
3. When I struggle to see my other options, I reach out to my therapist — or I go to sleep
Being suicidal is, in some ways, a form of total emotional exhaustion. I’m tired of having to force myself out of bed each morning, having to take all of these medications that don’t seem to be working, and crying constantly.

Struggling with your mental health day in and day out is very tiring, and when I’ve reached my limit, it can feel as though I’m just too broken — that I need a way out.

It helps to check in with my therapist, though, and be reminded of all of the progress I’ve made so far.
Instead of focusing on the step backward, I can refocus on the two steps forward I took just before that — and how other forms of treatment I haven’t tried yet can help me get back on my feet again.

On the nights when the ideations are most intense and it’s too late to check in with my therapist, I take a couple of Trazadone, which are antidepressants that can be prescribed as a sleep aid (Melatonin or Benadryl can also be used as sleep aids, and purchased over-the-counter).

I only take them when I feel unsafe and don’t want to make any impulsive decisions, and it helps to ensure that I make it through the night. In my experience, those impulsive decisions would’ve been the wrong choice, and I almost always wake up the next morning feeling a little better.

4. When I feel completely and utterly alone, I push myself to reach out
When I’m dealing with suicidal ideations, it can feel like no one understands what I’m going through, but I also don’t know how to articulate it or ask for help.

It’s hard enough to try and explain to someone why you feel the desire to die, and sometimes, even opening up just leads to feeling misunderstood.

Even if it can feel awkward or scary at first, it’s important to reach out in these moments and keep yourself safe
If I’m feeling suicidal, I know the worst thing I can do is try to go it alone. It took me a long time to work up the courage to call someone when I was feeling this way, but I’m glad I did. Calling my mom and best friends has saved my life multiple times, even if in the moment I wasn’t convinced it would.

Sometimes you have to ignore the part of your brain that tells you it isn’t worth it, and pick up the phone anyway
Now when I’m feeling suicidal, I call a friend I trust or my parents.
If I don’t feel like talking, just having someone on the other side of the phone can still be comforting. It reminds me that I’m not alone, and that I (and the choices that I make) matter to someone.

If you don’t feel comfortable talking to a friend, text the crisis hotline by texting HOME to 741741. I’ve done this a few times, and it’s nice to just get my mind off things by texting with a compassionate person.

When you’re in a depressed state, you’re not in a position to make permanent decisions, especially when there’s no one there to offer perspective. After all, depression doesn’t just affect our moods — it can affect our thoughts, too.

Suicidal ideation can be extremely scary, but you’re never alone and you’re never without options.

If you’ve run out of coping tools and you have a plan and an intent, please call 911 or go to the nearest hospital. There’s absolutely no shame in that, and you deserve to be supported and safe.

If this last year has taught me anything, it’s that no matter what depression tells you, there’s always hope. No matter how painful it can be, I always find that I’m stronger than I think I am.

And chances are pretty good that if you’ve made it this far, you are, too.

Suicide Survivors Share Their Stories and Advice in These Photos

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Suicide rates in the United States have increased dramatically over the past 20 years. There are 129 deaths by suicide nationwide every day.Discussed less often, there are around 1.1 million attempts at suicide every year — or over 3,000 a day, on average — many of which do not end in death.Nevertheless, we often struggle to bring up suicidal thoughts with those we love, even when we know someone might be struggling, or we’re struggling ourselves.

I believe it isn’t that we don’t care, rather that we don’t have a common language to discuss such topics or an awareness of when we should reach out and how. We worry that we won’t say the right thing, or worse, that we’ll say something that’ll cause the person to act on their ideation.

In reality, asking someone directly about suicide is often a way to both help the person feel heard — and help them find the help and resources they need.

Too often discussions around suicide are controlled by those who have no personal experience with suicidal ideation or mental health.

SUICIDE PREVENTION’S MISSING VOICESWe rarely get to hear directly from those who have experienced suicidal ideation or survived a suicide attempt.

Hoping to shift that paradigm, Healthline teamed up with Forefront, a social impact center at the University of Washington that focuses on reducing suicide, empowering individuals, and building community.

Jennifer Stuber, the cofounder and director of Forefront, spoke about the program’s goals, sharing, “Our mission is to save lives [that would otherwise be] lost to suicide. The way that we think we’re going to get there is by simultaneously treating suicide as both a mental health and a public health issue.”

Stuber discussed the importance of every system, whether metal health care, physical health care, or education, having an understanding around suicide prevention and how to intervene if needed.

When asked what she’d say to those who are currently experiencing suicidal thoughts, Stuber said, “You can’t possibly realize how much you’d be missed if you weren’t here because of how badly you feel. There is help and hope available. It doesn’t always work the first time around, it might take several different tries at it, but your life is worth living even if it doesn’t feel like it now.”

For those who’ve attempted suicide, it’s often difficult to find spaces to tell their stories, or people willing to listen.

We wanted to hear directly from folks personally affected by suicide in order to give a face, name, and a voice to a much too common experience.

Gabe

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Gabe shares his experience with deep depression and suicidal thoughts, and how you can help a friend in need.

On their experience with mental illness

I feel like suicidality is something that’s been an inherent part my entire life.

I think that we live in a culture that values strength and perseverance and has this very naive belief that everyone is born in the same circumstances with the same bodies with the same chemicals in their brains that work the way they’re supposed to work.

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On recovering

It’s been ultimately just being lucky enough to have good enough people in my life that are willing to talk to me till 3 a.m. or give me advice and honest feedback on stuff.

For me, if I give it time, eventually I’ll will not feel like dying and that’s time — doing the best you can.

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On how you can help people experiencing suicidal ideation

Just listen to them. Be really honest and make good boundaries about what you can and can’t hear. Be wary of silence when you know that people have been doing bad, even when people seem to be doing good.

Simone

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“No one in my family talked about depression,” Simone tells Healthline. She also talks about the added pressure of being a professional who’s both black and a woman.

On learning about depression

I think almost every single day since I was 16 until maybe earlier this year, I thought about killing myself. I didn’t understand what depression was because no one ever talked about it.

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On being a black woman with depression

There have been plenty of days where I can’t physically move from depression… [but] I can’t call out, because I’m a black woman in a professional career. I’m not allowed to be depressed. I feel like I don’t get a pass.

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On how to respond to people who are experiencing depression

[Depression] can take on so many different forms [for different people]. So you can’t just apply a blanket solution.

Jonathan

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“I’ve had plenty of suicidal thoughts over the past seven years,” shares Jonathan, who has survived two suicide attempts.

On experiencing mental illness

I’ve been in the hospital three times for depression [and suicidal thoughts] and two times after suicide attempts in the last seven years.

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On the upside of mental illness challenges

There’s a stigma with mental illness. [But] I’m definitely not ashamed of my past! If I’d never dealt with this stuff, I wouldn’t be the person I am today and I wouldn’t have figured out who I am or the person I want to be.

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On advice to people who experience suicidal ideation

I think doing what makes you happy in life is the most important. That’s why I dress the way I want. I want to show others it’s okay. Don’t let other people tell you how you should live your life.

Tamar

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“We didn’t even know the term mental health. Nobody discussed it,” Tamar reflects about her childhood. She experiences suicidal thoughts and has survived a suicide attempt.

On mental illness, homelessness, and poverty

Because I grew up homeless and lived in a lot of homeless populations, we didn’t consider people sick. Drugs, alcohol, being suicidal, being schizophrenic — that was all just normal to us.

At the time it felt like the only way out was suicide. That I didn’t have any other options, there wasn’t anybody coming to save me, there was no system that was going to swoop in and take me away from the things that were causing me pain.

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On barriers to getting help for people living in poverty

I didn’t have a framework around what [it meant] to be mentally healthy, what [it meant] to get help.

Everybody says there’s help, get help. What does that mean? There was nobody who said, “Hey look, if you don’t have the money, here’s volunteer organizations.” I got no information when I was discharged from the hospital [for attempting suicide] besides don’t do it again, find help.

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On receiving affordable help for the first time (from Open Path)

It was the first time in my life that mental health was in reach.

It was the first time someone articulated to me that [following through on suicidal thoughts] wasn’t an imperative. I didn’t have to listen to it. That was life changing for me.

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On healing

It was actually when I decided to attempt sobriety that I first even learned that idea of having a toolbox of coping mechanisms and then starting to shift it. I didn’t know there were other ways to cope with these feelings that I had.

Having an alternative to feeling suicidal was a whole new world, it was a game changer. Even if I was too depressed to get off the floor, I had a mental health tool box and a language to talk to myself that I’d never had before.

I had to learn that too, that I had become one of my own abusers. That was a revelation. I was just following in the footsteps of everyone else… Yet I want to escape from the cycle.

Making those connections made me feel like my body is a worthy vessel and that I am worthy to live in it and stay on this planet.

Jo

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Jo lost her husband, who was a veteran, to suicide in 2011, when he was 45. She now works with veteran-run organizations that work to create a community for veterans in need.

On losing her husband to suicide

My husband had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and he also had what we call a “moral injury,” which I think is really important when talking about veterans. The way I’ve heard it described is that it’s basically having performed acts during your time of service that were required by your service but that go against and violate your own moral code or the code of society at large.

I think my husband suffered from tremendous guilt and neither he nor I had the tools to figure out how to process this guilt.

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Jo shares pictures of her husband and of their wedding.

On the isolation of survivors

About a year and a half after he died I quit my job as a lawyer and began to do photography because I needed something to do for my own healing.

What I experienced was profound isolation and that sense that you know, the world was out there, and everyone was moving on with their daily life, and I was on what I used to refer to as “planet my husband died by suicide.”

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On her life as a survivor of suicide

What I have come to discover is that it’s actually pretty common when you have a first-degree suicide loss like that to continue to have [suicidal] feelings yourself.

I know what’s helped me is spending a lot of time particularly with my veteran friends who have been trained in peer support and suicide prevention. It’s so helpful to have someone who can check in and say, “Are you thinking about harming yourself?” but to go further and say “Do you have a plan and do you have a date?”

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On advice to those affected by suicide

We are very antiseptic in the way we think about death and grief, particularly the taboos around suicide. When someone says “You’re very young to be a widow, what happened,” I’m always honest.

If he were around with what I know now, my message to him would have been, “You are loved unconditionally even if you never feel better than you do right now.”

There is always hope

Through organizations like Forefront, the National Suicide Prevention LifelineCrisis Text Line, and others, there’s movement towards shifting our approach to suicidality, reducing stigma, and breaking the silence.

Our hope is that the brave individuals you met above can help be a part of that movement and that breaking of silence, bringing light to a topic that is too often avoided, ignored, or stigmatized.

For those experiencing suicidality, you’re not alone, and there is always hope, even if it doesn’t feel like it now.

If you or a loved one are experiencing thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, check out this list of resources, or send a text here.


Caroline Catlin is an artist, activist, and mental health worker. She enjoys cats, sour candy, and empathy. You can find her on her website.

+ 4 sources

Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, CRNPon February 14, 2019 New — Written by Caroline Catlin

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Sibling Suicide Survivors: The ‘Forgotten Mourners’

Author Article

“So how many brothers and sisters do you have?”

I used to dread that question. I still do, if I’m honest, but it’s a quick dull thud of emotion compared to the raging, blood-draining torrent it used to evoke in me.

The answer is always the same: one sister. But whispering in the background are the ghosts of the other two answers that come to mind (and the reasons why I can’t give them).

“One sister, one brother.” Nope, can’t go there—not technically true, even though that’s how I feel. Besides, what do I say when the inevitable next questions come: How old are they? What do they do?”

“One sister—and I used to have a brother, but he died when I was 21.” Sure, if I want to make that person really uncomfortable I can go there. I might even get to watch them visibly squirm if they ask how he died.

As even this small exchange shows, it’s a lonely experience being a siblingbereaved by suicide.

In the aftermath of my brother’s death, I waded through screeds of information on suicide, compulsively searching for I-don’t-quite-know-what. Answers? Confirmation? Connection? Where were the siblings? Where were the others like me?

When I began to research sibling suicide myself, many years later, I realised just how little has been written about us. Just ten academic studies have ever been dedicated exclusively to the experience of sibling suicide (and one is my own).

Here’s what has been found so far about the experience of living through a sibling’s suicide:

1. It’s confusing, painful and hard—with more challenges than ‘normal’bereavement.

Sibling suicide survivors have been found to experience a range of distressing and challenging phenomena. This may include:

  • A marked sense of guilt and responsibility around the death.
  • Intense anger, stemming from a deep sense of rejection and abandonment.
  • Feelings of shame and worthlessness
  • Overwhelming anxiety and fear.

It’s also common for survivors to feel relief, if the death marks the end of a long period of worry and uncertainty. This tends to fuel further guilt, creating an ongoing cycle of emotional disturbance.

As can be expected given this litany of psychological challenges, sibling suicide survivors are at particular risk of developing complicated grief reactions, depression and post-traumatic stress symptoms. They’re also at an increased risk of taking their own lives.

2. Siblings suffer intensely—and they also tend to suffer invisibly.

In a family bereaved by suicide, each person becomes too preoccupied with their own pain to offer meaningful support to the others. Under these circumstances the surviving siblings “often find themselves not only neglected, but expected to put their needs aside in order to spare their parents further distress” (Rakic, 1992, p. 2).

Many grieving siblings try to appear “emotionally together” or even cheerful around their parents, despite their own intense pain. They usually experience a desperate desire to make their parents happy again, and the message to “be strong for your Mum and Dad” tends to be given by others implicitly, explicitly, and often. The siblings’ demeanour is then perceived as evidence that the surviving children have not been badly affected by the loss, making them even less likely to receive care and validation.

In addition, the presence of anger towards the dead sibling—let alone its expression—is usually viewed as highly inappropriate and unacceptable, even in families that can speak relatively freely about emotions.

3. There’s usually no space to talk within the family—and nowhere to talk outside of it either.

The sense of isolation siblings experience is exacerbated to varying degrees by the social stigma around suicide, which makes discussing the death with people outside the family very challenging. It’s still common for people who end their lives to be disparaged as “selfish” and “cowardly.” Research has also shown that suicidally bereaved families receive less community support compared to families that lose a member to “natural” causes, and may be avoided and/or blamed for the death.

Many siblings described being extremely hurt by the actions of those they hoped would support them following the suicide. Some friends abandoned them altogether, while others silenced them with platitudes, told them they “shouldn’t feel like that,” or acted as though the death had never happened. Some siblings spoke of friendships ending due to impatience that the siblings “still weren’t over it,” while others said they deliberately withdrew from their friends. After what they had been through, they found themselves experiencing their peers as immature, unempathetic and/or focused on trivial concerns.

Even when friends are available and supportive, siblings may feel pressure to swallow their hurt to avoid awkwardness. They may also stigmatise themselves negatively due to guilt, and self-isolate out of shame.

4. The loss can cast a very long shadow, affecting the siblings’ sense of security in the future, in relationships, and in life itself.

A sibling’s suicide can severely damage any sense of trust in the stability of meaningful relationships. If your brother or sister—one of your absolute constants in life—can leave like this, anything feels possible and very little feels secure. Research shows that:

  • Numerous siblings became preoccupied with the fear of losing other loved ones to death or being abandoned by them.
  • Many worried that the tragedy of the suicide would be repeated in their own future families. Two academics noted a deep sense of ‘maternal inadequacy’ amongst some of the female siblings, who avoided having the children they longed for out of fear and conflicted feelings related to the loss.
  • Some older siblings felt they had relived the loss in their romantic relationships—entering unsatisfying or painful pairings which ultimately resulted in their being abandoned or let down again.

5. Many siblings eventually create meaningful, purposeful lives out of this emotional nightmare—with a greater sense of perspective and empathy.

During research interviews, many sibling suicide survivors spoke of experiencing a profound shift in perspective over time. Many became involved in suicide prevention activities and some chose to become counsellors or therapists, dedicating their lives to helping others survive their emotional struggles. They spoke of valuing the increased compassion and empathy their life experiences had given them, even though they had suffered profoundly.

This has been my own experience, though nobody could have told me at the time without getting their head bitten off. It makes writing about sibling suicide bereavement a tough ask, knowing that while you are in the experience—angry, guilty, isolated, broken-hearted or just broken depending on the day—it’s so hard to take in even the tiniest sliver of hope that things could ever be better.

But in time, they will. Take it from someone who never, ever believed it when it was said to me.

 

At work the other day, a sickening howl came out of an office near mine. It was guttural. Primal. Unfortunately familiar. A few years ago, it was me making that sound at work and I had made it many times before. It is the howl of those left behind after a suicide. It is a […]

via Silent Screams – Suicide Facts and Help — Queen Bee Living

There comes a time when you look into the mirror and you realize that what you see is all that you will ever be. And then you accept it. Or you kill yourself. Or you stop looking in mirrors. – Tennessee Williams Whatever you do, don’t succumb to the pressure upon you, it doesn’t bode […]

via Suicide, the fall of many — Finally Unchained

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