When the Suicidal Thoughts Don’t Go Away
I’ve written about the topic of suicide before, specifically attempts and aftermath. This time, I would like to go back to the thoughts that can lead to suicide attempts and completions. The first time I was hospitalized for suicidal thoughts and intent was on Halloween of 2014. Everything seemed to happen all at once, and I ended up pleading with my father to take me into the hospital for an evaluation because it was becoming so overwhelming.
Hospitalization for mental illness is a totally different can of worms we can look at later, but for the sake of clarity, let’s just say the goal for mental hospitals is to stabilize and move on. The most common are probably 72-hour holds, but this is only three days. Then, you’re back in the real world feeling burnt out and unmotivated to an intense degree.
What happens when the thoughts that got you sent to the psychiatric hospital don’t go away? Perhaps forever?
In my case, those thoughts are old friends. Since before my first attempt at 13 years old, I have been having a constant barrage of suicidal ideation. Those thoughts never truly go away for me. I try to not dwell on these thoughts, but they continue to stick around. Whispering insidiously in the back of my mind, fanning the coals until they become flames again.
The way I look at it, there are two types of suicidal ideation: passive and active. Passive ideation, to me, is not a danger zone. If I get hit by a car or something like that, then it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. However, I don’t have a plan or a time table. The majority of the time, my thoughts fall into this passive category. Just lingering in the back.
On the other hand, active ideation is not only concerning but also extremely dangerous. Every time I attempted suicide, my thoughts fell into this active category. When I reach this stage, those thoughts turn into hallucinations, and my psychosis hits full swing (psychosis is also a topic for another time).
My current job as Director of Health at Colorado State University puts me in situations that have the possibility of being extremely triggering and can throw me off my groove to the point where I’ve spent 30 out of 40 hours in bed in a two-day time period. You couldn’t tell just by looking. The only thing out of place were my beat up slippers I wore to every meeting in a week.
The struggle that each of us faces is different. The old stand-by for trying to “help” people with mental health issues is to say, “Oh, but so many people have it worse than you. Why should you be sad?” However, this is not only wrong, but it can also be dangerous. Plenty of people in the world have worse lives and situations than I do, but pain, especially mental pain, is extremely relative. In other words, I feel pain in my own way, just as you feel pain in yours.
The point I’m trying to make is this: We have been told since we were small not to judge a book by its cover, and this remains a lesson we can continually learn. Just because I can put on a happy face and tell awful puns doesn’t mean I am not embroiled in my own battle against an adversary that has come dangerously close to winning multiple times. Just because I showed up unshaven and bleary-eyed doesn’t mean it wasn’t an uphill struggle to even get to the office.
The same applies to others. Family members, friends, community members, strangers, they all have a story. We would be doing each and every one of them a grave injustice by not taking the time to listen and believe.
It is our duty as citizens of the world and stewards for mental health to create a world that can be free and beautiful. A better world where everyone is treated with the dignity and love they deserve. The time has come for a permanent revolution in our hearts and minds. We can create this world, but it all starts with a single act of defiance against a culture that demonizes or pities mental illness. Writing these articles are my act of defiance. You are not alone, and I hope you can find yours as well.
Image via Thinkstock.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.