Struggling With Suicidal Thoughts When You Have Chronic Pain
Shhh…I’m about to tell you a secret, one so deep I suspect it is shared by many in the chronic pain community, and yet I have rarely, if ever, seen it discussed openly. I am speaking here of the thought that runs through my mind every single day, and it is this: “Damn, is it really worth it to keep on living? If I must live like this, should I really keep trying? We don’t let animals suffer this way, so why is everyone OK with me doing it?”
Why are we so unwilling to say these things? Why can’t we be honest about these kinds of thoughts? As many members of the chronic pain community may tell you, one of the greatest dangers can come when we are thought to have…primary depression.
That’s right, if you are in moderate to severe pain and you are questioning the value of your life, you are supposed to be…well, if not cheerful, then at least accepting, and certainly suicidal thoughts are not supposed to happen!
I’m here to tell you they do happen though. They happen every day, sometimes every hour for me. Sometimes it is just a blip – it passes through my head, is barely acknowledged and then I move on. Sometimes they are devastating and all of my strength is devoted to picking myself up and moving forward with my day, my life, in the same fashion as before.
As humans, we put a high value on hope. We are supposed to hope for a cure, hope for pain relief, hope for things to get better, and yet sometimes things are not going to get better. So what am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to not have these thoughts? How is anyone in my situation supposed to not have these thoughts?
I would venture to say that for the most part I am not depressed. I have been depressed before, I know what it is like, how it can tear life apart, how dull and gray you can get. I am still capable of laughter and joy, I still look forward to things. I still have the desire to do things. That is the rub here, folks: I do not lack the desire to be active, to work, to play, to enjoy my life. There are many things in the world that still fill me with wonder.
In college, as a theatre major, I did a scene from the play “‘night, Mother” by Marsha Norman. As someone who has experienced depression, I can tell you I was always struck by a few lines in the play I felt perfectly encapsulated what depression was about and also why people take their own lives. The lines go something like this: “So, see, it doesn’t much matter what else happens in the world or in this house, even. I’m what was worth waiting for and I didn’t make it. Me…who might have made a difference to me…I’m not going to show up, so there’s no reason to stay, except to keep you company, and that’s…not reason enough because I’m not…very good company. Am I.”
I love lots of things – my children, my dog, my hobbies, fine art, good food, the way the sun feels on a soft spring day as the breeze kisses my skin softly. But when you have a condition like mine, you see these things taken from you slowly, one by one; or more accurately you see your ability to interact with these things taken from you. I am a passionate person, and I have so much love for the world we live in, and yet day after day, I can’t express it or experience it because the pain and fatigue just leave me in a place where the only driving need and desire is for the pain to stop.
So, this is the struggle then, and one I think many people with chronic pain deal with. My struggle is to go on and keep finding new ways, new reasons to keep living. Right now, I still feel I can do good in the world. Thanks to technology I can put these words to paper and maybe help make people more aware of what their friends and family with pain conditions go through. Let everyone know that these feelings, well, they must be somewhat normal, right?
Please don’t dismiss your loved ones who are dealing with this when they have these feelings. Remind them what they have for them still in the world, and remember if you had to deal with this, you might question the value of going on living too. And let them express themselves without judgment; perhaps the greatest burden we carry day in and day out is the burden of not being allowed to express how difficult and painful we find our lives, and how sometimes, we don’t want to go on. The good news is that most of us keep going.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.
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Thinkstock photo via MariaDubova.