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17 Metaphors for Suicidal Ideation to Show People Who Don't Understand


Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

No matter how empathetic you are, it can be difficult (if not impossible) to truly understand what it’s like to go through suicidal ideation unless you’ve experience it yourself. It’s not surprising; after all, we as a species are wired with a strong survival instinct, so how can anyone who hasn’t gone though it understand the desire to die?

Perhaps that’s why you’re here; someone you love has told you about their suicidal thoughts, and you are desperate to understand what they go through in order to help them. Perhaps you’re on the other side of the fence, and want to help your loved ones understand what it is you go through in a unique way.

Whatever your reason for being here, we hope this helps. We asked our mental health community how they would describe living with suicidal ideation to someone who doesn’t understand, and picked out the metaphors we felt truly described the experience. We hope their answers help you whatever your purpose, and remember, if you live with suicidal thoughts or ideation: you’re not alone. You matter. The world would not be better off without you. We’re glad you’re still here.

Here’s what our community had to say:

1. “It’s like feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders. Any hope of a better future can’t be seen. Everything becomes dull and meaningless. Life becomes a chore that you don’t want to participate in.” — Jakob M.

2. “It’s feeling empty in the middle of an amazing moment. It’s cuddling your dog and thinking she would be better off without you, then realizing how silly that was to think.” — Acacia A.

3. “It’s like… breathing with a plastic bag over your head as you try to make sense of what you’re feeling.” — Reba E.

4. “It’s like drowning, except you know how to swim. The current is just too strong to stay afloat anymore. That current is your emotions. What strength you have left is your ability to swim.” — Miranda W.

5. “Think of the way other people long for the beach, or they long for a rainy day and a good book. They yearn for things that bring them comfort, time away from stress, even when they can’t necessarily set everything aside to make it happen immediately. It’s the same way, for me, with suicide. I went under for surgery a few times, and described the nowhere and nothingness I experienced, and how I imagine at times this is what death is like. And so, like most people would yearn for some innocuous escape from everyday life, I sometimes yearn for an escape not-so-harmless: the nowhere nothingness.” — Kristy H.

6. “It’s a feeling of emptiness. You just feel dead inside, a shell of the person you once were, apathetic towards your surroundings.” — Jason J.

7. “It’s like having a goal in life, except that goal is impossible to reach, but you don’t know that. You just keep living every day, making steps to achieve your goal, but having an inner voice that keeps saying ‘You’ll never succeed.’ So, you just stop trying.” — Amanda D.

8. “For me, it’s the whispering of a cold, calculating voice that suggests how to turn everything into a suicide attempt. When I’ve been at my darkest lows, that voice is always there, haunting even moments of levity with the suggestion that ‘this laughter won’t last.’” — Jacinta M.

9. “It’s like all thoughts are consumed into a black hole and the one dominating thought is that the suffering can only end if you die. When you feel like life won’t get better, it’s hard to try and think differently.” — Andrea G.

10. “It’s like having two people in your head. One of them is so depressed they want to end it all. The other one knows it’s going to be OK, but can’t get through to the first one. So they sit there and go back and forth, back and forth, until an outside force breaks the cycle. For me, that would be my husband talking me through it. There’s a lot of tears involved, because on top of all there’s no fear of dying, yet I’m scared to death because I’m not scared to death of the thought of suicide.” — Sarah H.

11. “It’s like a soda bottle being shook up by the thoughts. If I don’t have someone I trust to help get my feelings out slowly, the cap eventually blows off the top leaving a huge mess behind for me (or others) to clean up.” — Junior R.

12. “It’s like you’ve reached the end of the road, only to find (instead of the help you desperately need) the edge of a cliff with deadly jagged rocks below. You can’t go back the way you came. There are no side roads to turn to. It’s just this precipice and you… and as morbid as it may look to anyone else, the view to you look sorta beautiful: a place to rest. You know you shouldn’t go there. You know you should wait for the help to come. But you also know that the wind gets strong up here… strong enough to push you over that edge.” — Chloe C.

13. “It’s like constantly being on ‘high alert’ and looking for an escape route from a monster, only the monster is inside you.” — Megan G.

14. “It’s like a freight train full of all your thoughts, conflicts, anger and fear blasting through your head and you can’t get away from it, but you just need to make it stop.” — Stephanie S.

15. “It feels like you’re on a sinking ship, but regardless of how fast you swim or run, the water keeps rising. Eventually, the water fully swallows you. You try to keep fighting, but eventually you swallow too much.” — Maddison S.

16. “You ever drive home from work starving, see McDonald’s and just long for it even though you know perfectly well it’s a terrible choice? So you just ignore McDonald’s and keep driving? It’s like that.” — Amber E.

17. “It’s as if I’m sinking in quicksand and every time I try to get out, I sink further.” — Nikki O.

If you can relate, you’re not alone. You can find a list of resources here.

Photo by Lawrson Pinson on Unsplash