6 Lessons I Want to Share This World Suicide Prevention Day
I’ve struggled a lot to write something for World Suicide Prevention Day. I don’t know why, maybe because I’m not in the peachiest place and I need self-convincing too; maybe because I don’t want to write the same thing over and over; maybe because statistics scare me; maybe because being a suicide prevention activist is both a frustrating and blessed activity. Probably a combination of all and even more.
My experience with over eight years of major depressive disorder (MDD) and a rapidly advancing arthritis have shown me that with suicide, you can’t declare yourself 100% recovered. Somehow, over the years, every time I feel like I have it dominated, the thoughts appear again. Not as strong as before, not an elaborate plan or an indelible decision, but more as nonstop speech that won’t shut up about all the reasons to “pull the plug.” Even in the moments when those thoughts are hard to accept, I recognize that I’ve learned many, many lessons in the last few years. And, as I’ve always thought the best way to create awareness is to speak honestly and bluntly from the soul, I’ll try to summarize my biggest lessons.
In many cases, like mine, suicide isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime, isolated event. Suicide is like that physical characteristic you don’t like about yourself: some days you notice it a lot when you look in the mirror and can’t stop thinking about it, while on others, it’s like it doesn’t exist. But with suicide, it comes with a huge guilt trip: no one likes to feel like no matter how good are the circumstances, how many people surround you or which goals you have achieved, you still think about being gone.
Earlier this year, I found myself with suicide thoughts for the first time in months and I became severely anxious and depressed. How could I be so “miserable,” “insensitive” and “weak” to be thinking about suicide again?! I try my hardest to deny it, scolding my mind until my therapist told me it will always be a part of my reality. It’s up to me to magnify them or to just let them be until they disappear for a while. Acceptance comes a long way. Of course, I’ll never be satisfied being a suicidal person — no one wants to be that when they grow up. But at least when they appear nowadays, I don’t punish myself, I don’t feel that guilty and I don’t hate myself for being the way I am. I don’t celebrate those thoughts or feelings; I rather stay in an open, vulnerable and honest place in which I take care of myself for this automatic mode of my brain.
To gain acceptance, it’s necessary to evaluate this huge reality that is named suicide you are living. Thoughts? Feelings? Ideas? Elaborate plans? Attempts? It isn’t pleasant to have any of those, but in terms of risk evaluation and measurements to take, there is a huge gap and difference. Like a scale, which indicates if you have to take preventive action or a crisis intervention when your life is at risk. In my mind, I have frequent thoughts like “I’m so overwhelmed I want to just kill myself,” and I feel tired. But I don’t take any actions in consequence of that feeling, which makes me feel more in control of my life as I see that even when my mind is chaotic, I can still hold onto life.
When I’m absolutely desperate, my first urge is to self-harm as that’s the easiest way I feel like I have to calm the pain. But, I found some activities make me feel like I’m releasing the same kind of tension. In my case, I cook or I cut my hair. When I do so, I feel a very similar sensation to when I used to injure myself, minus the risk. Try to find ways in which release all the tension, pain and exhaustion. Dancing, painting, papier-mâché, ripping paper apart, getting tattoos, cooking, doing ceramics, exercising, drawing doodles in your skin, cutting your hair and many more strategies are often used. Find whatever works for you and get into action.
For help, for company, for a distracting thought, for a hug. I wouldn’t be writing this today if I hadn’t asked for help. It takes a lot of courage but having an honest conversation about what you are thinking, feeling or planning can save your life. Sometimes all you need is holding — a space where you can vent freely, knowing you won’t be judged. The bravest thing you’ll do is open your mouth, call that therapist, tell your mom “I want to die, please don’t leave me alone.” These are the details that kept me alive, nothing extraordinary. And if I could do so (a severely depressed human with mobility issues and social anxiety), so can you.
I am a true believer that, as an activist, I have done nothing else than listen and offer my time to those who need a safe, non-judgmental space in which vulnerability is embraced and accepted. I am also a firm proponent that every single person, no matter if they are in the field of health services or a mental health patient, can be and should be suicide prevention defenders. The only tool you need is an open ear and empathy. We have to be able to pay attention to those around us keeping in mind that suicide often warns with attitude, mood, a subtle joke or a random comment. We need to be brave enough to react to those warning signs without chaos and panic and guilt trips, but rather by asking how they are feeling, which are their plans, what keeps them motivated for tomorrow and what their support system is like. Listen and evaluate. Listen and redirect to a mental health professional, to a hospital, to a heads-up for their family and friends. We all can save lives.
Three years ago, in my worst depressive episode ever, I couldn’t even recognize myself in the mirror and I looked at my pictures with disgust and confusion as if the moments in which I was happy had been erased from my mind. As I went through photo albums, I saw this picture of myself as a baby in a bikini, full belly out, eating sand on the beach, laughing. And I remember that all I wished was to be that calm and happy for a second. So I started selecting photos of me, of my family, of my friends, of foods I’ve tried, of places I’ve gone to. I chose them with a single criterion: pictures that made me feel hopeful, grateful, calm and safe. And I placed them with duct tape all around in the walls of my room. I still do so, and the benefit has been huge. They are there every day when I wake up, and every night when I go to sleep. They are the last and first thing I see. To have them there helps me to remember all the moments and places I’ve felt complete, and it makes me fight harder to repeat those trips, to hug those people once more, to eat that waffle, to feel that way. It’s a visual help to see why I have to stay alive and fight, even when times are hard because I’m surrounded by love.
My only wish is to have a world in which World Suicide Prevention Day is every day, and where people understand that if we attempt to die by suicide, we aren’t doing it for selfish reasons. My only wish is for every single person to realize a person dies by suicide roughly every 40 seconds and that it’s everyone’s job to reduce those statistics. Know you are not alone, and I’m here any time.
Photo via contributor.