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When COVID-19 Threatens Your Suicide Safety Plan

I have lived with major depressive disorder (MDD) and suicidal ideation for the majority of my life. Since high school, I have convinced myself life is worth living because of the future. The vague possibilities of “the future” were never enough, though, so quickly I started using concrete future plans as my safety plans: stay around for a concert, for a trip, for an event or to see certain people. The idea was to always have something in the future I was looking forward to and something after that so I wouldn’t be left with nothing once that day passed. There have been canceled plans or events before that were road bumps along the way, but I always had multiple other things lined up and could grieve the small loss and pull myself back into the thought process life is worth living. But, everything has changed now. The coronavirus (COVID-19) — a new-to humans virus that causes respiratory infection and can lead to serious or fatal health complications — started a global pandemic, the United States went into a stay-at-home order and events started to be canceled. It started small.

No Trixxie Mattel show with my best friends.

No Saint Patrick’s Day festivities.

No work gala.

No daily/weekly recovery meetings.

My depression felt the blow of things I had been looking forward to for months, but there was a perceived end in sight. Things will be OK, we just have to get through a few weeks or a month without seeing friends or going places. I reassure myself over and over again I have bigger things ahead to look forward to. I’m put on a two-week medical isolation and have to learn what it means to deal with mental health and depression while stuck at home with just myself and my thoughts 24/7 without the ability to run to friends for support. The safer-at-home order extends in Los Angeles and more events are canceled.

No birthday party.

No bars open for my yearly trauma anniversary tradition of going out dancing with friends who make me feel safe and loved.

No road trip.

I tell my therapist about the difficulty I’m having and we start developing alternative coping strategies, but the losses are hitting harder and harder with every single additional one. Safer-at-home gets extended again and more safety measures are put into effect.

No Halsey concert.

No trip to Wisconsin.

No flying or time in airports.

No attending my little sister’s college graduation.

No barhopping my best friend’s 21st birthday.

We hear summer plans are most likely all canceled.

No gay pride.

No pool parties.

No concerts or music festivals.

Officials say to not expect any big event until Fall 2021. My head counts 18 months until October 2021.

I can’t explain how much it hurts. How do I explain that feeling of questioning if I should be alive or if I have life to look forward to? I wish I could explain how much it hurts. I hope you don’t know how much it hurts, but if you do, you are not alone in this.

My head starts cycling through the same thoughts and questions over and over. When will things be “normal” again? Will things get back to “normal” or is society changed forever? Can I risk picking something even further in the future to look forward to when it could get canceled sooner than I think? Will I be able to pull myself up from that loss? Is it ever going to get better? Am I ever going to get better? How do I stay alive when how I’ve learned to convince myself to do so has been pulled apart and made utterly useless in a matter of weeks?

I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know how to make suicidal thoughts stop or make depression not feel debilitating. I sure as hell can’t stop a disease or a pandemic. But I can continue to do what I’ve always done:

Talk to my therapist and psychiatrist.

Take medications.

Practice self-care.

Text and FaceTime friends.

Reach out to people.

Let honesty and vulnerability in on days when I have the courage.

I’m learning to be more honest about the days I’m not OK and have a list of trusted friends I reach out to in the moments I feel the crash of not having my “normal” safety plan.

I work on building new, entirely different safety plans.

I am learning to be OK with looking forward to smaller things like a cup of coffee the next day, wearing my favorite socks, trying to teach my cat a new trick, petting my cat, talking to my therapist next or FaceTiming a friend. I am learning to try to reframe the things that were seemingly meaningless before being looked at with a little bit of hope now. I’m learning how to tell the appropriate people truly how I’m feeling and the risk factors at play. I’m still not sure life is worth living, but I know I do not want COVID-19 to be the reason I choose to end my life. I still have thoughts of wanting to die daily, but I’m choosing to fight for an alternative, maybe not forever, but at least for now.

There is no “one-size-fits-all” safety plan that can keep us all alive or convince us it’s worth it, but I’ve been learning there’s more than one safety plan that can work. So if COVID-19 or anything else has compromised or obliterated your safety plan, please make a new one. If your brain won’t let you make one yourself, connect with professional and/or personal help that can assist you in doing so. We can all make it through this and everything else life is throwing at us, but we can’t do it alone. Suicide thrives on isolation. So, we can be physically distant for the safety and well-being of all, but we need to be more emotionally connected and honest than ever.

Reach out to your communities and/or find new ones online. I promise there are people who will walk through this with you and root for you, you may just not know them yet or they may not know you’re needing more support. You can call bullshit on all of this, but I’m putting out love and energy for all of us to make it through and will personally root for anyone who reaches out. We can do this y’all, so let’s kick ass together.

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Unsplash image by Jeffrey Wegrzyn