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The Question That Helped Me Understand I Was Passively Suicidal

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Editor's Note

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

After battling depression for a few years, I was used to being asked by doctors about suicide. Every time I went to a new doctor, or often when I went to the same one, I would be asked the same question: “Have you ever tried to harm yourself?” Or, “have you ever thought about ending your life?” 

My answer was always the same: No. I never explained it, but I should have. Because the “no” had nothing to do with me or my mental health. It had everything to do with my friend. A few years earlier, I had lost a really good friend to suicide. And after that, I swore to myself that no matter what happened, I would never ever let that happen to me.

Of course, that’s not how depression works. That’s not how any disease works. Even if you’ve seen it kill someone else, you can’t just decide that it won’t kill you. 

But that didn’t mean I never thought about it. Since I was also in chronic pain at the time, the question — “have you ever thought about harming yourself?” — honestly felt ridiculous. Why would I need to harm myself? I’m in enough pain literally all the time. 

But then something happened that I will never forget. I had just been to a frustrating doctor appointment where they basically told me they would help me if I didn’t feel better in three months. At that point, being in that much pain for another day seemed impossible, let alone three months. I was walking across a city street with my mom and when we got to the other side, I wished I had been hit by a car. It seemed so much easier. Then, all my pain would go away. It wasn’t the first time I thought that, and it wouldn’t be my last. 

Hours later, I thought about what that meant and it terrified me. It terrified me that I had been upset to have lived. I couldn’t understand it.

The next time I saw a new doctor, it was a psychiatrist. He asked the usual questions about self-harm, but then he asked another one: “Have you ever thought about going to sleep and not waking up?”

And I almost started crying. Because not only was it something I had thought about, it was something I had wished for. Besides chronic pain, I was also dealing with chronic fatigue, both of which only went away when I was sleeping. I knew I didn’t want to die, but there were certainly times when I didn’t want to wake up either. When I thought everything would just be better if I could just sleep forever.

That was the first time I admitted this to a doctor. For the first time, I felt like I had a way to talk about what I had experienced. That no, I still absolutely would never ever die by suicide, because I was terrified of what happened to my friend. But yes, I certainly had moments when I wished I wasn’t alive.

Talking about this was so much less scary than I imagined. I always thought the second you say you don’t want to be alive, you get put in a psychiatric hospital. Or something serious happens. But nothing happened. He was concerned, and he made a plan to help me, but it was nothing extreme. It was clearly something he had seen before.

And to me, that was so reassuring. Growing up, I knew several people who had fought very serious illnesses, and in my family, life was a gift. It was something to be savored, to be enjoyed. So it was terrifying when suddenly that wasn’t how I felt about it. When I knew I should want to be alive, but at that moment I didn’t. But to realize that this is a condition, that it’s very common with depression, was a huge relief.

Now, I wasn’t scared to admit that to my psychologist and other doctors because even though to me it seemed terrifying and so wrong, I knew that it wasn’t. I didn’t have to hide how I honestly felt, and I didn’t feel like I was lying about how serious my illness was. 

I hope that if you’re reading this and can relate to it, you talk to somebody about it. Because people can help, and there are answers. Admitting these thoughts doesn’t make them any more likely to happen, it just means that you can get the help you need.

Photo by Mohsen Ameri on Unsplash

Originally published: March 16, 2021
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