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We Need to Talk About Chronic Illness and Suicide

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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.

My life has forever been changed since I was officially diagnosed with my mental illnesses, even more so than the period when I began deeply struggling, but before my diagnoses. In that period, my depression and anxiety compounded into suicidal ideation, and eventual attempts. I was hospitalized for it, and that was the beginning of my journey with mental illness, a less than ideal start to an already unpleasant series of experiences. Since then, I haven’t fully escaped suicidal ideation, and I hate to admit I’ve had some big setbacks. For a long time, I would say I was stable. That was, until my health challenges expanded into the physical realm.

A few years ago, I developed a movement disorder, tardive dyskinesia, as a result of a medication I was taking. It should’ve been temporary, but it has solidified and become permanent. For some strange reason, I also developed other movement disorders that, as of this writing, have not been diagnosed. Not from a lack of trying to find answers, but because the symptoms are mysterious, don’t really make sense together and all of the tests so far are coming back negative.

I knew from the time I began to be depressed in middle school, I would likely face uphill challenges with my own mind for the rest of my life, and it seems I am following that projection. But I never imagined physical illnesses, especially not chronic movement disorders, being part of the equation. It has tested me in ways I didn’t know were possible, and I have persevered so far. But that doesn’t mean I’ve always thrived or even saw a way for me to survive.

I was proud of my journey to overcome suicidal ideation. I spent years in that dark place, and after a lot  of hard work, I managed to come out of it. I knew it wasn’t something I would be “cured” of, but it was refreshing to be free of the constant suicidal thoughts I had dealt with for so long. Years went by without suicide ever seeming like an attractive “answer” to my problems. And especially since I was a college student through that, it was the perfect time for me to put that aside for a while. But my chronic illnesses, similar to my mental illnesses, snowballed and eventually seeped into my mind.

Every day, from the time I wake up to the time I lie down at night, my body is ticking and jerking in uncontrollable ways that are uncomfortable, embarrassing and painful. It has ruined friendships, obstructed relationships and inhibited my lifestyle. It has worsened my depression, sucked up my time and energy and brought me back to a place of seeking nothing but isolation and simultaneously feeling lonely. In summary: It isn’t fun. And to be told there is a very slim likelihood my tics will ever go away, it brings me back to that same place I was in when I was suicidal, but in a different way.

Intrusive, destructive thoughts have clouded my judgment at times. Thoughts like:

What is the point of an existence like this, having to fight my body and mind all day long?

I’m never going to recover from anything I struggle with, there is no light at the end of my tunnel.

All of my hopes, dreams and ambitions are changed forever when having to think about dealing with these things.

You can probably see how those things can easily lead to suicidal thoughts again. My experience, unfortunately, is not unique. Many people share this painful reality of being sick physically and consider ending their life. They are burdens that go hand-in-hand, but shouldn’t ever have to be carried by one person at the same time. It’s well overdue people in both the physical and mental illness worlds recognize this important and dangerous overlap.

Just as suicide can affect anyone, chronic illness can strike anyone. I didn’t expect either when I was young and a bit naive to the realities of the world. But here I am now, dealing with both, and silence in the world about what I am going through doesn’t help. But, how true that is for everyone? Not talking about real issues doesn’t help anyone, but only serves to hurt people. Conversations around chronic illness aren’t fun, and neither are conversations about suicide. Mixing the two hurts my head and heart, and I imagine I’m not alone in that, either. But you know what? It needs to be talked about as long as it exists.

If you deal with chronic illness, suicidal ideation and/or both, I have a couple things to say. One, your feelings of wanting the pain of either/both to go away are totally valid. No one wants to struggle, and it is our nature to not want to be uncomfortable, especially in our own skin. However, there is a point where this natural reaction becomes self-destructive, and we cannot allow ourselves to get to that point. Take it from someone who has been there, it isn’t ever that easy. You deal with a lot, a lot, every day. To just say, “I’m tired of fighting” is OK, because you have a right to be tired. But again, if that sours and spoils into something worse, it may be time to get some help.

If you deal with either or both of these struggles, remember, you are part of a family of people near and far from you who cannot ever fully explain what it is like to deal with these things. Your friends and family care about you, but so does everyone in our global family. We share a bond that transcends blood and genetics. Life sucks for us sometimes, and it isn’t always easy to admit that. But since you’re reading this, it means you’ve been through some tough times and survived. There isn’t anything on this planet that could break you, because you are stronger and braver and more beautiful than you could know. Continue the good fight, always strive for what may seem impossible and be kind to yourself. Keep going, I believe in you.

Getty image by DragonImages

Originally published: February 12, 2021
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