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Yes, I Know My Suicidal Ideation Could Be Worse, That’s the Problem

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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.

I deal with chronic suicidal ideation — it’s always there, in the back of my mind, where it’s made itself a comfy little home. Some days it’s louder, and some days it’s quieter. On the days that it’s louder, it’s really important for me to reach out to someone for support so that I know I’m not alone in it. On the quieter days, it’s also important that I’m supported when seemingly little things go wrong because that can prevent the ideation from getting louder. The problem is that sometimes the help or advice I get from others is not helpful at all, and can actually make things worse.

I really hate when people say something along the lines of “well, it could be worse.” Yes. That’s literally the point. It could be worse. Much, much worse. And that’s exactly why I’m trying to reach out right now. I’m trying to avoid getting to that worse point. Saying “well, it could be worse” is not the inspiring, encouraging statement many people think it is. Saying it could be worse does, in fact, make it worse.

Chronic suicidal ideation comes with a certain level of fragility — though it’s passive and dormant at times, it doesn’t take much for it to become active. It’s like a volcano — it could erupt at any time, and you’re not sure when, so there’s a certain level of caution that you have to have around them. When someone says “it could be worse,” they’re confirming exactly what’s on my mind. I am painfully aware that it could be worse — so aware of the “could be” and “what ifs” that it becomes overwhelming. Without someone saying that, I’ve already thought of the millions of ways things could get worse — my anxiety does not need that extra reminder. I think, “well, if I already feel this bad right now, and it could get worse, my only option is to just end it all now!” Of course, I logically know that isn’t the answer, but when the anxiety becomes overwhelming and I don’t see a way out, the belief I hold that things could get worse can be quite dangerous.

At the same time, I know that it’s in my best interest to reach out before it gets worse, before it gets to “That Point.” Small situations or triggers, if not addressed properly, can quite literally become a life or death situation. When someone comments on the fact that things could be worse, it dismisses the fact that I’ve tried really hard to avoid getting to that point and avoid getting to a point where it’s too late and I’m actively suicidal. If I reach out when things aren’t that bad, that should be celebrated because it means I”m doing what I need to do to keep myself safe. To be responded to with “oh it could be worse,” it makes me feel like my struggles aren’t valid and I don’t have the right to be bringing up my problems.

If I go to a friend with a problem, no matter how big or small, I’m not asking them to give me perspective on how it could be worse; I’m not asking them to fix it; I’m not asking them to convince me it’ll get better. All I need at that moment is for them to be there with me in that struggle for a bit — to witness what I’m going through and make me feel a little less alone.

I’ve always struggled with why people think it’s a good idea to say, “it could be worse.” I understand that it may be considered a way to provide perspective to someone else… but if you think about it the opposite way, it really doesn’t make any sense. What I mean is that if someone comes to you and tells you about this amazing thing that happened to them, you wouldn’t respond with “well, it could be better.” That would be completely inappropriate and dismissive. So if we don’t do that when good things happen, why do some people think it’s OK to do the opposite and say “it could be worse?” Can you imagine if every time something good happened to you, your best friends or loved ones told you to relax because it could be much better? I see both situations in the same way.

At that moment, it also doesn’t matter if things could be worse — what matters is that it’s bad right now, and that should be the focus. At the same time, just because others may have it worse, or just because you may have been worse off before, doesn’t mean that your pain at that moment is invalid. Your pain does not need to be the worst pain in the whole world, worse than anyone else’s pain, in order for you to be heard, seen, and supported.

Instead of saying “well, it could be worse” in a dismissive way, we should shift the narrative to “I know this can get a lot worse; I’m glad you reached out so we can work together so that it doesn’t get worse.” Sometimes all we need is to be listened to and validated at that moment — we don’t need to be told that our pain could be worse, or our situation could be worse. There’s so much power in not comparing our pain, and just recognizing that everyone experiences things differently, and some things may be worse than others, but all those situations are easier if we feel less alone.

So, the next time you’re thinking of reminding someone that things could be worse, try your best not to. You may not realize it at the time, but having a more empathetic, compassionate approach could truly save a life, and that could really make things better.

Photo by Debashis RC Biswas on Unsplash

Originally published: December 2, 2021
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