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The Reality of Living With Suicidal Thoughts

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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 741-741.

I’ve never tried to kill myself.

I came close once. I was eighteen and going through a dark night. Pacing around the house in overwhelming emotional pain I decided to carry out a plan. But I didn’t have what I needed to do it. That is the only thing that prevented me from going through with it. Other than that, I have never attempted suicide.

I think about suicide, sometimes often. As I slide into an episode of depression, my thoughts gradually descend, dwelling on self- harm, violence and eventually suicide. The more depressed I get, the darker the thoughts are. I begin to center on thoughts like how it would be better for everyone else, how it would end my own pain, how it just doesn’t matter. Still, there is never any action, never developing a plan of how to carry out a suicide. As much as my mind may fixate on the thought of ending my own life, there has never been any attempt.

I could tell you I’ve never attempted suicide because there is always a ray of hope, some small spark in the darkness, some sort of frayed rope to grasp onto. I could say it’s because of my loved ones, because of my family and my friends, that I have never tried to end my life. I could tell you my faith has been some sort of shield from the very worst of the worst and that somehow God has always brought me back from the brink. I could tell you these things, but I would be a liar.

The truth is I have never attempted suicide because I am afraid.

I’m afraid of what might happen, of how I might survive. I’m afraid of dying and what that would do to my family, especially my kids. I’m afraid of death itself because there is so much unknown about the afterlife. I am fearful and that keeps me from attempting suicide.

These fears don’t stop the thoughts, though. I’m still haunted by images of how I could kill myself, what it would look like when people found me, what the deed itself would be like. I can’t always stop these thoughts. They come like flashes of lightning burning their images onto my mind’s eye. Then I begin to ruminate on the thoughts, to dwell with them. At times, they play in my head like an endless loop, repetitively banging their way into my conscience.

This is the reality for someone who lives with suicidal ideation.

Just because someone thinks about suicide doesn’t mean they are going to attempt it. This truth gets skewed by media and pop psychology. We are led to believe that only someone who is serious about killing themselves will think about suicide. We are told “normal” people don’t think about self-harm, morbid things or ending their life. Those kinds of things are reserved for people who are “disturbed.”

These kinds of thoughts are a reality for me. I can’t control them or stop them. They aren’t what I want to have rolling around in my brain, but there they are. On good days, they are fleeting thoughts, popping in and out, only lasting for a few moments. On rough days, the thoughts stick around. They stay and entrench themselves in my thinking, breaking into most every train of thought.

I’m not happy that my thoughts turn this way. I’d love a surefire way to keep it from happening. All I can do is manage the thoughts, try to treat them like clouds floating by, not taking hold of them so they can pass. I can do the work to make sure they remain just thoughts, never manifesting into action. I can keep them from taking control.

Still, the thoughts do come. It’s tiring having to fight the thoughts and lies all the time. See, I don’t just get a thought of, “I should kill myself” out of the blue too often. Usually, it is crouched in a cluster of lies. I’m not good enough. No one really cares. My family would be better off without me. I’m nothing more than a screw up and can’t do anything right. These are the thoughts that batter at the doors of my heart. If I begin to believe them for a moment, they lead me to the inevitable conclusion that I should kill myself. So, I have to battle the lies to keep the suicidal thoughts at bay.

This is the reality of living with my broken brain. I wish I could call a time out, take a break from the battering of lies and suicidal thoughts. But I don’t get that luxury. Yes, there are times when it is better, times when it’s not a constant barrage. There are times when the thoughts are fleeting and easily pass by. Still, they are there. Still, I have to remain on guard against them so I don’t spiral into hopelessness.

As much work as it is to be vigilant against suicidal ideation, it’s better than the alternative of obsessing over these kinds of thoughts. They can quickly eat away at me, taking a deep hold and urging me towards action more and more. Don’t mishear what I’m saying: I may not have attempted suicide yet, but I have been very tempted by it. When the voices get bad, when the thoughts won’t leave my heart alone, when I am crushed by the lies and demons, it is tempting to just end it all. I become convinced no one needs me or the people I love would be better without me. Getting to that place is scary. Getting to that place is what I want to avoid. Getting to that place is defeat.

So, I fight on against the lies and the thoughts of suicide. I fight to keep the healthy thoughts more numerous than the dangerous ones. I fight to prevent my children from losing their father. I fight to live. It’s hard, but it’s getting easier. I’m learning mindfulness and some other tricks to add to my arsenal against suicidal ideation. This isn’t a battle I can do alone, so I talk to my therapist about it. I try to lean on friends in the dark, hard times.

Overall, this is something I am learning to constantly live with, sitting side by side with these dangerous thoughts but not letting them control me. This is in part what it means for me to live with mental illness. I live in a battle, a struggle, an internal war. But it’s a fight I don’t have to lose.

Just because I have suicidal thoughts doesn’t mean I’m going to die by suicide. Remember this as you maybe wrestle with your own thoughts. You are not on a path of destruction just because you can’t get the thought of suicide out of your head. You may need some help, maybe some medication to help you fight back the demons, maybe some therapy to help you understand it all. Suicidal thoughts don’t have to control us. Suicide isn’t our inevitable demise. We may never rid ourselves of the thoughts and ideations, but we can still live healthy, long lives. And living is the point after all.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via Victor_Tongdee.

Originally published: July 25, 2017
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