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What Happened When Suicidal Thoughts Interrupted My Mindfulness Visualization

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.

Mindfulness has been explained to me as being aware. Present. Accepting. The idea of being aware of your thoughts and feelings and accepting them for what they are. Feelings. Thoughts. Not good. Not bad. Present. Taking a neutral stance.

As I was struggling to practice mindfulness, I was told the analogy of imagining your thoughts as leaves floating down a river. They come and they go. Sometimes there is more than one. Nevertheless, the water continues to flow, carrying the leaves.

Being mindful is letting the leaves float by instead of wading through the water trying to catch and hold on to each and every one. This is the image I see when I practice mindfulness: my thoughts turning into leaves floating by on the river. Me, on the shore, letting the leaves come and go.

While this is the ideal — being mindful, accepting, present, aware, letting the leaves float by — honestly, that isn’t always my reality.

I struggle with depression and anxiety. Suicidal ideation is almost constant. Over the years, I have been able to make progress on letting these thoughts float down the river. Being able to be present in the moment is hard but at times it is possible, even though depression is anchoring me to my past whilst anxiety is trying to shove me into an unknown future and suicidal ideation is convincing me there is no future.

Recently, I was practicing mindfulness, focusing on being present, aware, watching my thoughts float on by. Until, unexpectedly, a tree falls across my river. The tree blocks the water that was so carelessly flowing and effortlessly carrying the leaves downstream. Instead of hearing the trickling of the water, it is now a rushing roar as the water fights over, under and around the unwelcome, unwanted, unexpected fallen tree.

For me, that night, that tree is suicide. I have come to accept the passive thoughts, recognizing they might be a lifelong struggle and be constantly present, always a leaf floating by. Tonight is different. Tonight, instead of the passive thought, it is intense:

The tree fell.

My life has no meaning.

I have no future.

There is no point in trying.

I am destined to fail.

Give up.

Stop.

There is no use in trying.

What’s the plan?

What means are available?

When?

My thoughts continue in this downward spiral. The leaves have become stuck. The rare leaf that is able to overcome the tree and continue floating is mangled, damaged and unnoticed.

I’m reminded of the time I was a teen and was floating down the river in our small town on an inner tube. We came across a tree that had fallen. We thought if we angled just right, we could float on by. My sister did. I came next and was immediately sucked to the tree. The inner tube left me stuck against the tree as it continued to float down the river. My friend, who was behind me, threw her inner tube to the side and came to help me battle the tree.

I’m reminded of the feeling… being stuck against this tree. At that moment in time, as a teen, my thoughts were focused on keeping my head above water.

Back to the present and suddenly I am no longer observing the river, I am in the water. Jammed against the tree. Now I am envisioning letting go. Being sucked under the water. Disappearing under the tree and into the current. Sucked away by the undertow.

But alas, a friend comes along, helps me navigate the tree and the engulfing water. Gets me to shore, or in this case a hospital.

The mindfulness exercise, which typically leaves me feeling grounded, has left me exhausted, drained and unsure of the future. This time, instead of sitting in my own bed about to drift off to sleep, I am sitting in a hospital bed, trying to overcome the effects of the fallen tree.

I have a team now that is helping to clear the river from not only the tree but also the backlog of leaves. The water is no longer clear and is quite murky.

I have help now, but it is still a struggle every day. Being mindful is a tool and sometimes it leads to feeling present and aware, while other times it just might lead to help that you didn’t know you needed and are still unsure you want.

Photo by Kyle Cesmat on Unsplash

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