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How I Answer When Someone Asks What Being Suicidal Feels Like

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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.

For the last few days, I have felt depression slowly creeping up on me. I’m not sad; I am beaten down and tired. It’s the weekend so I have been able to easily give myself time to rest and breathe without really having to rearrange anything. This does actually lift a weight off my shoulders because if I do have to rearrange things to take care of myself, I feel guilty, and sometimes even though I know better, I try to push through.

I know I will feel better — maybe tomorrow, or maybe the next day — because I am already starting to feel more like myself again. But since I’ve taken this day, and it’s a brand-new year, I have been doing some reflecting and thinking about how far I have come and how much I have grown as a person. Ten years ago, I was just starting this journey, I didn’t know about self-care, medications were scary, and I thought I was “crazy.” I never would have dreamed that I would speak publicly in my community about what it is like to live with mental illness and share my experience with complete strangers. And maybe it is just because I am here in this moment now, or maybe it’s because I am thinking about doing another presentation, but I am reminded of a question I am so often asked at these talks: what is it like to feel suicidal? It’s not an easy question to answer and sometimes I refuse to discuss it, but despite that, I have put a lot of thought into my response.

You see, for me, it’s not about wanting to die, or wanting to kill myself. Sometimes when I get overwhelmed, or my anxiety is really high and I am feeling depressed, I think about what it would be like to just not exist. Not that I want to harm myself but, “what if I just wasn’t here anymore?” I get tired and frustrated and I feel like giving up. Living with depression and anxiety is hard. Sure, tomorrow could be better, or a few days from now, or even a month from now, but when I get depressed, I don’t see that. I see the lifelong battle that is ahead of me. You know how people like to say “after the storm comes a rainbow,” or “there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel?” I don’t see that either because I know it will be back. I get so frustrated with myself because: “how am I here again?” For me and so many others, it doesn’t matter that the next three months could be amazing with barely any “down days.” When depression makes itself known, it knocks the wind out of your sails, extinguishing all of the light, leaving you in complete darkness. It’s a process that will be repeated many times over for the rest of my life. So, when things get bad, I find myself thinking: “why bother?”

Waking up every morning and having to make the choice to get up, get ready for the day, go to work and push the negative thoughts aside is exhausting. When your own mind is constantly telling you that you are worthless, that you are a burden to the ones you love, that everyone, the entire world really, would be better off without you, that you aren’t a confident and capable woman and so on, you sometimes start to believe it. I work every day on preventing my brain from automatically defaulting to suicidal ideation when things aren’t going well and for the most part currently, I am doing well with that. It’s only when things are really bad and I am really low that the thoughts and longing to no longer be here start to inch their way into my consciousness. Again, it’s not because I want to harm myself, and it isn’t because I want to die. It’s because, at that moment, I am tired. I’m tired because I have fought this battle so many times before. I am beaten down. I feel broken. I feel broken because I am here again and I don’t understand why. Why can’t I just get better and stay better? Something in me must be broken because no matter how many times I survive, no matter how many days or weeks or months pass without a major depressive period, I always end up back here in this moment feeling like my life is more of a burden than a blessing.

Sometimes the good times aren’t enough. Knowing that you will face this for the rest of your life brings a feeling of such great hopelessness that death feels like a welcome solution, and you just don’t want to fight anymore.

For me, that is what it feels like to be suicidal, and that is the answer I give when I feel comfortable answering that question.

Over the years, I’ve learned to take self-care seriously, and have with the help of my doctors found strategies that help me to manage when I start to spiral. So while it is not always the case, this time — because I took action immediately when I started to feel the first signs of depression creeping in — I was able to prevent myself from falling into that cycle. However, I never forget what it feels like.

Photo by Morgan Vander Hart on Unsplash

Originally published: January 15, 2020
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