Navigating the Gray Space to Prevent Suicidal Thinking
Whenever somebody asks me if I ever attempted suicide, I’m not quite sure what the answer should be. Technically, no, in that I didn’t attempt suicide and fail. But also in a way yes, in that I tried to attempt suicide, but was prevented. I attempted to attempt suicide. This question seems so black-and-white to me, but in reality the truth is much more “gray.”
My journey with suicidal thinking started with chronic pain. I spent a long time suffering from chronic migraines. They had gotten to the point where they were nonstop and non-responsive to any type of medication or treatment. I was self-medicating with marijuana to ease the pain, only eventually my migraines persisted regardless of how much I used. I became addicted to cannabis and tried so hard to find a strong enough dosage and perfect strain to ease my pain. I also started abusing my prescription pain medication – thinking that more medication would help me, though this failed to work.
I was no longer able to work – the medications my doctors were giving me were affecting my ability to think clearly and remember things. I also was having other medical problems, including a condition that doctors couldn’t explain. I went to several doctors searching for answers, but was told something different from all of them. I was scared there was something permanently, severely, wrong with me – some sort of irreversible damage. Today I know the strange symptoms I had were due to fibromyalgia. But at the time, I was so scared and also so unbearably uncomfortable that I gave myself panic attacks.
On top of all that, I was struggling with a toxic relationship and unstable mental health. I was struggling with suicidal ideation for a long time, but eventually I reached a breaking point. Lacking a support system and with no hope of getting better, I decided I had enough. I decided it was time to end it all. I wanted relief from my pain and from life itself. I saw no other way of improving my life or getting help – I was exhausted from going to so many doctors and seemingly only getting worse. So, I decided to carry out my suicide plan that I had for quite some time: overdose.
The “problem”, however, was that I already hid my medications from myself when I was in a more logical state. I asked my partner to hide my medications from me, suggesting to hide them in her safe, so I couldn’t access them if I ever got desperate. She was reluctant to do this at first because she didn’t want to have an unequal dynamic in our relationship. However, I think when someone is suicidal, the partner needs to help the one who is sick stay safe. People who are suicidal are, in my experience, not thinking clearly and could possibly hurt themselves if their partners don’t step up for them in that moment. That said, I convinced her that it was necessary and she finally agreed. Fast-forward to my frenzied panic of wanting to die, I now regretted this decision. I searched everywhere for my pills, with the intent of taking them if I found them, but to no avail.
Luckily, I had an appointment with my psychiatrist the next morning. When I got there, she could tell something was wrong. I told her everything – I told her that I wanted to be 5150’d because I didn’t feel safe at home and had nowhere else to go. She agreed. Firefighters picked me up and I was admitted to the mental hospital. I stayed for 1 week. While that’s a whole other story, I can say that it was a productive visit. It started me on the life I wanted to live.
I moved away, left my partner, and stayed with my parents temporarily because I was unable to care for myself. I joined a partial-hospitalization program focused on dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). This program changed my life. I was reluctant at first that it would make a difference, but was eventually convinced when I started seeing results. I started crying less, I started having fewer meltdowns, I stopped thinking in black and white and began thinking dialectically – I saw multiple sides to an issue, whereas before my thoughts were in extremes. During this program, I pledged to stay sober in order to remain in the program. I noticed differences from this as well – my thinking cleared, I had more energy, and my mood seemed stable. My new psychiatrist also monitored my medications and prescribed me with lithium. He convinced me of its effectiveness by saying it’s the only medication proved to reduce suicidal ideation. I have been on it now for 2 years and while I’ve experienced some mild side effects, it’s greatly improved my mental stability.
From my DBT program, I learned to regulate my emotions, practice mindfulness, and work on my communication skills. This program taught me how to be present in the moment to the extent that I experienced less dissociation. It taught me how to handle conflicts and difficult emotions. Ultimately, it altered my way of thinking and I couldn’t be more thankful. I now see what a black-and-white approach it is to think of suicide as the only option. I even see that the question of whether I had a suicide attempt is a black-and-white issue. What matters is the gray: the in-between space where there are infinite possibilities of how to handle problems, how to think about things, and how to experience the world. I try to stay in that “gray space” as much as possible now that I’ve seen how it can benefit me. It makes me feel better knowing I have so many options for how to live my life, whereas before I only saw one solution.