If I were to retrace my steps, the suicidal thoughts and tendencies began for me when I was around 14. I remember writing down my feelings at the time on a sheet of notebook paper and sliding it into a drawer, embarrassed and ashamed. The shame grew exponentially when I found the paper in my mom's purse later. She knew. But she hadn't asked me about it. She was probably terrified and had asked friends or doctors. So that meant other people knew my secret too. That initial feeling of being a human oddity and feeling like everyone was silently judging behind your back was enough to want to feel suicidal all over again. Eventually, I would become very well acquainted with these thoughts. Thoughts of pain being invisible, unbearable, and inescapable. Thoughts of not being able to speak about the pain. Thoughts of not being understood and desperately wanting relief, release, and escape. So, I took to writing, as I am still doing here and now, some 25 years later.
I've been fighting a monster for 25 years. This monster isn't tangible, like a tumor that can be removed. I may not seem outwardly as if I'm physically ill, but some days, I struggle to make it off of my couch because of the physical pain and exhaustion I experience. I have other conditions that exacerbate this one, as if poking the bear in the zoo. I suffer from hormonal and reproductive disorders, as well as unidentified chronic pain. I'm tired. I'm useless. I have trouble keeping jobs because schedules become too demanding. The one that is the most demanding is that I'm also a mother of two sweet angels. My son is pretty low maintenance. Always well behaved, and an indoor gamer kinda kid. My daughter is feral. She is wild just like I was and needs a lot of stimulating and often physical activity. I'm afraid these kids need more than I can give them. At the time of writing, I'm unemployed, which does not suit me well. What they say about idle minds is absolutely true for me. But, I am also with my daughter 24/7. Literally all day, every day. I have no escape. I am a prisoner in my own home, trapped in a mind that has been hijacked by darkness. I am suicidal mostly every day. My friends, it is not good. I love my children more than anything in the world, and the only thing that keeps me alive is their smiling faces. But, there's an ugly side of this that I don't see many others speaking of. I'm trapped in a suicidal existence where I don't want to be here and feel like a burden on everyone around me. But, I could never leave my children motherless. I would never want to leave my family and friends grieving. So, I'm stuck here in purgatory, unable to enjoy life and provide enjoyment to others.
So, why am I writing, other than the obvious catharsis and therapy? Because I know I'm not the only one dealing with this. I have spoken with friends who have what I'd call daily passive suicidal thoughts. It's pretty much always there. It's not that we are actively thinking of morbid ways to off ourselves every day. It's not even about killing one's self at all. It's about constantly wishing the universe will take care of it for you. See, there's a stigma with suicide. People like to make a lot of judgments after someone dies at their own hand. They are called selfish. People don't die by suicide alone, but by the pain that the suicide helps them escape. Unfortunately, you can't just keel over and die of depression. The depression kills your soul, but the rest of you must go on. But, other, more outwardly "sick" diseases like cancer can definitely kill you. Our passive suicidal thoughts include wishing we had cancer or some other visibly obvious terminal illness instead. Our kind don't get meal trains, care baskets, or friends sitting with us while we are infused with life saving drugs. Those drugs may make all of our hair fall out, but maybe then someone would believe that I'm terminally ill. People are allowed to say they are dying of cancer, not that they're dying of depression. Some days, people like me wish to be sick in that way. Because, hell, if I'm gonna be sick and in excruciating pain, crying on my living room floor, asking God or whatever is out there to just take me, I at least want other people to be able to see it and acknowledge it. I want others to understand that it is real and if it goes untreated, it will kill me. I want to be able to call in sick to a job when I need a mental health day, and have that be taken seriously like my life depended on it. But, when I call in to work needing mental health days, people may choose to assume I'm hungover or just don't feel like working and want to spend the day on the couch with gossip magazines and ice cream. That couldn't be farther from the truth! Trust me, I would much rather be healthy and working my ass off. But, when people look at me, they don't see someone who is so sick they are barely clinging to life. They don't see me on the days when I haven't washed my hair for a week or cleaned my house in two weeks because I'm in severe pain and exhausted. They don't see me on the days where I can't handle the stress and I physically hit myself or run my head into a wall. They don't see me on days when I can't walk and have to use a cane to get from the bed to the couch in the morning.
So, what happens for the friends and family of someone who lives this type of existence? To be honest, when I see it happening to my friends, I wonder how their partners deal with it. My partner works 12 hour days, so he is barely at home, and when he is, I'm not even sure he knows what to do. So, I'm not a therapist, but here are my suggestions from inside the deep, dark, abyss:
1. Sit with them. If they are responsive to being touched or held, do that. It can help release oxytocin, the love hormone, which can make them feel better. But, not everyone wants to be touched or held in this state, and in fact, each day or instance can be different. Have no expectation. Just be there. Let them lead. Ask if you can hug them or hold their hand, and if not, just keep them company.
2. Dont ask them what's wrong. They might not be able to tell you. Don't ask what you can do to help. They might not know. When they are in the dark hole of despair, they cannot think straight. They don't know what they want or need. Mostly, they just need someone to sit with them until they figure it out, or until the wave passes.
3. When they seem happy and well adjusted and in an upswing, be there for them. This is a good time to say "Hey, just wondering if I can ask you some questions." Chances are, this is the best time to gain some clarity on what they need when they slip away to the dark side. Everyone is different, so asking what their individual needs are is super important. Chances are, they can speak more objectively about their state of mind and needs when things get dark, rather than when they are in the thick of it. It's also a really amazing feeling for someone to acknowledge your illness and feel like you're cared for when it isn't a time of crisis. If you only offer care and help in times of crisis, that's ok, but we often don't want it to get to that to feel loved and cared for. Making an emergency care plan can be a life saver!
4. Make an emergency care box and emergency care plan. Short game and long game. People like us desperately need a lifeline. It is imperative that we have a break from life to process, cry it out, breathe, de-stress, meditate, or whatever it is we need to do to get the weight off of our chest and shoulders. Maybe your friend or family member had trouble taking care of his/herself. Make a healthy meal and bring it to them, no questions asked. Or bring them a gift card to a place where they can pick up a healthy dinner. I often resort to unhealthy options for myself and my kids because I can't physically stand long enough to cook. Make them a box of self care items, complete with a checklist and stay until they check off all items. I recently received a box full of shower goodies from an understanding friend. It meant the world to me! And it made me remember to take care of myself. Sometimes, that's all it takes. Asking your person or spending time with them when they're in the throes of a really bad episode (even though they will fight you to keep you away sometimes) will help you to understand their behaviors and what they need. Some people need a warm bath, some need a journal. Some just need you to take their kids for an afternoon. Ask when they're happy. Chances are, they've never been asked and they've never asked themselves.
5. They can smell fear. Don't be afraid of them. If they know you're freaked out, they'll feel like more of a burden and that'll just make them want to check out even more. They need to know you care and are concerned, but that you're not freaked out if they tell you morbid things like they want to get run over by a train or drive off a bridge. They need to have a safe person that they can say these things to. If you're that person for someone, please know that they are probably not actively seeking out this behavior. They are probably just finding creative ways to say they want to be saved from their pain. They want their pain to be removed, and not by their own accord. If you need to understand this, and how you can make it humorous, listen to "Big Ass Rock" from the musical The Full Monty. But seriously, the less of a burden they feel like, the better! Let them know you are there because you love them and you'd gladly take time out of your day to ensure their love and care. We feel like shitty people, even if we are saints. We just want to know there are people in the world who don't see us this way. That gives us hope and hope makes us want to stick around.
6. Go to the doctor with them. Tell the doctor you're their person. Get to know their treatment plan. Come up with some backup plans and emergency care plans. Get a few of the doctor's business cards, and keep them in your wallet, home, purse, car. That way, when your friend is having a crisis day, you can do everything in your power to implement the plans you have already discussed together, and if you truly believe your person is in danger of self harm, you can ask them if they'd like you to call their doctor. Sometimes, we won't do it ourselves. Too much shame and it's hard to communicate. It's nice to know that someone is there to help us speak when we can't. Make sure your friend or family member updates their HIPAA forms to include you, if necessary. I include my husband and my mom on all communication and prescription because sometimes I know I'm incapable. Either way, it's nice to know that you have a care team and a plan in place instead of just winging it.
7. The distraction technique. Yes, the same used on toddlers and drunk people. Just talk about something. Start a damn conversation and don't stop. Engage them. Ask them questions. Anything you can do to get their mind off of the darkness. Back to life, back to reality. Don't get too real! No politics or religion. But also, not shitty small talk about the weather. Find some common ground like a TV show or food or friends. Just call them, and if they actually answer, TALK. I'm pretty sure this is the basic technique used by every suicide hotline or chat line I've ever used. They just get your mind off of the bad stuff and you can begin to breathe again. It works.
I hope this helps. I honestly don't know what to do for myself when I'm in this situation, but it has been happening more frequently to me because of my hormones. It's much easier to tell people what I wish I had for care. When I'm depressed and suicidal, that's not something that's easy to tell friends. I often don't answer texts, calls, or messages because I don't know what to say. I'm beginning to let people know I'm having a crisis day and will get back with them as soon as the smoke clears. I feel a lot of guilt. I know I'm a shitty mother, a shitty daughter, a shitty wife, a shitty sister, a shitty friend. I beat myself up very hard for that more than anyone will ever know. It's very hard for me to care for others when I need so much help myself. I keep thinking maybe once I'm not drowning or treading water, I'll be able to take better care of my friends and family. But it's been 25 years, and I'm still struggling. When you grow up with depression as a teenager, you think you'll either be cured at some point, or one day you'll snap and put yourself out of your misery. I honestly never thought I'd live to see age 40. But here we are. And I have no plan. I guess its great that I'm still alive but I feel lost in a world I never planned or expected to be a part of. I feel like I'll always be picking up the pieces and playing catch up with all of the other normal people who had a plan and goals. Maybe that is the next step. Make some goals. Try and succeed. Maybe if I have a plan, I'll get there. Maybe if I feel supported and know I have a team to fall back on, the darkness won't stay so long. So, if you have a friend who is suicidal or even just depressed, talk to them. See how much of this you may be able to apply together. It could save a life.
Speaking of saving lives, I'm gonna drop the suicide talk line and text line here. I prefer text because sometimes it's just too hard to vocalize your issues when you're hysterically crying. Sometimes the words are too difficult to say but you're thinking them.
National Suicide Hotline +18002738255
Crisis text line 741741