When You Have Suicidal Thoughts, But You Don’t Want to Die

I don’t remember how old I was when I first started having suicidal thoughts. I remember my words easier than I remember my thoughts, and so I’m led to believe that I must have been very young when they started, because I was nine years old when I first told a friend at school, “sometimes I think about not being here anymore”.

“But you need to be here,” she told me. “Who would be my friend if you weren’t?”

I was flattered by her words, and I was glad she said them to me at the time. But, in retrospect, she didn’t really understand what my problem was (though, to be fair, I don’t think I articulated it particularly well either).

These thoughts continued to plague me for years after, coming and going, ebbing and flowing like a wave. Sometimes I would be perfectly fine. Sometimes I would wonder why I even entertained these terrible thoughts. Sometimes, something would happen, and I would start thinking about how much better off the world would be without me. I would think about how easy it would be to just find the highest rooftop and jump, or go off somewhere alone and end it out of sight. I would tell myself not to think these things, tell myself that these were terrible thoughts, that they weren’t true, but even still, they came back naturally. I could do nothing to keep them at bay.

The closest that I ever came to acting on them was when I was about eighteen. These thoughts occurred to me one night, and as an attempt to stop thinking them, I told myself to seriously imagine what life would be like without me. I did so, and I came to the conclusion that, while my loss would hurt people for a little while, they would move on and all be better off in the long run. At this point, I told myself to go to bed, and if I still felt this way the next day, then I would figure it out then.

Needless to say, I managed to pull myself through it.

And the thing is, these thoughts still occur to me from time to time. But I am completely, one hundred percent convinced that I will never act on them. Because, while I have suicidal thoughts, I don’t want to die.

Because I don’t want to die, I told myself to go to bed rather than act on how I felt at the time.

Because I don’t want to die, I tried to banish these thoughts whenever they occurred to me.

Because I don’t want to die, my nine-year-old friend didn’t really understand what I was admitting to when I told her that I thought about “not being here”. She told me that I needed to be here, and I would be regardless, but I would still feel like I shouldn’t be.

As I mentioned before, these thoughts came in waves, and when they rolled back, I loved life. I loved my school and my artistic pursuits and the endless possibilities that life offered. More often than I saw myself jumping in front of an oncoming bus, I saw myself in a foreign country someday, sipping coffee at a cafe is France, or reading at the British Library. I saw myself walking down the aisle to meet my future partner, I saw my dreams coming true and my career flourishing. I knew that none of this could be possible if I ended my life, and I really, really want all of this to happen.

I never really understood this contradiction in myself. As a society, it seems to me that we think of suicidal thoughts as a very basic, black-or-white thing: either you have them, and you are at risk of acting on them, or you don’t have them, and are therefore safe. Landing between these two states confused me. I wanted to get help, because these thoughts were not okay and I knew that, but I didn’t want to tell anyone because I didn’t want them to think that I would actually take my own life when I knew that I wouldn’t. I didn’t think that forcing other people to live with that thought was fair.

It wasn’t until recently that I discovered that there were other people who felt the same way as me. And, I have to admit, discovering this was a massive relief.

To a certain extent, this validated the way that I felt. Like many of us, I assumed that, if I had suicidal thoughts, then I must want to die. I thought that if I didn’t want to die, then my suicidal thoughts weren’t real, they were whiny cries for attention that I never voiced to anyone. But if other people felt this way, then that meant that the way that I felt was real. I wasn’t making it up. My perspective mattered.

And that is why I am writing this: for those who feel similar to me, and for those who don’t.

If you experience suicidal thoughts, but you do not want to die, then I want to say this: you are not alone. You are valid, and the way that you feel matters. There are people who feel the same way, people who can help you. There are plenty of resources for you to reach out to (for Canadian readers, you can contact here; for American readers, you can contact here). Just because you do not believe that you will act on your feelings, that does not justify your continuing suffering. You deserve better than that.

And for those of you who do not relate to my experience, whether that mean that you do experience suicidal thoughts as well as the desire to act on them, or you have never experienced suicidal thoughts at all, allow me to say this: suicidal thoughts are not as simple as we would like to think of them. This is a complex issue, and very personal for every person involved. Every person thinks and feels differently, after all. By knowing and accepting this, we have a better chance of helping those around us. We can create a safe environment, where people of all kinds feel capable of coming forward and speaking about their experience.

This is one of the many reasons why we need to open up a dialogue about mental health. When we don’t talk about these issues, then people have a hard time understanding them, even when they are experiencing them. People who have no idea what they are going through have a hard time explaining it, or finding ways to reach out. It is difficult to find the words to explain something when you don’t really understand what you are explaining.

And that is why I write this: I am speaking out, and I am inviting you to speak out with me.

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Why Depression is Not Romantic

When I was a teenager, maybe thirteen or fourteen, I read stories of girls with arms like mine. The girls with white lines drawn across their pale skin, carved there by blades and tainted by tears. Girls who caught the attention of the cute, sensitive boy in their class, the boy who saw her scars and knew what they meant. The boy who took her aside and kissed her scars and told her that she was beautiful regardless, that he would hold her close and take care of her, that he would never let her hurt again. The boy who loved her, not because there was more to her than her scars, but because he knew that she was sad and broken, and that he could protect her from the harsh world.

These stories were not the reason why I self-harmed, but they most certainly justified my doing so.

Just like when I was in my second year at university, studying literature because I wanted to be a great writer, and the professor made the statement to my class: “this poem is about depression, which is something that all great writers deal with. I don’t really think it’s possible to be a great writer without being broken.”

Well, that’s good news, I thought; I suppose I need to be broken then. Maybe this is just the price I pay to achieve my dreams.

I think, even at the time, I knew that what I was thinking was wrong.

Even then, I knew that the stories I wrote were not created in the black, ceaseless spirals of depression. They might have been inspired by it, from time to time, but no more than they were inspired by other aspects of my life. And, more importantly, they were written in those moments where I broke the surface, where I took in a gulp of air and thought that everything might be fine again, just before I sunk back below and lost all creative ability again.

Just like I knew that self-harm would not earn me love. No boy ever saw my scars and kissed them to make them better; now that I’m no longer thirteen years old, I don’t really think I’d want one to. All that my scars did was give me something to be ashamed of, something to pull my sleeves over and lie about when people asked me about them.

“I hope you don’t mind me asking, but what did you do to your arm?”

“Oh, I was playing with my cat, and, well, this happened.”

Please. Please, don’t notice that it looks nothing like a cat scratch.

But even still, despite the fact that depression was not my gateway to genius, despite the fact that self-harm brought me more shame than it did love, there was still something so romantic about both ideas. About being the tortured artist, the Sylvia Plath, the Van Gogh. Forget the fact that they both cut their stories off before they were finished; they were beloved and mysterious, deep and thoughtful. And all I had to do to become them was give into what was already inside me, right?

We romanticize mental illness all the time, present it as something mysterious and unknown and darkly beautiful, but it isn’t. The reality of mental illness is laying in bed all day because you just can’t find the motivation to get up. The reality of mental illness is wearing long sleeves in the summer because you don’t want to risk anyone, not even the cute, sensitive boy in your class, to know your secret (because it is, after all, a secret). The reality of mental illness is panic attacks that leave you exhausted, fear that keeps you its prisoner, suicidal thoughts that threaten to cut your story off too soon, if you just give into them.

And the problem with romanticizing all of this is that it then justifies people to give into it.

All of this isn’t to say that no good can ever come from a mental illness; it can. Personally speaking, I believe that coming to terms with my mental illness and fighting it has made me a much stronger person than I would have otherwise been, but that is exactly my point; I needed to fight it. Fighting gave me ability. Fighting gave me more stories to tell than depression ever could have. Fighting made me feel as though I deserved, not only love, but a love that was worthwhile, a love that would see me, not as the broken soul that needs to be fixed, but as a person, as an equal. Fighting is what brought me here, to this place, to this day.

I honestly don’t know who or where I’d be today if I hadn’t fought, but I know it wouldn’t be romantic. It would be pitiful, a tragic tale to tell. And I am not a tragedy.

So if we have to romanticize anything in regards to mental illness, let’s romanticize the fight. Let’s talk about how strong survivors are to reach out and get help for themselves. Let’s praise those who managed to overcome suicidal thoughts, even when it seemed next to impossible. Let’s celebrate the ones who self-harmed at one point, but managed to pull themselves through it and stop altogether. Because when we romanticize mental illness itself, we are helping no one; when we encourage people to seek treatment and get help, we have the opportunity to save lives.

And, personally, I am tired of romances that focus so much on how loveable or genius someone is only because they are depressed.

 

The Other Me

“Come on, sweetheart; won’t you give me a smile? Is that too much to ask? Just one smile?”

Do I have to?

I know, in life, you’re going to have to say and do a lot of things that aren’t true, just to make other people happy. Words like “I’m fine” will have to escape your lips. “It’s all okay.” “No, I’m totally not on the verge of a breakdown, what are you talking about, this is my regular face.” But it’s just that… I’m so fucking tired of smiling. My face hurts, and I can feel my eye twitching from the strain, but you ask me to smile and I do it because what other choice do I have? I’ll just wait until your back is turned to let it fall. You won’t even realize it left; by the time you turn around again, it’ll be back, and you’ll be just as fooled by it as ever.

“Oh, come now, dear, that isn’t very happy. Cheer up! Tell us a different story! Give us a lesson, a moral, a happy ending so that we can all leave you feeling better about ourselves!”

Why would I? Maybe there is no lesson. Maybe this is just the way it is. Maybe there is no great, big take-away, maybe there is no reason, no rhythm, no rhyme. Maybe the world is just one great, big stinking cesspool, and we’re all trying to force reason into it. Maybe life is nothing more than a constant stream of pain from which we can never fully escape. Maybe I spend all my time waiting for things to get better – just one more year, three more months, another day, things will be fine, I promise – and maybe it’s all just one great lie that I tell to keep myself from giving up.

Do I really believe that? Of course. Of course not. I won’t in an hour, at least, and I don’t even know if I do now, but now it feels like the right thing to say. Right now, whether or not it’s true doesn’t matter; what matters is that it reflects my mood.

I’m not saying it because I want you to believe it. I don’t. The only reason I’m saying it is so that you can see into my mind. So that you can understand why I hesitate when you ask me to smile.

Would you smile if these meaningless thoughts kept returning to your mind?

Stop ignoring me! Stop pretending that she is better than me, because she isn’t! She, the other me, the one who smiles without being told, the one who gives you inspiration that’s fresh and new and meaningful at the drop of a hat. She exists, but so do I. We take turns; sometimes she’s in charge, sometimes I am. And sometimes, she leaves me holding the bag, struggling to fill in for all the things she does, all the jobs she told me she’d be able to handle.

“Smile, dear. The other you does.”

I know. But I’m not her right now.

“Give us a happy story, dear. The other you does.”

I know. But I’m not her right now.

“Well, when will the other you be back? You’re tiresome and annoying; bring her back.”

I can’t. I can’t just summon her from thin air. She needs to return of her own accord. And until then, I’m all you’ve got. I’m sorry that isn’t enough for you, but I’m trying. Believe me, I’m trying so fucking hard, that I literally cannot do any more for you.

And why do I have to be her anyway? Why do I have to pretend for you? Why does every story need to be wrapped up nicely with a happily-ever-after? Why does every face need a smile to be considered polite? She’ll come back eventually, and when she does, you’ll get all of those, but in the meantime, why do I have to lie for you?

I don’t want to pretend. We shouldn’t have to. We should be allowed to feel how we feel, regardless of how we were yesterday. Because sometimes, we’re going to be happy, and sometimes we’re going to be mopey and tired and depressed. Both are perfectly alright. Both are part of being human.

Consistency is overrated; we are ever changing. Be who you are today, whoever that may be. Love who that is, and don’t compare them to who you were. Because fighting ourselves, forcing ourselves to be someone we want, is only going to make those moments of depression longer and harder to deal with.

She, the other me, the other you, will come back. But for now, don’t deny who you are.

 

All Happiness is Valid

Enjoy life to the fullest.

Talk about your passions, even if you suspect that the people around you might not be quite as invested in them as you are.

Get excited, jump up and down and scream, speak in a high-pitched, squeaky voice and don’t worry about the possibility that you might be annoying other people.

Love things. Love things deeply. Love material things and non-material things. Enjoy the feeling of sun on your face, or the way that ink spills easily out of a new pen. Enjoy wasting hours away on the internet. Enjoy every bite you take, whether that bite be out of an apple or a doughnut.

Read books that you want to read, rather than the books that you think make you look or sound most intelligent.

Play video games on easy, because you don’t have to be good at them to enjoy them.

Shave your head because you’ve always wanted to know what you might look like with it, or dye your hair a funky colour because you have the opportunity to.

Dress up a bit more than the occasion calls for, for no other reason than because you enjoy looking good.

Look good for yourself, rather than anybody else. Try out that new make-up look or wear that outfit, even if you think people won’t like it.

We don’t need to justify ourselves.

Because, here’s the thing: life can suck. In fact, at one point or another, life will suck. It’s unavoidable. We all deal with hardships, and we all have traumas from our past that we are struggling with, and we all have moments where everything just feels pointless and difficult.

Many of us, in fact, will even feel like giving up every now and again.

So, all of that considered, it seems sort of silly to deny ourselves pleasures, even seemingly small, insignificant ones, just because we’re worried about what other people might think.

Life is hard, and we all need those things that will get us through the day. Some of us are fortunate enough to have a network of supportive and loving friends and family to pull us out of our dark times, while some of us have little more to look forward to than the sun on your face. But we all have something. If we just allow ourselves the chance to search for it, we will find something that brings us even the smallest amount of joy in the most bitter times. And sometimes, all we need to pull ourselves through are those small, fleeting moments of happiness.

And nobody should ever feel silly or insignificant for the things that bring a smile to their face.

So, please, the next time that you see someone thoroughly enjoying something, even if you don’t understand it yourself, allow them enjoy it. And the next time that you are enjoying something that other people might not understand, allow yourself to enjoy it. We all deserve our happiness, no matter what form it takes. All happiness is valid, and all happiness is necessary. Because you are valid, and you are necessary, and nobody should ever make you feel otherwise.

I Wasn’t Made to Be Silent

“Be silent, child,” they said. “The world does not care for your troubles. If they ask, they do not mean it. Just look pretty, smile, recite your niceties, and all will be well.”

“But, sir,” I said, “my heart hurts, sir. I do not feel anything behind the smile. It is not real.”

“Of course it isn’t,” they said. “No one’s smile is real.”

So I smiled.

“But, sir,” I said, “the world is hard, sir. I know a girl who is starving herself because the world keeps telling her she’s too fat. I know a girl who was raped and will never see justice done because nobody believes her. I know a boy who parties every night, and I warn him to be safe because I fear that he will flirt with the wrong man and get beaten for it. I am scared, sir, because this world makes me scared, but I don’t know how to fix it without talking about it, sir.”

“You can’t,” they said. “There is nothing you can do. The world is hard, and that is all there is to it. There is no saving anyone. There is no fixing anything. Stay silent, child, for nothing that you say will matter anyway.”

So I was silent.

“But, sir,” I said, “I cannot stand this. My heart aches all the time, sir. I stay up at night and I listen to them cry, and I want to help them. This world is terrifying, sir. Is there truly nothing I can do?”

“You can be happy with your lot, child,” they said. “You can be grateful that you are not them, and you can rest easily knowing that things could always be worse. Do not complain, do not cry, because there is always someone out there who has it worse than you do.”

And so I tried to be happy. I really, truly tried.

“But, sir,” I said, “my heart still hurts. My heart hurts, and I feel it in my soul now. I carved red lines into my arm today, sir. I cannot contain this fear, it is everywhere, sir, it is inside my skin and I cannot escape it or ignore it anymore. Please, sir. My own blood is on my hands, and I need to do something.”

“You are wrong to think so,” they said. “Are you not grateful? Are you not happy? What is wrong with you, what makes you carve red lines into your arm? Normal people do not do that, child. So cover your arms with your sleeves, put on that smile, and recite your niceties. That is all you have to do. Why are you making this so complicated?”

“But, sir,” I said, “I cannot do this anymore. I do not believe you. I think you are disillusioned, sir, and I think your advice hurts me in the long run. So, sir, I will no longer be taking your advice. Thank you for your attempt, I know you were only trying to help me, but I must try something different if I am going to stop being so afraid.”

And so I spoke. For the first time in my life, I spoke loudly and clearly, to anyone who would listen to me.

“What are you doing, child?” they said. “Nobody cares what you have to say! Nobody feels the same way as you! You are changing nothing in the world, and worse, you are making everybody hate you! We think you are crazy, child! We think you are too aggressive, and we think you must hate us if you dare not take our advice! Why are you doing this to us, child, when all we ever tried to do was help you? Why do you hurt us so?”

“But, sir,” I said, “for the first time in my life, my heart does not hurt. The red lines in my arm have left scars, but they have healed. I am alright, sir, and I will be alright, and none of this would have been possible if I did not talk. I want to do the same for others, sir. I want to make them feel safe to talk. I want to make sure they know that the option is open to them, that they do not have to live in silence, that they can be perceived as crazy or aggressive or wrong, and yet that does not necessarily mean that they are. And maybe my voice is just one among the million. Maybe it gets drowned out in the crowd, and maybe I’m heard by very few, but at least I’m heard. And at least I’m talking. Because I think I need to talk. I wasn’t made to be silent.”

I do not think they heard me. And yet, I speak.