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 We Should Not Dismiss People for ‘Wanting Attention’

Growing up, I was very much aware of being perceived as ‘wanting attention’. And perhaps part of the reason for this was that I engaged in a lot of behaviour that could be considered ‘wanting attention’.

The first time that I remember telling a friend that I sometimes thought about ‘not being here anymore’ was when I was roughly nine years old.

The first time I remember intentionally cutting into my skin (with my nails at the time) because I was sad, angry, or frustrated was when I was ten years old.

And although I didn’t know enough to use the words ‘depression’ and ‘anxiety’ until I was eighteen years old, that was something I was dealing with through most of my teen years. It got worse around my high school graduation, but it started from as far back as I can remember.

And to a certain extent, I’m sort of glad that it did get worse when I was eighteen, because if it hadn’t, then I might never have identified that I was mentally ill. If I hadn’t, I probably would have continued going back to that old excuse, the one that I told myself all the time before then – that I just ‘wanted attention’.

This isn’t necessarily anything that anyone told me. Nobody dismissed my claims of depression with an easy wave of their hand and the words, “you teenagers, you all just want attention”, but it didn’t matter that nobody said this to me; I said it to myself daily. I said it to myself because I had heard it of other people, and I knew that if I did actually try to speak out, that was what many people would think. And if so many people would think it, then it must be true, right?

I wasn’t carving up my arm because I actually had a problem; I was doing it because I wanted someone to see and feel sorry for me. I mean, sure, I usually tried to hide the cuts from sight, and if anyone asked me about them, I’d lie, but that doesn’t mean anything, right? Clearly, I just wanted attention, and that made the fact that I was doing it silly and meaningless.

I didn’t think about ‘being gone’ because I was struggling with suicidal thoughts; I was doing it because I wanted people to treat me as special, as different. I clearly wanted them to give me an easier time and walk on egg shells around me, right? I mean, I made a point of never telling anyone that I felt this way, specifically because I didn’t want anyone to worry about me, but the mere fact that I felt that way in the first place proved that I just wanted attention, right?

I didn’t feel empty, sad, and scared all the time because I was dealing with a mental illness; I felt that way because I wanted people to feel bad for me.

Right?

This is why I hate it when people dismiss the way that someone feels by saying, “oh, they just want attention”; because that is someone’s life and wellbeing that you are playing with. All that that person may need is one person to take them seriously, one person to point out to them that they way they feel is valid and it needs to be addressed, and that could be the difference between them taking their own lives or living years with depression, and them getting help for their mental illness and learning how to cope with it better. And any time that you are put in a position to say, “that just want attention”, you also have the option to listen to them and take them seriously.

And too many times, people who are actually struggling with mental illness, people like me who need to recognize what’s going on inside their head, are shrugged off and not taken seriously because we have this idea that people who are struggling are only struggling because they want attention. In fact, it is gotten so bad that some people don’t even have to be told that the way they feel isn’t valid for them to feel that way; our society has perpetuated this idea that all people (and young people in particular) who are dealing with anxiety or depression are actually selfish, needy burdens that I didn’t even have to be told that to believe it. All I had to do was feel the way that I naturally felt, and then I knew what people would think of me. And this can and has had some very dangerous consequences for that person.

But, for just a moment, let’s ignore the cases where someone who actually has a mental illness is ignored and refused help because of this stigma, because I know that most people would agree that that is a tragedy. What about the young people who are, legitimately, looking for attention? I mean, I’m sure that very few young people would go to the lengths of attempting suicide to try to get it, but I’m sure there are some who have, in fact, gone to very self-destructive lengths for it.

Why do we look down on them so much?

What is wrong with wanting attention? We all do. It is such an integral part of the human condition to want attention, to want love and acceptance and understanding, that we as a society actually have a word for it when we go for a long period of time without getting it – loneliness.

And take it from someone who spent her teenage years cutting up her arm: self-destructive behaviour is never okay. We should not encourage it, we should try not to engage in it, and if we notice someone else doing it, we should try to talk to them about it. But why is it that we say things like “oh, they just want attention”, as though that invalidates the whole act?

If they truly do “just want attention”, then they should get attention! They should get help, whether that be professional, medical help, or merely someone to sit down and talk with them.

Up until I was eighteen, when I realized that I had depression and anxiety and that the way I felt was real, it did matter, I spent most of my life thinking that the things I did were merely seeking attention, and therefore, they didn’t matter. They were my fault. was the stupid one. was wrong, and therefore, the way I felt should be kept to myself. I shouldn’t reach out. I shouldn’t try to get help. I should just suffer in silence.

And that’s what is wrong with this statement: it is just another way for society to keep people silent about what they are dealing with. It is a tool to keep us from talking about our mental illness, or about our feelings. And we need to talk. We need to open up. Because once we do, then we realize that we aren’t alone, that we aren’t at fault. Countless others have dealt with this before, and knowing that will help you to realize that you can get through this. You will be alright.

But it will be harder to realize that if you remain stuck in this cycle of silence.

So the next time that someone tries to talk to you about self-destructive or depressive thoughts, don’t dismiss what they have to say. Listen to them. You might not know exactly what to say; it might even be an awkward conversation for us to have, but it is an important conversation for us to have. It is a conversation that could, quite literally, save lives. Even if they are young, even if you are not convinced that they entirely know what they are talking about. Because once you listen to them, you might realize that they know more than you gave them credit for.

 

 

ANNOUNCEMENT: Save-My-Life School by Natalie Harris

Hello to all my amazing readers! I just wanted to take a moment to let you know that a friend of mine recently published a book, Save-My-Life School: A first responder’s mental health journey by Natalie Harris. I would really recommend checking it out, especially if you have any interest in issues of mental health. I found it especially haunting in the way that it makes you question our society’s perception on people dealing with mental illness. We are too quick to dismiss them as ‘crazy’ or ‘lesser than’, and this book really challenges that! You can find it on Amazon, or you can order it off of Indigo.

Why You Need to Talk About Suicide

Every once in a while, something will happen in the news that will bring the issue of depression and suicide to the forefront of everyone’s mind. Most recently, this news has been the death of Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington.

Bennington killed himself on July 20 after a lengthy and somewhat public battle with depression. And none of us can judge the choice that he made, or think any worse of him because of it. Even those of us who have dealt with depression and suicidal thoughts before do not know what his precise situation was or what he was going through. I wish his loved ones all the best, and I truly hope that he has found peace now.

But all that being said, we do need to talk about suicide. And not because Bennington killed himself. Not because it’s a trendy topic to pass around now. Because there are still people out there who are considering taking their own lives even now, and those people need someone to reach out to them.

Suicide is an awkward topic of conversation for many people, and it can be hard to approach someone who you know and love and ask them, “are you considering killing yourself?” Unless we have dealt with suicidal thoughts ourselves, we tend to think of it as something foreign, as something other, as something that can’t touch the people we care about, but it very much can, and it’s not as strange or unusual as you might think. In fact, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, on average there are 121 suicides per day. The only reason why we don’t think of it as common is because we just don’t talk about it.

We are told, indirectly, that we should not talk about it. We don’t want to come forth because we don’t want anyone to worry about us, we don’t want to burden them with something that they don’t have to deal with. I know that when I was dealing with suicidal thoughts, one of the main reasons why I didn’t want to tell anybody about it was because then they’d think that I was going to kill myself, and I didn’t want to be thought of as a risk. We as a society hold such a huge stigma against mental illness and thoughts of self harm that we silence people who are actually dealing with them, people who don’t want to be perceived as weak or risky or bothersome or attention-seekers. And so, silenced, they deal with these thoughts on their own. They mull over these thoughts within a mind that is already ill, already enforcing beliefs that are not true, and so it isn’t at all surprising when they come to the worst conclusion.

The more that we talk about depression and suicidal thoughts, the more that we are willing to approach someone who we think might be dealing with either illness, the more that people who are dealing with them will feel comfortable talking about it themselves. We need to talk about depression and suicidal thoughts because talking about it could quite literally save lives.

And if you are a person dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts, then you deserve to have your life saved. You deserve to be listened to and loved and understand, and you deserve to live a long and fulfilling life. You deserve all the amazing things this world can offer to you.

And I understand that, if you are dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts, then you might not believe that right now. The problem with these illnesses is that they cause your mind to lie to you, to tell you things that aren’t true and skew your perception of the world. You see everything through the lens of your thoughts, like that old line about seeing the world through rose coloured glasses except the exact opposite. Your illness tells you that the world would be better off without you and that you don’t matter, but you need to know that that is a lie. You do matter. You matter so much that I don’t even have words to fully encompass it. And if you were to die, then your loved ones – friends, family, pets, maybe even that neighbour who says hello to you every morning and has come to depend on your smile and wave, they would all care. I would care. With you gone, there would be a great hole in the world that can never truly be filled.

But let’s ignore all of that for a moment, because I know that your depression and suicidal thoughts might be contradicting everything I just said: you simply deserve to live for your own sake. No one else’s. You deserve a chance to find something that makes you happy. You deserve a chance to feel the sun on your face again. You deserve a chance to chase your dreams and maybe see them come true, to fall in love with someone new (or someone old again) and to build a whole new life, different from the one you’re leading now. Because the only thing constant in this world is that things change, and maybe you aren’t happy with where you are now, but maybe you will be one, two, ten years from now. Maybe you’ll look back on this day and find it difficult to believe that that was you, that you ever felt this way. Don’t you at least deserve the chance to know if that’s true? Life, after all, is full of possibilities, while death is so final.

And maybe your depression will never fully go away, and maybe your life will never be entirely perfect, but pain can be dealt with. You can learn to live, not defined by your pain, but existing alongside of it, understanding and respecting it but not run solely by it. I know that I may never be completely rid of my depression, as it’s something that I’ve dealt with on and off for as long as I can remember, but that doesn’t mean that my life isn’t worth living. Quite the opposite, actually; the moments of pain and emptiness make the moments of joy and fulfillment all the more spectacular.

And if I can give you a bit of advice right now, since we’re talking about depression and suicide, I would say that you need to keep talking about it. Reach out to someone – a friend, a family member, a therapist, a doctor, a diary, a stranger on the internet, a suicide crisis line, your pet gerbil, whatever might make you feel comfortable. Because an amazing thing happens when you start to talk: you are no longer dealing with everything on your own. There is someone else in this world who knows how you feel, who can be there for you and make you feel like you aren’t alone. And sometimes, when you can hear or read your own thoughts expressed outside of yourself, you might even begin to realize that the things your depression have been saying to you are lies. And as much as it might be difficult to make yourself un-believe them, the first step in overcoming them is at least identifying them as lies.

Whenever anybody takes their own life, celebrity or not, it is always a great tragedy. It is someone who has succumbed to an illness that they could no longer control, and that is always a huge loss in this world. But so long as you are still alive, you still have a chance, and you still have control. You can reach out and talk to someone, you can seek help in dealing with your illness. In the words of the late Chester Bennington, “I came to a point in my life where I was like, ‘I can either just give up and f****** die or I can f****** fight for what I want,'”, and so long as you are still alive, the fight is not yet over. You are a warrior, you are stronger than you will ever know, and you can beat this. You deserve to beat this – for your loved ones, for the world, and most importantly, for yourself.