Cheerful little topic huh?! But something I believe needs to be discussed in the wider community from time to time. So here I am – casting my two cents worth out into the world for all to ponder upon.
Before I say more, a small disclaimer. I’m not a counselor or medical professional. I’m merely an ordinary woman with a little personal experience in this area. If you are reading, and have ANY concerns whatsoever for your safety – or the safety of a loved one – do something NOW. I’ve listed a pile of resources here if that’s helpful. Or have a look on suicide.org
In my humble – inexpert – opinion, I’ve noticed four levels of suicidality.
- Suicidal thoughts
- Suicidal ideation
- Passively suicidal
- Actively suicidal
Suicidal thoughts start for me when depression creeps back. And they are just that – thoughts. Thinking how much I don’t want to be here anymore. Wondering if I’m going to have to live another 50 years. Feeling life is a big, heavy burden, and not being alive would be a great release. During this phase, my thought processes are attached to the depression and focus almost solely on not wanting to be here, not on plans. They don’t fill all my waking hours. Thoughts of death pop in and out of my mind from time to time, but aren’t incessant. I have to say, the first time I had these kinds of thoughts I was nine years old – so it’s something I’ve experienced on and off for over 40 years. I can say – with absolutely certainty – I am always completely safe with these types of suicidal thoughts. Which can be in and of itself a tad depressing, but I usually get over it and move on.
If things aren’t absolutely chipper in my life at this point, and moving on becomes burdensome, the depression may worsen and ideation creeps in. For me, this is just constant suicidal thoughts – day in and day out. Wishing I wasn’t here and wondering how I might get out of being on this earthly plane. While I don’t make active plans, I do start ruminating on “options”. Thinking about different ways to die, and more often than not, desperately hoping to develop a terminal illness – asap. I start to work through the realities of my death and the impact it would have on my nearest and dearest, then start justifying how they’ll learn to live without me – how they’ll “get over it”. This stage is all thoughts and there’s a part of me that knows I’m not going to follow through – it’s all just wishful thinking. I have been in this head space more times than I care to think about over the past few years.
Now, if for whatever reason – be it valid or invalid – I slip even further, I become passively suicidal. I don’t know if this is a genuine term? But it’s genuine to me. By passively suicidal, I mean I wouldn’t get out of the way if a bus was heading towards me. I really want to die, but can’t quite bring myself to inflict the trauma on family and friends, so I start behaving in a risky manner. Somehow death by accident is so much more acceptable than death by suicide. I might stockpile medications and research ways to die. To be honest, I am in a fairly precarious head space at this time and it would take very little to tip me over into the last stage. My one saving grace has been my mother’s words from many moons ago – never make a permanent decision based on temporary feelings.
The last stage is actively suicidal. Which means a plan is in place and I await the timing – which gets closer and closer. I am of course, severely depressed by now and not thinking clearly at all. I’m usually starting to finish things up or write letters to family. I’ve even started decluttering my house during this phase. I border on obsessive compulsive when it comes to being organised, so I’ll cling to a series of things I have to see through – a wedding anniversary or my son’s birthday. I’ll feel like I’m nearing the end of a marathon. Each arbitrary event is another few steps I’ve forced myself to traverse and I will my exhausted body to keep going a tiny bit longer. I have not been actively suicidal on a huge number of occasions – but I have been there. My greatest blessing is beautiful friends and a loving husband and children, and my desire for death has never been accompanied by the thoughts they would be better off without me. I simply try to convince myself they will grieve, then be okay. But I do believe their love has been the tenuous thread that kept me here when plans were in place.
Over the past few years I have worked with a most wonderful psychologist and had the opportunity to discuss all these thoughts and feelings. If you had told me a few years ago I would discuss suicidal feelings with another living being I would have laughed out loud. But I am here to say, I did it. It was scary – but I did it. And the sharing is cathartic.
I have come to believe I will always struggle with some level of suicidality. Not every minute of every day – perhaps I’ll go months without a thought (maybe one day) but it seems a bit like the herpes virus – once it’s in your system, it never completely goes away.
This is my personal experience of depression and death wishes. I realise some people go through incredibly severe depression and experience no suicidal thoughts whatsoever, but many others do. One thing I am sure of – we need to be talking about suicide. We need to look out for warning signs. And we must always care for each other. Connections have kept me here. I am loved. This I know. Everyone needs connections. Reach out. Stay safe. I did.