Last year, after the death of Anthony Bourdain I wrote a note on Facebook (Yea, I know – who does that? Hell – who blogs anymore?) about suicide and my relationship with my own brain. Since it’s September again and everyone’s talking about suicide all the time – I wanna talk about it. Specifically, I wanna talk about what suicidal ideation looks like when you are in the middle of it – then I want to address what I see as the ineffective campaign that is Suicide Prevention Month.
Trigger warning. I’m going to very descriptively explain to you what depression and suicidal ideation feels like TO ME. I am an expert on how this disease and everything that goes along with it affects me. The purpose of this post isn’t to ask for help; it’s to bring attention to my lived experience in the hopes that something recognizable that can help you understand yours better. This discussion will be very dark. If you have not struggled with your mental health, I ask that you reflect on that gratefully, because living the way I describe can be absolute hell.
Very important: Do not call me or text me about this post in order to check in on my mental state. If you do I will block you and your number. You may email or leave a comment. I am currently FINE!
The Dark Chasm
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t feel it. A Pit – my Dark Chasm. It sits right in the center of my chest where my sternum and my belly meet. It feels like a torn membrane of flesh with meat, teeth and all of the stressors of my life and the lives of those I take on. If you’ve seen Stranger Things – if I were to imagine what it looks like, it would look like the gate between this world and the Upside Down (the one Eleven closes at the end of the 1st season).
This dark chasm sits there and gently tears at me all day most days. When I’m suicidal it feels like I could reach in and pull out my organs because it’s ripped so wide and so deep. As I can’t recall a time in my life where it was not present, it’s always been the barometer I use to understand the state of my mental illness. Stress alone simply makes it feel present more, thinking too much about god or some other traumatic subject will widen the chasm more and more. The nature of depression is such that thought processes become a rather unending spiral and linking events and failures to personal flaws, which lead to self-hatred.
The sensation in the Chasm is real and physically painful. It grows as my thoughts spiral out of control. By the time I’ve broken down and allowed myself to cry I feel like I’m being ripped apart by my arms.
This past Sunday the chasm ripped open.
Suicidal Ideation Is a Bad Man
Depressed people often go through stages of depression. Ebbs and flows, ups and downs. There are months on end when life seems perfectly fine, the Dark Chasm is small and seems to be healing up – other times, times like now – it’s large and roaring with fire and brimstone.
I’ve often viewed suicidal thoughts and depression as this second man inside me. The Bad Man in my brain has one goal: He wants me to die, now.
Generally speaking, the Bad Man is very quiet. Sadness, however, is like a megaphone for him. Stress provides him with a microphone and speakers at the concert hall of my mind.
He tells me that I have more than I deserve.
He tells me that I’m going to lose everything I’ve worked for in my business because of <All the reasons why I’m literally quite close to that go here>.
He tells me that people only care about me because they can take from me knowing that I’ll freely give. (This is the one I have the most evidence for in my life.)
He tells me people don’t care about my time, message me and text me at all hours of the night for their menial computer problems because I am only useful to someone if I’m giving them free advice at 8PM on a Sunday after 7 straight 100 hour weeks.
He tells me that people will only care if I die because they won’t be able to take more of my expertise, time, and energy – since that’s the only value I have in this world.
He tells me my funeral will be empty, but my cell phone will be going off in the incinerator so that someone can ask me one last question – I won’t mind right?
He tells me not to be honest about these things because everyone will stop using my business if I do.
He tells me that in an ideal world I can put a gun to the roof of my mouth and in a hot instant, I get to be done.
He shows me what that looks like. He shows me places that I should go to take my life.
He points to a tree down the highway just sturdy enough to break my neck if I hit it hard enough and fast enough. If I need a better method or anything.
He knows how many of my prescriptions to take, how much vodka to take them with – to make sure that it’s a sleepy goodbye.
He makes me tongue the roof of my mouth to remind me of that option.
Should it be the temple though?
These thoughts, the voice of the Bad Man, become increasingly louder. When they get too loud the voice I call my own is unable to overcome it, all my reason and my rationale – my love for myself and the love I feel from the people in my life are invisible and silenced.
This is the internal war that the people you love who have killed themselves have waged, and lost – all the while smiling and keeping up appearances. Taking selfies, making love, smiling for family photographs, being the funniest person in the room. I have talked people out of their own suicide and provided the necessary support to prevent it while simultaneously battling all the desires and urges that would put me in the same position on more occasions than I can count.
Suicide Prevention Month Ain’t
September is the month that we’re inundated with social media posts reminding us that “Someone is listening” and to call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline – so they don’t have to be the one listening.
Maybe the Hotline is helpful, I don’t know – but I can tell you from the perspective of someone who sees that number posted with great frequency that if I’m looking at my phone or computer and desire to call that hotline, I’ll use Google. I find it as useful as “thoughts and prayers” every time a busload of children are mowed down during their school day.
I don’t need to think about suicide more just because you incorrectly believe that social media is the place where I’ll come to the conclusion that I want to live. The news cycle, generally, makes me want to kill myself if I think about it too much – If I’m suicidal I need to avoid Facebook or just look at memes.
If you want or need to memorialize a friend or family member on social media who has died by suicide – do that in a way that honors them and begs honest discussion from the people around you. The last few years I’ve seen a lot of that. I find that memorializing someone you love with very honest conversation about this thing reminds me of the impact, and that I would not be forgotten.
Empty platitudes about my mental health do not help me and they don’t help anyone else. Learn how to listen, learn how to actively help people who are at the end of their rope feel just enough love to hold on for a bit longer. Never – unless you have already made an agreement with this person – call the police or any authorities to involve themselves. Many of us cannot afford a hospital visit and it’ll just compound this problem when we get the bill.
If you are in a mental state that makes you capable of helping someone, help. If you aren’t – get away or you’ll likely make this worse. If you aren’t sure, you should start having conversations with the people in your life who are at risk, if you are at risk yourself I find that a good way to start that conversation is with a little honesty about your own experiences. Much like many of you are reading this and thinking, “Shit. That’s me.” The ability to recognize your own struggle in the life of another person gives us the opportunity to learn and help one another.
Care wholly and love actively. If you fail in these most essential steps, you should ignore Suicide Awareness Month entirely. It is not a hotline number, or a half-assed Facebook message that is most likely to make the difference for us. Being cared about with every fiber of another person’s being, and being loved in ways that are demonstrable are the best tools we have in silencing the voices of our Bad Men.