The elephant in the room broke some furniture this last week. It’s name is Suicide.
I not here to talk about successful people dying, or how they have problems too. But, as a resource center for anxiety and depression, leading factors in suicide contemplation and action, I feel it’s worth writing about the subject at hand. I hope to provide any insight possible with my own personal experiences and resulting thoughts around suicide.
Death by suicide is on the rise in the U. S., and the highest its ever been. To be fair, other countries around the world have much higher rates than the U. S., and those statistics are important as well.
Suicide is a rough, rough thing. For those contemplating it, taking action, and for their loved ones. It’s not always on account of mental illness, or other stressor.
Gregg Henriques writes on a few things he’s learned about suicide after years of studying it. I recommend reading through it before continuing reading this post.
I’m not here to moralize or demonize suicide. I do believe that people have the right to choose how and when they die- with a few caveats. I’ll be talking about the one I am most preoccupied myself.
- Suicide is not a good option if you are under immediate emotional distress.
This comes from my own personal encounters with suicide attempts. The simple explanation is that, well, as agonizing as that experience may be, “this too shall pass.” And I mean that in the least cliché way possible.
Emotions are powerful, abstract things, and trying to explain what you feel seems to be impossible on a linguistic level. Emotions, whether positive or negative, can be nigh impossible to see outside of when sufficiently strong. This is precisely what makes them (positive or negative ((think, manic vs. depressive episodes)) so potentially damaging. When in the grips of a particularly strong emotion, our perception is warped in the light of that emotion. We literally see the world differently, making different assumptions that lead us to different conclusions than we might otherwise make.
When gripped by a sudden, terrible mental agony, be it from trauma, stress, severe depression, or a shock (life plot twist), it can be easy to slip into the belief that our life has always been this painful and that we are now trapped to exist forever in this pain. What we fail to see is that before the event, things were different, and this current pain is the result of change. And if change can occur, and produce pain, change can also occur and reduce or even eliminate the pain.
Now, I’m a “quality of life over quantity of life” person. I definitely believe that a life that is nothing but pain is definitely not a life worth living. But that must be measured objectively, over time, and we also should take into consideration if that pain can be either alleviated, or if there are other worthwhile things that counter our suffering. (Because we’ll never encounter a life free of suffering.)
So here’s the difficult part: if you’re in the midst of terrible, terrible suffering. Make a plan.
Yes. Literally. A long term one. At least three months, if not six. That’s the hard part. At least, in the moment that thought of death approaches you.
If you find yourself incapable of thinking through anything while in a state like this, (it happens) take action. By which I mean, do something completely unrelated to the issue at hand. I personally find something to clean. Cleaning is not “fun”, but is a great way of calming the fuck down. There is little difference between your environment and your mental state. By organizing your physical environment, you can organize your mental environment. After this interval, proceed with the plan below, if you are still feeling like you don’t want to exist/live/be yourself.
I’m going to detail out my version of that plan. This is what I personally did. Yours may look different, but I believe the principle holds true.
- I outlined what specifically I did not like about my life. I outlined all the painful, to merely unpleasant things.
- I chose from that list a number of things I could not abide by in my life. Things, that if managed, or minimized, would greatly improve my life. (Do not aim for an absolute. Those are difficult to attain and the lack of attainment can crush you back down.)
- I made a list of the positives in my life. Things I really enjoyed, even if the were silly and simple, either if they were fleeting or deeply meaningful, they made it on the list.
- I chose from that list the things that if I had more of, would make my life much better, and at the least tolerable, if not wonderful, to live.
Now, making those lists took a while. I think I took at least a week to comb over everything. I’d say take as long as you need, but not less than that. The next steps are important.
- Think, really think, preferably with another person (professionals are best–more on that down the page!) on how you could accomplish those things on your list. The outside perspective is important. These are some really rough problems you’re facing. Too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the soup, but two heads are better than one when problem solving. Having a good problem solver by your side can give you some wonderful ways to solve that problem that you never dreamed of. (I’m pretty sure humans aren’t a kind of “hive mind” for this exact reason.)
- Now you have ideas to solve your problem, make an action plan. Set S. M. A. R. T. goals.
- Find metrics to asses yourself by. Get mood trackers, take evaluations. Write a daily journal detailing all you did and how you felt. You will need this to look back on when objectively assessing your quality of life. (I’ll provide links of apps once I’m satisfied with a list of them. Apps are nice. They simplify this process.)
- Give yourself a deadline. Seriously. Put it in perspective. Give yourself three, actually. Three months out, reassess if the plan seems to have any effect. If yes, (your life might not be “fixed” by now, we’re looking for incremental improvement.) make any adjustments you need. The past three months may have given you insight into your problems. Do this again at six months. Finally, at a year out, set the “final” deadline. Something like, “I want to have these problems at x level of resolved and these positive things at x level of prevalent in my life by this time. Also, something like, “if by (insert date here), after I’ve diligently done all of the things on my list, attempting to fix problems and increase positive elements in my life, I’m still in this much pain I can kill myself.”
I’m not advocating for you killing yourself, but this is a part of goal setting. The goal isn’t to kill yourself with this paradigm, but to objectively analyze if killing yourself is actually the only and best option. If you have no end in mind, you have only something vague and abstract to aim at. And you will always miss the mark if the mark is vague. Imagine if a dart board were made of a heat mirage vs. a real, solid one.
What I found in the process of doing this myself was that a lot of my problems could be solved, and not only that, but that I was capable of doing it. And a lot of the problems I solved, I started of believing that I wasn’t competent to solve them. In some cases, I had to learn some radically new things to do so. I did have to reassess some of the problems themselves, and solutions, and some of them were very novel to me. A year ago today, my life was a disgusting mess that I had no idea what to do with it. I didn’t want to die, but I most certainly did not want to be me.
Now, I’m going to skip the sappy speech about how much better and sunshiney my life is now and encourage anyone who is suicidal and reading this to just hang on. Because *eye roll*. We’ve had enough of those. We know the rhetoric.
On to the practical again. Professional help is wonderful. If you can’t afford traditional professional help (most in the U. S. cannot. In fact, Business Insider reports on the rise in the costs of Mental Healthcare, and on how only 55% of mental health professionals even accept insurance to begin with.), there are other options. Just googling “online therapy free” brings up a couple of options. (they are not 100% free, but seem to have free options, or are generally cheaper than traditional therapy.) I’m posting them here for you to try.
Talkspace.com (only the assessment is free.)
7Cups is another free, confidential chat based online resource. They do also offer a therapy program for up to $150 a month for unlimited access to a therapist.
For those wanting Christian based counseling, there is Faithful Counseling.
There are hundreds of mood/depression/anxiety trackers as apps and websites these days. I’m in the midst of testing many of them out, so hopefully in the near future I’ll be able to post those for you all to choose from.
And as always, there is the Suicide Hotline, and other crisis help organizations. If you are actively struggling, it helps to have them saved in your contacts. You don’t even need them labeled as such.
All your questions can be answered, if that is what you want. But once you learn your answers, you can never unlearn them.
Neil Gaiman, American Gods