The first time you tell a stranger that you’re suicidal, it’s predictably weird and it makes you grimace, like you’re begging for attention.
I tried to keep it vague, to be honest. After calling the Suicide Prevention hotline and staying on hold for a short period of time a friendly and calm voice eventually greeted me. I told him I was feeling down. He responded by asking in what way was I feeling down. I said ‘like I didn’t want to be around anymore.’ I figured this would suffice — it’s a suicide helpline after all, you know why I’m calling. After one further gentle pry, I opened up, and told him I wanted to kill myself and I started to cry to an absolute stranger on the telephone.
It’s hard to say out loud because, even though you think about it so much, you never actually think you’d go through with it. There’s something holding you back. Sometimes it’s logistical. Sometimes it’s thinking about who would find the body. The perfect way would be for it to be quick and painless, and for literally no one to ever find the body; I would never wish that burden or trauma upon anyone. Of course, no way readily exists that covers all of those bases. Otherwise, I’m not sure I’d be writing this today.
I feel somewhat awful even opening up about this because, honestly, I don’t want anyone to worry about me. But I’m writing this for two reasons. Firstly, because I find writing therapeutic — a purely selfish reason. Secondly, for anyone reading this to potentially understand what a loved one is going through if you know they’ve ever dealt with these thoughts. Empathy is the greatest gift a human can grant another human, and maybe this helps get one person just a bit closer to understanding someone else’s struggle.
The first time I ever told anyone I was suicidal was a lot different from the time I called a crisis hotline. I was walking around the town I lived in at the time with a friend of mine and I made an off-the-cuff remark that if life ever got too difficult, I could just kill myself. My friend gave me a puzzled look and asked what I was talking about. I explained, a little more serious, that sometimes I contemplated suicide. ‘Just like everyone else,’ I added. ‘No,’ he said. ‘No one else fucking thinks that.’
That was the first time I realized those thoughts were different and, honestly, the first time I realized human beings were genuinely capable of different thoughts at all. I figured any thought that was passing through my head, be it in class or while riding my bike or whatever, was simultaneously being entertained — at least in some capacity — by those around me, and just the smart or brave ones said it out loud. Nothing prepares you for that realization.
So let me try my best to explain to you what it’s like.
First off, I shouldn’t say alone. You’re never completely alone. I relied on my friends and family these past couple weeks and I’m incredibly grateful for them. Saying I’m alone is doing them a disservice. However, you do really feel alone, and that’s kind of all that matters at that point.
So, you want to die is the easy way to put it. I’ve brought this up to friends and I tell them I’d be too much of a coward to actually go through with it. Like some folks that deal with these thoughts, I’m not into self-harm. I only want to be suddenly gone. One friend recently told me that, no, that’s not cowardly; that actually doing it would be cowardly. I think I’ll carry that lesson with me for the rest of my life.
The rest of this section might be triggering so, I’m sorry. You can skip ahead to the next page break if you’d like.
So you think of how to die. The easy one is that you try to overdose on the medication that’s available to you, but a pretty simple Google search shows you that SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) rarely yield fatal overdoses. It’s part of why they’re prescribed so liberally.
So you think to yourself of the fastest way to stockpile enough sleeping pills. Surely one pack isn’t enough if you can just buy them over-the-counter from the pharmacy. Though, having worked at a pharmacy, I know most places only allow you to buy one pack at a time. Am I going to drive around to multiple pharmacies to try and get enough? I put a pin in that one.
I look out my balcony; I live on the third floor now. I start to wonder if I jumped high enough and if I intentionally went head first, would that be enough? Because I’m squeamish, I think I’d need to blindfold myself, which means the likelihood of me simply being hospitalized seem pretty good. Maybe I’d be able to knock on someone’s door on the 18th floor and just make a run for it. But then I’m back to the guilt of ruining someone else’s life, so I can’t do that.
Hopping in a car and driving as fast as I could into an overpass seems like it could work, but there’s no guarantee I don’t hurt anyone else, and there’s also no guarantee I don’t die.
The other classic ways (which I just won’t mention) pass through your mind, sure. But, again, I don’t want it to hurt and someone would eventually have to walk in on me like that.
So I explain to the man on the other side of the phone, a couple days after I’ve had these thoughts, that when I close my eyes I can feel all the color fade from the world behind my eyelids and that I never want to open them again. I genuinely hope they never open again.
I bring up those harrowing examples of people who are given a one-percent chance of living, but somehow persevere against the odds. I tell him that I know for a fact that I’d just give up. Because I give up at a 100% chance of living every single day when I’m like this, but my eyes just keep opening. I unplug my mental life support every night, but I just keep surviving. Some days, when my bedroom ceiling starts coming into focus for the first time in the morning, I hate my body for betraying me and not just shutting off the way I wanted it to.
Thankfully, I’m better for now. But it’s been a life-long struggle for me and a lot of other people you know. And it’s still a thought in my head, but it doesn’t consume me like it did on the day after my 30th birthday at 2:26 a.m., when I made a 31-minute phone call and cried to a total stranger, who volunteers his time to help people like me. Think of the overwhelming burden those volunteers take on every night.
I try to think of why I have these thoughts (where do they come from and why am I wired this way?), but it quickly turns into why doesn’t everyone else have these thoughts, and that can only ever be a hurtful mindset for everyone involved.
These thoughts routinely come about in October and I try to self-diagnose why that might be. It’s my birth month, but getting older has never really bugged me. I don’t think it’s that, but I don’t really enjoy birthdays. I’ve come up with some other reasonable hypotheses, but none that is perfectly satisfactory. It could be a lot of things and it could be nothing.
This time, when I started feeling those feelings, the person I thought I needed to be there for me didn’t want to be, though, so I was left more alone than I’d ever been. And that’s okay. They needed to make a choice for them and their own health at that moment, and I commend them for having the strength to do so. While it may have hurt right away, more than anything I’d ever felt, it showed me that I, too, should make as many choices for me as I can. I’ve worried a lot about what people think of me, and I’ve acted out on those feelings in truly despicable ways. I hate myself for the way I’ve treated people in those moments, but I can’t keep hating myself. The only way to fix it is to actively choose to be a better version of you every single day. The voice in the back of your head telling you what to do or not to do should be unapologetically you.
Now I meditate pretty much daily and, if I found I’ve been fixating on a particular thought for a couple hours or days, I’m able to let those go a lot easier. I’m not fully healed or anything and this isn’t me trying to reflexively make this a story of success but, what I guess I’m saying is, everyone is a work in progress, laboring through something that you might not fully understand. Be there — or not there — for them in the best way you know how.