What To Do When Your Internal Programming Goes Haywire (or How I learned to Live with Suicidal Thoughts)
Imagine that your brain is like a computer. Your thoughts and behaviour are the programs that run in the background. It’s all binary. The output is your response to things, situations, yes, no, yes, no, yes, no.
There is a program in your brain called “live”. This program runs very closely along the ideas of evolution and survival. The programming tells you that no matter what, you need to survive. Whatever happens, keep breathing, living, doing things, procreating, further to gene pool, keep the human race going.
There’s this bit of dialogue from Horace and Pete, where one of the characters starts hypothesising about why more people haven’t committed suicide. He uses the example of the holocaust. Why didn’t more people take their own lives, he speculates. In those horrible dehumanising, unimaginable atrocities, still the programming to survive is strong.
My own internal program “live” has always been buggy. I’m pretty sure I’ve suffered from depression since childhood (another program that doesn’t run so great sometimes). But the idea of ending my life didn’t really occur to me until I hit my teens. I’m a 90’s kid, so I’m not sure if I got the idea from Mr Kurt Cobain, or where exactly I gleaned it from.
But at the age of 19, I tried to take my own life. For reasons I won’t go into, I had a bunch of painkillers and sedatives. My memory’s pretty hazy, but I took a whole bunch of pills, and hoped to fall asleep and not wake up.
But I did wake up. With the most terrible stomachache I’ve had in my life. Doubled over, I crawled to the phone to call my mum. She took me to hospital in the middle of the night. The staff at the hospital more than anything, were pretty pissed off at me. Probably I was being bratty, and taking up a hospital bed. They forced me to drink this giant cup of charcoal, threatening that if I didn’t drink it, they would put a tube down my nose, which was apparently much more painful.
I remember the final words a staff member said to me, as I was checked out of the hospital “don’t do something stupid again”.
I don’t remember much post that. A close friend came by and dropped off a fruit basket, and I remember being so touched and moved to tears.
I was sent to see a bunch of youth counselors. My main counselor was pretty aggressive and no nonsense. Just get on with your life was the message she sent.
And so I did, get on with my life that is. Somehow my “live” program sort of corrected itself, or perhaps I’ve just had a good run with the program. It wasn’t acting up. Sure the depression would come and go, but it was not accompanied by this feeling of not wanting to exist.
The bugs in the “live” program have resurfaced over the last year. They were particularly strong around my birthday last year, and have lingered.
The people I’m closest to, I’ve been completely honest with. In my darker moments, I have prepared my goodbye letters to my loved ones, given information to my family about finances, life insurance etc.
I have prefaced it by saying I don’t trust myself, or my brain, or my programming. So they should know if anything were to happen, where the relevant documents would be etc.
In my darker moments I have researched how to kill myself. I know which methods have risks, like not dying but waking up in a vegetative state.
In my darker moments, I have wished that there were suicide booths like on Futurama. That you could walk into one just as easily as finding a payphone, in the 90’s.
But in my not so dark moments, like the moments just post the darkness, when the program corrects itself, I will put things in place for when the programming goes haywire. If you find yourself with similarly buggy programming, I strongly suggest you do the same.
Here’s what I have done:
- Make a suicide prevention plan. This is step one and absolutely crucial. This means when your programming goes haywire, you have at least one person you can call who can help you action the plan.
But pick the right person. Nothings going to make you feel shittier than calling someone at 2am in the morning, only for them to tell you to just go back to bed. You need to have someone that understands how it feels and knows that this is not simply attention seeking.
My plan also includes calling the CAT (Crisis and Trauma) team for my neck of the woods.
I also know of suicide prevention hotlines that you can call, although some of them have a voice recording first, which I don’t think is super cool.
I also know that if I’m feeling suicidal I can walk into emergency at any hospital and explain to them the situation. And that they have the facilities to keep me from self harming. Thankfully a lot has changed over the last couple of decades in relation to how we relate to mental health issues.
Finally, there is a line that I will say to myself in my darker hours, and it goes like this “Your life is not entirely your own”.
I didn’t make that line up, it’s actually from Lana Wachowski, from her fabulous acceptance speech for the Human Rights Campaign visibility award.
In her speech she talks about almost committing suicide as a teenager, which is what the line is in reference to.
That line reminds me that I have people who love me, who have told me that they would be devastated if I took my own life. That it would just break them. And it reminds me that my actions have consequences, and will impact others. And sometimes imagining the pain that my loved ones would be in is enough for me to just hold off for one day.
If you, like me, have a buggy “live” program. It’s always good to talk about it, albeit with the right people.
Here’s the thing, wanting to kill yourself is pretty much the loneliest feeling in the world. Like nobody can relate to what it’s like when you loose the will to live. There’s a shame attached to it as well, like you’ve failed at life.
But, there are a ton of people who know that feeling of loneliness, of scouring your mind and finding thin on the ground, reasons to keep going. You are not alone.
My “live” program is still buggy. I have suicidal thoughts. They come and go. But the best thing I ever did was to put a suicide prevention plan in place.
Along with finding the right SSRI’s, I am sure this has saved my life.
This was written and published in response to this fact that suicide was the leading cause of death for Australians aged 15 to 44.