How we see the world shapes who we choose to be — and sharing compelling experiences can frame the way we treat each other, for the better. This is a powerful perspective.
At times, I’ve struggled with suicidal thoughts, even on a weekly basis.
Sometimes I’m able to ignore them. I might be driving to meet a friend for brunch and briefly think about driving my car off the road. The thought might catch me off-guard, but it quickly passes through my mind and I go about my day.
But other times, these thoughts stick around. It’s like a huge weight is dropped onto me, and I’m struggling to get out from underneath it. I suddenly get an intense urge and desire to end it all, and the thoughts can start to overwhelm me.
In those moments, I’m convinced I’ll do anything to get out from under that weight, even if it means ending my life. It’s like there’s a glitch in my brain that’s triggered and my mind goes haywire.
Even if that glitch is actually temporary, it can feel like it will last forever
With time, though, I’ve become more aware of these thoughts and found ways to manage when things get tough. It’s taken a lot of practice, but simply being aware of the lies my brain tells me when I’m suicidal helps to combat them.
If this last year has taught me anything, it’s that no matter what depression tells you, there’s always hope.
Here are four ways my suicidal ideation shows up, and how I’ve learned to cope.
1. When it feels impossible to focus on anything other than my pain, I look for a distraction
When I’m suicidal, I struggle to listen to reason — I only care about relief. My emotional pain is intense and overwhelming, so much so that it’s hard to concentrate or think about anything else.
If I find that I can’t focus, I sometimes turn to my favorite TV shows, like “Friends” or “Seinfeld.” They bring me a sense of comfort and familiarity that I need in those times, and it can be a great distraction when reality gets to be too much. I know all of the episodes by heart, so I’ll usually lay there and listen to the dialogue.
It can help me pull back from my suicidal thoughts and refocus on getting through another day (or just another hour).
Sometimes all we can do is wait for the thoughts to pass and then regroup. Watching a favorite show is a great way to pass the time and keep ourselves safe.
2. When I’m convinced that everyone would be better off without me, I challenge those thoughts
My loved ones would never want me to die by suicide, but when I’m in crisis, it’s hard for me to think clearly.
There’s a voice in my head that tells me how much better off my parents would be if they didn’t need to support me financially, or if my friends didn’t have to take care of me when I’m at my worst. No one would have to answer the late-night calls and texts or come over when I’m in the midst of a breakdown — isn’t that better for everyone?
But the reality is, I’m the only one that thinks that.
My family wouldn’t recover if I died, and my loved ones know that being there for someone when things get tough is a part of life. They would rather answer those late-night calls than lose me forever, even if I struggle to believe that in the moment.
When I’m in this headspace, it usually helps to spend some time with Petey, my rescue dog. He’s my best friend and has been there through it all this past year. On most mornings, he’s the reason I get out of bed.
I know he needs me to stick around and take care of him. Since he was already abandoned once, I could never leave him. Sometimes that thought alone is enough to keep me hanging on.
Challenge your thoughts about loved ones being better off without you by not only thinking through the reality, but spending time with loved ones — pets included.
3. When I struggle to see my other options, I reach out to my therapist — or I go to sleep
Being suicidal is, in some ways, a form of total emotional exhaustion. I’m tired of having to force myself out of bed each morning, having to take all of these medications that don’t seem to be working, and crying constantly.
Struggling with your mental health day in and day out is very tiring, and when I’ve reached my limit, it can feel as though I’m just too broken — that I need a way out.
It helps to check in with my therapist, though, and be reminded of all of the progress I’ve made so far.
Instead of focusing on the step backward, I can refocus on the two steps forward I took just before that — and how other forms of treatment I haven’t tried yet can help me get back on my feet again.
On the nights when the ideations are most intense and it’s too late to check in with my therapist, I take a couple of Trazadone, which are antidepressants that can be prescribed as a sleep aid (Melatonin or Benadryl can also be used as sleep aids, and purchased over-the-counter).
I only take them when I feel unsafe and don’t want to make any impulsive decisions, and it helps to ensure that I make it through the night. In my experience, those impulsive decisions would’ve been the wrong choice, and I almost always wake up the next morning feeling a little better.
4. When I feel completely and utterly alone, I push myself to reach out
When I’m dealing with suicidal ideations, it can feel like no one understands what I’m going through, but I also don’t know how to articulate it or ask for help.
It’s hard enough to try and explain to someone why you feel the desire to die, and sometimes, even opening up just leads to feeling misunderstood.
Even if it can feel awkward or scary at first, it’s important to reach out in these moments and keep yourself safe
If I’m feeling suicidal, I know the worst thing I can do is try to go it alone. It took me a long time to work up the courage to call someone when I was feeling this way, but I’m glad I did. Calling my mom and best friends has saved my life multiple times, even if in the moment I wasn’t convinced it would.
Sometimes you have to ignore the part of your brain that tells you it isn’t worth it, and pick up the phone anyway
Now when I’m feeling suicidal, I call a friend I trust or my parents.
If I don’t feel like talking, just having someone on the other side of the phone can still be comforting. It reminds me that I’m not alone, and that I (and the choices that I make) matter to someone.
If you don’t feel comfortable talking to a friend, text the crisis hotline by texting HOME to 741741. I’ve done this a few times, and it’s nice to just get my mind off things by texting with a compassionate person.
When you’re in a depressed state, you’re not in a position to make permanent decisions, especially when there’s no one there to offer perspective. After all, depression doesn’t just affect our moods — it can affect our thoughts, too.
Suicidal ideation can be extremely scary, but you’re never alone and you’re never without options.
If you’ve run out of coping tools and you have a plan and an intent, please call 911 or go to the nearest hospital. There’s absolutely no shame in that, and you deserve to be supported and safe.
If this last year has taught me anything, it’s that no matter what depression tells you, there’s always hope. No matter how painful it can be, I always find that I’m stronger than I think I am.
And chances are pretty good that if you’ve made it this far, you are, too.
Allyson Byers is a freelance writer and editor based in Los Angeles who loves writing about anything health-related. You can see more of her work at www.allysonbyers.com and follow her on social media.