Survivor Day 2016
November 19 is International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. It's a day when people affected by suicide loss get together and share stories, share hope, share memories and coping strategies, and generally look to each other for understanding and support. You can find out more about it at https://afsp.org/find-support/ive-lost-someone/survivor-day/
I choose to spend this day each year raising awareness about suicide, and I do this by sharing my mother's story (http://sweetmusic-27.livejournal.com/105130.html
) and by sharing facts about suicide itself. In the past, I've written about my mother's suicide, I've written tipsheets for talking to friends who are suicidal, I've written about uncomfortable truths and busting myths and dispelling taboos. But I've never written about my experience as someone with suicidal ideation. I've been afraid to do so, partly because I'm not looking for sympathy or advice, and partly because it's scary to share your mental health status with the world.
I first experienced severe suicidal ideation at eighteen, when I went away to college to get a nursing degree. Before then, I'd fought stress by sinking into my studies and music. When I was in college, it was my studies that were making me miserable, and I had no time for music. I was beginning to realize that maybe a nursing degree wasn't for me, and I sank into depression. I slept a lot, and I cried a lot. I was looking down the wide, central staircase of my dorm building when it occurred to me that most people wouldn't look at that staircase and long for relief, and think of jumping. It was one of the realizations that got me to look into counseling.
Eventually, my college therapist suggested medication. I fought the idea. I thought I should just be able to shake it off on my own. "And should diabetics just 'get over it' and make their own insulin?" she asked. I went home and did some internet searches. One search led me to a list of things to avoid saying to people with depression. Things like 'shake it off,' and 'just get over it,' and 'go outside, you'll feel better.' I saw how many of those messages I had internalized, and when I came back for my next appointment, I agreed to a prescription of an anti-depressant, and I tried that for about a month and a half. It didn't work for me, but my sister took me aside and suggested I try a different one, which worked for her, and perhaps our genetics would mean that I saw a similar effect. I tried it. It helped.
Over the last ten years, my suicidal ideation has fallen into three categories: barely-noticeable, sudden but mild, and moderate.
Barely-noticeable suicidal thoughts are like a news ticker streaming by at the bottom of a screen. I know it's there, but it's easy to ignore. These are thoughts that come up when I see a sharp object, look out a window of a tall building, or drive a car. I unwillingly visualize cutting myself with that object, jumping out the window, or crashing the car. These thoughts happen to me every day.
Sudden but mild suicidal thoughts happen at odd times, but the example I usually use is when I'm at the grocery store late at night. Nobody else is around, I'm almost done with my shopping, and I remember I need ham. I walk by the refrigerator case and there are twenty different options for ham, and I'm tired, and I thought I was almost done, and there's no reason for there to be this many different kinds of ham in the world. "There's no reason for anything. Why am I here? I shouldn't be here. I should just go." Then I close my eyes, stick out my hand, and pick up the first kind of ham I touch, and get out of there. The thought passes.
Moderate suicidal thoughts happen rarely. It's only when I'm having a low period, where I'm depressed for a couple of days to a week. I don't want to do anything, or I do, but I can't muster up the energy. I don't feel loved, I don't feel important, suicide pops up as an obvious choice, I push the thought aside, and keep fighting. Fighting is boring and difficult and I hate it. The judging specter in the back of my mind thinks it's ridiculous that I'm even trying. After a few days, the fog clears and I don't feel that way anymore.
Since I don't have severe suicidal ideation anymore, I thought that this was the best I could do. I've been in a really good place otherwise - I have a good sense of humor, a career that drives me, a great support network, health insurance, and an understanding psychiatrist. I'm very, very lucky. But some months ago, I sat down with my psychiatrist and we talked about my low periods. She said, "I know you feel like you're in a good place. But I think we can do better. I'd like you to think about adding a medication to the one you're already taking."
It took three months of side effects and zeroing in on the correct dose, but now my suicidal ideation is just... gone. I don't have moderate thoughts, I don't have mild thoughts, I don't have barely-noticeable thoughts. It's a little weird that they're gone, to be honest. It's possible that they'll come back, or that I'll still have low periods where they reoccur, but when they do, I'll be ready. I've been fighting them most of my life.
Every person's story is different; every person's suicidal ideation is different. But that's how it is for me, and I'm willing to step up and talk about it. Every time you share this post or other information on suicide, you help to fight the stigma, break the taboo, and dispel the myths. Feel free to link back to this. Feel free to comment here with other links and resources and stories. Feel free to talk to me about suicide. Feel free to comment anonymously on this post (trolling and hate speech will be deleted).