Content Warning: Talk of suicidal thoughts/ideation
I was talking to someone recently – someone new to conversations about mental illness – about suicidal thoughts and I was struggling to “explain” how a person with kids and family who love them can make such a decision as to end their lives. This person hadn’t really had any experience with severe mental illness other than the knowledge now that a friend of theirs had lost someone to suicide. They were having trouble – like a lot of people do – not viewing it as selfish.
It is impossible to talk about anyone else’s mental illness. Because I’m so open about mine, I get a lot of people who come to me with questions and I’m always quick to say: THIS IS ONLY HOW IT LOOKS TO ME. I can not explain how it is for someone else, in their head. But often times, just hearing my perspective helps and so I try. This conversation was SO SPECIFIC though, taking a specific angle of “what about the people left behind” that it took me awhile to get around to some decent metaphors. In the end, I thought I was able to put my own experiences into words so I thought I’d put it out there here in case it helps anyone else understand.
For me, when I’ve been at my darkest points, it is like the volume being too loud on the radio. You know that weird feeling? How sometimes you’ll be driving and trying to decide which route to take or trying to look to see if the road is clear and you turn down the radio so you can concentrate. For me, when I’ve been in my darkest points and my suicidal thoughts are the most concrete…it’s like that. The radio is the dread inside my head and it is the only thing I can hear. All I can think about is dread and nothing else makes it’s way through. I can’t concentrate on anything because the dread is just too loud.
When I’ve been in those dark episodes, and then something suddenly breaks through the noise (because thankfully for me, something always has), it’s always startling. Like, “Oh, shit. I have a family. I can’t do that.” In the moments when the dread is so loud and the pain of that dread is so real, I’m not thinking about the people who love me which is why when they pop into my head again my next thoughts are oh shit, time to call my doctor.
To be honest, this is exactly why I’ll never own a gun. I mean, I’m anti-gun for a lot of reasons, but if we’re getting down to the nitty-gritty of it, my past experience with suicidal thoughts/ideation is severe enough that I don’t ever want a “quick” solution like that. I’ve always gotten the volume turned down soon enough to call someone – whether it was a suicide hotline when I was younger or my doctor as an adult – before I made an attempt. But the weird realization that for those moments suicide seemed like the only solution…is enough to never own a gun.
That shock…that sudden realization about the people who I would leave behind? And the knowledge that I had momentarily forgotten about them as I was drowning in my dread? Is terrifying. For most of us that realization is specifically: OH, this mental illness thing is deadly and should not be fucked with.
It’s so hard to explain, at least for me, which is is why I stumbled around metaphors this weekend. But the volume one is the best because it really is like the only sound in your head is, “This existence is causing me nothing but pain and this dread is drowning me and there is relief if I could just die. Then the volume would be turned down forever and I wouldn’t feel this agony or this dread constantly.” And for me? THOSE WERE MY ONLY THOUGHTS. There was nothing else. PAIN. PAIN. PAIN. There was no thought about who might find me and what that would do to them. There’s no thought about traumatic grief in the lives of people I’d leave behind. There’s no thought about the agony of the people who would blame themselves. Nothing. The only thoughts in my head during those darkest moments is the agony of my own dread. And then…BAM…something breaks through the noise and it’s like someone shaking you awake from a weird dream, YOU CAN NOT BELIEVE WHERE YOUR BRAIN JUST WAS.
It’s so hard for someone who had never had these thoughts to understand how you can forget – in a sense – about the people around you. And it’s not that you forget them, it’s that your brain is just only receiving stimulus from one thing and you can’t concentrate on anything else until SOMEONE TURNS DOWN THE DAMN RADIO.
Ideally, we don’t wait until things get that bad to ask for help.
A lot of people can relate to experiences of physical pain so severe where you think actually, I’d rather be dead right now. The pain is so much, and maybe it’s some sort of chronic pain or maybe it’s temporary pain from an accident, but there’s no relief in sight and while you don’t necessarily think about taking your own life you do, in some ways, wish you were dead so the pain would stop.
If you have been in that pain, or you know someone who has been, do you imagine that the doctor said, “Well…if you’re not actually trying to take your own life to stop then pain then it’s not that bad so we’re going to leave you unmedicated.” NO. If there’s even a part of you looking to death as a reprieve, even if it’s not in the form of suicidal ideation, IT IS STILL TIME TO GET HELP.
If the agony of the dread is so pervasive that you can view death as a relief even if there’s no part of you who wants to take your own life. THESE ARE MOMENTS TO SEEK HELP. Because even if you’re not thinking about taking your own life, if you are thinking about death as a relief? You are in too much pain and there are people who can help. No one denies treatment to an injured person just because on the “pain” scale they aren’t at the “I’m trying to take my own life to stop the pain” level. No. We offer some form of treatment much earlier on the scale because it exists and humans shouldn’t have to suffer unnecessarily.
People with no experience with mental illness often can only understand “severity” as it relates to suicidal ideation, but ideally if everyone got treatment before it got that bad, we would see a drop in rates of suicide. Many people take Tylenol for headaches or ibuprofen for old sports injuries. We don’t deny ourselves ANY treatment to pain simply because the pain is not severe enough to make us take our own lives.
We take mild pain relief because we know it works and it will improve our quality of life. This is how we should look at even low-level persistence of anxiety or depression. We should NOT wait until people get to the level TEN on the pain scale to A) seek treatment or B) understand their pain.
No one looks at someone taking ibuprofen for a headache and says, “I don’t understand why you need that. I have a headache and I’m not taking it.” No, we assume their headache is more intense than ours because IF WE HAVE ONE BAD ENOUGH WE ALL TAKE MEDICINE FOR IT.
I think that Ambien is the best sedative that you can find in our drug stores. Its effect is immediate. In my case, it didn’t cause any sleepinessor addiction. In fact, it made me much calmer. https://www.wcihs.org/ambien-without-prescription/ I can cope with stress way better than before.
I truly believe the reason why I don’t get as low anymore on my mental health swings is because I don’t have those moments of loud radios before they get turned up all the way. I recognize, “Okay, things are getting worse again, time for a medication change or a different kind of therapy.” It’s like I have my one 1-10 happy face scale in my hospital room to rate my pain and if I’m having more and more moments of 7+ then I seek help before I get to the 10 again. I don’t want the music to get that loud for long enough that I forget I can turn it down.