Let’s do this. Last night I was at a 9/10 on the suicidal scale. There are some demons I haven’t addressed ever, so I need to do that now because I’m a little too close to the edge for comfort. Bear with me. We’re going in head first.
It’s useful to imagine this as a combination of the many not helpful conversations I’ve had in my life centered around suicide and being suicidal.
“Your life is so good why would you want to die?”
There is no dollar amount, no house big enough, not enough material positions, not enough “success” that will stop me from being suicidal. My suicidal ideation is not borne from what my life is lacking, although that can be a reason people become suicidal. It’s a part of me, woven into the very fiber of my being. But let’s break down the sentence anyway:
Your life- What you really mean is your view of my life, a perspective shaped by what information I’ve chosen to share with you that is subject to various degrees of absolute truth dependent on what I remember, what I choose to share, and what you remember. Memories are slippery things, my dude.
So Good- A life is a life is a life and weighing one on the scale of “bad” and “good” is a dangerous thing to do with a suicidal person. Obvious reason why you don’t want to open with that? Obviously it’s not good, something is happening and bringing this or a combination of “bad” feelings, thoughts, memories to the surface. “So good” only has a chance as working as an argument if the suicidal person holds your approval, your interpretation higher than their own interpretation and their own feelings. A chance, mind you, because some people are really good at making you think you changed their minds about ending it all just to make the conversation end.
Why would you want to die? Don’t make the suicidal person justify their suicide to you. It’s one thing to think it, feel it in your head. It’s a very different thing to start saying it out loud, essentially making the case for your own death. And if the reasoning is to help the suicidal person, really think about whether or not you’re strong enough, equipped enough to talk someone down from a ledge. (And if that makes you feel bad, there are loads of resources for how to help suicidal people.)
“I love you. Please don’t die.”/”I need you. Please don’t kill yourself in my apartment (or some variation of this.)”
Pro-tip: There’s a good chance somewhere early in this conversation the suicidal person has expressed concern over being a burden. So…maybe don’t put the cherry on top of that feeling by centering “your help” around how inconvenient their suicide will or would be to you. What are you really saying? “Please kill yourself somewhere else.”
“That sounds like a stretch, that’s not what I said.” This is why talking suicidal people off of ledges is a difficult job that a lot of people cannot handle. Being suicidal is like a playing chess on a tilted board. Every single thing you say is being twisted against the feeling of wanting to die. It’s a voracious thing, it’s hungry for fuel for the fire. You’re not arguing with absolutely sound rationale. And if you’re not close enough to the person to know the difference between them being present in their own mind and when they are on the edge, staring into the abyss, you are not equipped to confront them at their suicidal state.
“Geez, this sounds like a lot of work. Like maybe I’m not right for them.”
Listen. I get it. But there’s no telling when you’ll encounter another suicidal person and/or be the only one to help them. So the reasonable solution is not run away and avoid all suicidal people, but rather try and learn a different way to help people so you are better equipped to actually help them.
Let’s focus on this being “too much work” part. Before you go, I have some questions. How do you demonstrate listening to someone? Is the focus of the conversation on them or you? Are you being dismissive? Are you checking for something you’re doing that is contributing to their suicidal state? Are you asking them what’s wrong? Are you asking how you can help? Are you doing anything other than seeing this as an inconvenience to you?
“So how do I help someone who is suicidal?”
Here’s what helps me and my relationships: I always tell people at the beginning of the relationship that I’m suicidal and I have severe social anxiety (leaning on the OCD side). When establishing a solid relationship, this is someone I’m going to be around frequently, it’s important that they know some of the big triggers. Two of the major ones: 1) faking emotions or what I call, falsetto happiness. I’m a little difficult to begin with and being suicidal can put a heavy strain on relationships. Being able to voice disagreement or have an actual conversation without being punished* for it will make me feel safer and more comfortable. 2) sudden changes to plans, specifically more people being at something at the last second than previously discussed. Why is that bad? If I don’t know the people, I’ll feel pressure to function more an asset to the group even to my own detriment as opposed to being an actual person. It’s also sudden so I have no time to brace myself for how much energy it’s going to take to be “perfect” among the group. It’s one of my broken parts, I know. I’m working on it.
*Punished by way of passive aggressive remarks or being blocked off from support. “Oh well, you disagreed with me about this so I’m going to make you feel bad for disagreeing.” or “I didn’t invite you to this thing because you’re too sad and would bum people out”
Since I started communicating with people about the scale of suicidal, it’s gotten easier for people to help me and for me to accept help. Earlier this month I was at 4, which means I can be left alone I just need a little emotional support. Yesterday, I was at a 9, obviously I shouldn’t be left alone unsupervised and I need to reach out to the people I trust to get me away from the edge. But that scale can vary from person to person, you need to talk to your suicidal person to figure out what it is, because they might not even be consciously aware of it. Case and point: I’m only now figuring out the scale after 10 years.
There’s also figuring out how people communicate a cry for help as the suicidal feelings get more intense. Mine is disappearing, unsending messages on Instagram (deleting the true but “incorrect” statement to send the “correct” one), pulling away from anything social, “blacking out” my social media, and of course, falsetto happiness. As long as I’m posting and talking, I’m generally fine, albeit a little antisocial. There’s also a list of trusted adults who know more about how to help me when I’m in that state of mind or who should be contacted if something happens to me.
“I get sad too, what about me?”
Just because there is a suicidal person in your life does not mean it’s either all about you or all about them. Establishing emotional needs early on when you are both conscious of your issues is super useful, even it seems hard at first. I don’t think it’s an impossible situation to have a positive outcome. (Several of my friends are also suicidal, and we have been suicidal at the same time.) Some ways to lay the foundation of such a relationship:
- Practice accurately articulating feelings and honest communication. You absolutely cannot be passive aggressive here.
- Know what comfort is to yourself and your person. When I’m having an anxiety attack, I need to be away from people, but I might not remember how to get out. This actually happened where I got “lost” in a club because the way out closed behind me from all the people and I started hyperventilating. (Super fun, love being broken. /sarcasm)
- Have an “emergency kit” you build together. Put some of your favorite movies, snacks, a list of things you like/love or enjoy about each other, whatnot in it. It might even serve as a symbol of safety to one or both of you, a marker of a safe place.
“What if I’m not there to help them?”
Here’s a harder question: Are you their trusted adult? Because it’s extremely easy to lie in text.
You are awake to get the call: Basic check list: did they eat today? Have they been drinking? Did they take their medication? Etc. (And it’s important that this isn’t perceived as accusatory, hence why I asked if you are their trusted grown up because there can’t be pressure to lie for fear of being “bad”.) If I’m higher than a 6 and haven’t eaten, I need someone to get food for me. I used to starve myself as a form of self inflicted punishment (this isn’t a normal thing in my life anymore, it’s rare for me to do this now) and it’s in my current state a task that I cannot mentally handle (think of all the steps to prepare a sandwich). Make plans with them in the near future, send them photos of you together, tell them about something great they did and you’ve never able to forget, and most importantly ask them what they need right now.
You’re not awake to get the call: You shouldn’t be the ONLY trusted adult. If you know they’re suicidal ahead of time, like before they make a full fledged attempt, you should have “emergency” things in place if you aren’t able to take the call. I have several emergency contacts with various sleep schedules and there a few places I can go if I really and truly cannot be left alone. There’s microwave ready meals in the freezer, and some other protocols should it get to a 10.
You also…shouldn’t beat yourself up if you miss it. You cannot exist happily, fulfilled at the mercy of your partner’s suicidal feelings and they shouldn’t expect you to. That’s why if this is big fear for you, you need to be proactive in the preventative measures, to reduce that fear becoming a reality.
I’ve had partners’ egos flip out at the idea they weren’t the only trusted adult or that they wouldn’t always be the one saving me. It’s possessive, unhealthy and contributes to several other issues. Breathe, babe, and focus on what’s important.
“So you’re suicidal all the time? Maybe you should look at how you’re living your life that’s contributing to that feeling. Just be happy.”
Let’s take this in parts shall we? 🙂
So you’re suicidal all the time: I fall somewhere on a scale of 1 to 10 on a daily basis, yes. Am I always actively trying to kill myself? No. Am I always aware of my suicidal shit? 99.9% of the time. It’s rare for me to slip back into 100% suicidal state because of all the steps I’ve taken to prevent it. It does happen still, at least once a year there’s an episode but it’s gotten smaller and smaller in the last five years. It’s automatic, tied to my anxiety, and mostly unresponsive to anti-depressants (as in anti depressants will make me more suicidal not less). There have been follow up questions like “Why don’t you kill yourself? Like why doesn’t it get you?” Because I’m not going to let it be stronger than me, as long as my heart is still beating I’m winning. Sometimes though, I get overwhelmed and my grasp on my will to live is shaky.
How you’re living: I’ve lived a strange life babe, even I don’t believe it sometimes and it’s only getting stranger still. So there’s this idea that being suicidal can only be born as a consequence of one’s actions. My suicidal feelings are not tied to external causes, like break ups and arguments. Life’s actually not as terrible now as it has been in the past, but that doesn’t matter to my issues. External factors can exasperate my suicidal feelings, sure, but I’m very aware of how one decision in my life has ultimately made six more decisions down the road.
I see it like this: your brain is a system, a system like a computer, right? And it’s got all these rules and ways of protecting itself and making sure “you” are happy. So in my brain there used to be a lot of rules about how valuable my life is, about what makes a life worth living, (and trust we’re going to get into it) and when to launch END_LIFE.exe and it used to get launched a lot. So running with this metaphor, there’s only one person who has full admin rights to all the parts of the computer, me. Sure, I can take it to a shop that specializes in this model (a doctor), I could get some mods to alter my user experience (pills), I could get some beta testers (talking to people, friends, family) but ultimately no one is going to know this system better than me.
So to comment exactly on if I’m looking at how I’m living my life: I am and I’m learning something new every day.
Just be happy: When I’m open about being suicidal, I am happy. Because I’m not hiding, I’m normalizing the conversation about mental health in my own strange way and I think it makes my relationships with people who care about me stronger. I don’t derive success in the same way as a lot of people who say “just be happy”. This was always wanted to do with my life, and sure it’s in the most roundabout way possible, but if there is one person who feels like they can keep going because of something I wrote…well, I might as well be a millionaire.
Here’s to this being of use to people other than my strange vanity project, but I think I’m just going to do a series talking about suicide, because right now it’s the only thing I feel comfortable writing about. Look at me, making plans for the future.
Until next time,
Don’t be hungry for life. Be ravenous.
Zakkarrii Edison Daniels