Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

What Helped Me When I Was Suicidal

Trigger warning: suicide

Suicide has made the news recently with the tragic deaths of Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, and lesser-known Jeanine Pepler. Their deaths have sparked a national conversation about suicide and silent suffering. As someone who has had suicidal ideations, it deeply affects me to hear that other people got to such a terrible place that they believed ending their lives was the best option.

There’s a lot of stigma that comes with suicide. Some have described it as selfish or cowardly, and that simply isn’t true. Those who have contemplated suicide are not in the right state of mind to think rationally. There have been plenty of times where I was lying awake thinking of suicide, and the only thing I could feel in those moments was intense pain. Suicide, I thought, was a way to escape the pain and make it stop forever. In those moments, I wasn’t thinking about how it would affect other people. Just like if you were to break your leg and be in intense pain, you wouldn’t think of how your broken leg affects anyone else. All you can think of is how much it hurts and how much you want it to end.

Because of the stigma suicide carries with it, reaching out to anyone can be difficult. There’s always the fear that it will change the way your loved ones will see you or that they might treat you like a suicide waiting to happen. Or that they’ll stress out and you think it will be all your fault. It’s a tricky subject to broach. Though I can’t tell you exactly what you should do if one of your loved ones tells you they’re contemplating suicide, I can tell you what helped me get through those desperate times.

None of my friends freaked out when I told them

For me, this was such a relief. I knew what I was telling them was serious and even scary, but I had to let them know. Not a single one of my friends freaked out on me. They all told me they understood why I felt the way I did. When I was a lot younger, I told my mom I wanted to die as well, and she did not take it well, understandably. She fiercely convinced me that she would be devastated if I was gone and made me promise I would never say or think that again. The fact that I was genuinely considering it a decade later made me feel guilty, so if my friends had reacted too strongly I would have felt so much worse. What they did instead is tell me they would greatly miss me if I were to go through with it.

Hearing how much I meant to my friends and loved ones really helped ground me. It was a reminder that I would be leaving behind a void in other people’s lives and, at times, that was enough for me.

Everyone assured me they were there for me

On the nights leading into the mornings where I couldn’t sleep, I had a hard time fighting against the feeling that I was alone, even when my husband was sleeping next to me. When he was off at work and I was at home and was quite literally alone, I had a lot of haunting thoughts that if I wanted to end everything I could have done so and nobody would have cared. They were overwhelming, but when they did happen, I would reach out to my friends and tell them what I was feeling. Some would thank me for telling them and then calmly reassure me that they were there for me.

I greatly appreciated this. It was a reminder that I wasn’t alone. People in my life wanted me to get past this and wanted me to know they supported me. Sometimes I would cry just from how grateful I was for their relentless care and love. It got me through some particularly challenging days.

Photo by Felix Russell-Saw on Unsplash

They listened to me without judgement

Not once did my friends use any of the stigmatizing language that I was used to hearing about suicide. None of them called me selfish; none of them said I was cowardly; none of them said “Look what you’re doing to me!” or used any form of guilting. They just heard what I had to say and listened with the intent to understand me, not to judge me. Some of them offered to pray for me while others told told me how much they understood or had been in similar frames of mind. No one wants to spill their heart to someone and then get told that what they think or feel is wrong. They all, in their own ways, uniquely told me that my feelings were valid and they knew, based on the circumstances I was going through, that it made sense why I was feeling what I was feeling.

Not only did they listen to me and understand, they also were patient enough to hear me repeat myself when I needed to. Suicidal thoughts can appear and reappear without warning. At times they can be sitting in the back of one’s mind waiting for the right time to go to the forefront of someone’s mind. Because of their persistent nature, it helped when my friends didn’t mind hearing me having to rehash them over and over again. They didn’t deem me as a “downer” or a “lost cause.” They saw me for what I was: a friend in need.

I went to an intensive outpatient therapy group

Of course, as big of a role my friends played in helping to stabilize me, they were no therapists. I needed professional help, so my psychiatrist helped me find one. I ended up in a group called I.O.P. (intensive out patient) where I got to meet with other people who were also suicidal like me. I didn’t like it at first, but eventually I started getting used to having to share my personal struggles in front of everyone, and it helped a lot. Hearing that other people were going through similar experiences helped me feel less alone. It also helped that we were all spilling our guts for each other to see. Nobody was better than anybody else and we all needed help.

When the intensive therapy was over, it gave me a new sense of purpose. Throughout the class, I learned where some of my pain was coming from and I started seeing it as surmountable rather than impossible to overcome. I took the lessons to heart and came to realize that I did have something to live for. Life felt, for maybe the first time ever, vibrant and enjoyable. Those therapy sessions along with my support system got me through.

I remembered and held on to my dreams

My dream is to write a book that will change the world the way the Harry Potter series has. I want to write something so influential that it will affect this generation and the next and the one after that. That’s my ultimate goal in life. I had to sit and tell myself that if I took my own life, there would be no chance my dream would ever come true. I would have stopped everything and have given up on myself and my dream. I thought, “If I kill myself, that influential book I want so badly to exist will never happen. I need to stick around to at least see that come true.”

Even now, I’m nowhere near that dream coming true just yet. But that doesn’t mean I’ve given up on it. There are other dreams I have that I want to see come true and those will lead me to my ultimate dream. Keeping those goals in mind helped me along on the days I thought, “I don’t know if I can keep doing this” because I had something to hang on to, something to look forward to when life seemed so bleak and hopeless.

Thoughts of suicide feel like a plague in the mind. It’s a constant battle to hold on to dear life and to see the good past all the pain. Some of us make it and some of us don’t. There’s no easy way to talk about it, but it must be addressed when presented. I’m grateful that all the things I’ve listed were in place when I was ready to reach out for help. I’m most thankful that my friends were there for me when I needed them most. So if you have a friend reach out to you, treat them with kindness and understanding. They need it.

©J.M.Cools/2018

Life lessons as they come and other things. Email me johanie.cools@gmail.com or tip me on Venmo @Jojo-MC

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