I’d like begin by saying that if you or a loved one have thoughts about suicide or ending your own life please reach out the National Suicide Hotline – 800-273-8255.
The topic of suicide is sensitive and nuanced. It’s something that we whisper when speaking about, as if it’s a terrifying creature that awaits for someone to call. But it’s not. Suicide is the result of feelings we can’t always define or pinpoint or uncover. Sometimes, people who suffer from suicidal ideations truly don’t see another way to end their life. Society strives to prevent suicide, but it takes more than posting positive preventative messages on our Instagrams once a year. It requires uncovering the root causes of suicidal ideations for each individual.
I feel fortunate to mention that I personally don’t struggle with suicidal ideations. I don’t feel the need to end my life one day. I’m grateful for this because I have realized how gifted I am to want to live. But for many out there, that is not always the case.
So, to understand more about suicide, I interviewed my friend, whose name I have changed to Sharon, who courageously agreed to speak about her own personal relationship with this subject. Sharon, 30, is a brilliant artist who specializes in graphic design. She is an incredible, caring person who desires to understand others and speaks her mind when she is passionate about a subject. She has also suffered from suicidal ideations since she was about 11 years old.
Sharon described her ideational thoughts as peaks and valleys – picture a roller coaster. Even though she ebbs and flows through these ups and downs, she described herself as mainly a “valley person with glimpses of peaks.” When she starts to descend, it’s slow and gradual, and when she begins to reach the bottom, she said it feels like she will be at the point forever. “As a person with traumas, these ideations feel like a forever slope; it’s the worst.”
Sharon’s self-awareness has allowed her to articulate when she is fluctuating between peaks and valleys. Regardless, her cognizance doesn’t diminish the pain. “It [her ideations] hits just as hard every time,” she explained. When she is at her lowest low, she believes there is only one choice. “There is no other option for me,” she said.
Often, her thoughts of dying by suicide are heightened because of external factors, such as a close friend of hers ending his own life on Christmas of 2019. His suicide sent her into a spiral and it was all she could think about for a long time. She was unable to process the situation and felt she needed to travel somewhere to reflect on her friend’s life and her own. Sharon organized a trip to the UK to be in the “relaxing, depressing fog,” and as she was planning it, she visualized how she was going to kill herself while there.
Sharon decided she would drive to the middle of nowhere, to a beach, or lake, or place with water, and swim as far out as possible until she wouldn’t be able to swim anymore. “That was the closest I’ve ever come to killing myself,” she confided.
A large rationale for Sharon’s thoughts has to do with loneliness. She relates humans to dogs in regards to them being pack animals and how they are meant to be with others, but when they die, they die alone. “I always feel like I’m at that point. Like I’m trying to go off alone.” For her, knowing others have suicidal ideations is something that she empathizes with, but doesn’t make her feel less lonely. When she is suffering from her thoughts she is alone. No matter who she opens up to and discusses this with, she feels alone, constantly.
To know that her feelings of loneliness can’t be cured by myself or anyone else paralyzed me, as we spoke. I wasn’t able to respond for a few moments, and I wanted to reach through the phone and help. I wanted to physically be able to stop this potential reality from occurring one day. But I don’t know if I can. So, all I could say was, “do you think there is any hope?”
“Maybe,” responded Sharon. “I’ve changed a lot over the past year, year-and-a-half. Things change all the time. But at this point, I don’t.”
For 19 years Sharon had been living with these thoughts without any external help. It was only in the early months of 2020, after the death of her friend, that she decided to receive medication as one of her treatments. She says it was life altering and that she doesn’t know how she survived without it for so long.
“I feel more neutral. Like, when things go awry, I’m more well-equipped to handle anything from an emotionally stable place. Before [without medication], everything felt like it was the end of the world or everything felt like the best thing ever. Now, I’m not always waiting for something bad to happen. I no longer am a prisoner to them [intrusive thoughts].”
She has more of a sense of agency over her intrusive thoughts, she claimed. These intruders build slowly and come in waves, and at the lowest lows she still believes death by suicide is her only option. But, because she has more control and awareness of herself, she can recognize that the valley is a long road of self-isolation, stress, and anxiety. “What I should be doing,” Sharon explained regarding descending to valleys, “is getting used to examining the path down the valley and stopping before I get to the bottom.”
Sharon has also taken on other positive coping mechanisms such as owning a dog, whom she claimed has saved her life many times. Painting has also been a very helpful strategy for her.
This entire conversation was eye-opening for me. Since I’m unable to put myself in her shoes completely, I can only empathize and sympathize so much; at a certain point all I can do is listen.
What makes this topic so powerful, terrifying, and difficult, is that we don’t understand. It’s an elusive reaction to negative mental health, and we don’t have defined preventive measures. But, as Sharon says, “there’s a difference between stopping suicide and stopping suicidal ideations. I get frustrated with the messaging surrounding suicide. It’s too cut and dry and ignores why people feel so alone.”
“Suicide is a tragic phenomenon,” continued Sharon. “I think it’s irresponsible to ignore the influences of the outside world. Nature versus nurture applies because the world is so messed up. It’s natural for people to ask, ‘why am I alive.’”
Sharon spoke about preventative messaging, specifically how the discussion should be to prevent suicidal ideational thoughts, rather than suicide itself. For people to understand why someone would take their own life, they need to understand the nuances of that person’s life. It’s important to look at more than just their final days because the decision wasn’t made overnight.
I like to preach that being open with your emotions is a helpful treatment to negative mental health. But, as I listened to Sharon, I know it takes much more. Sharon continues to learn more about how to take care of herself every day, but these thoughts are still there, and may be forever.
I want to be able to understand as much as I can, so I can help as much as I can, but it’s difficult. It feels like all I can do is sit back and listen and be there for people when they need me. Maybe that’s all I can do. I wish I had an answer. I wish medication and positive coping mechanisms were the answer to everything.
However, I think all I can do for people like Sharon is let them know that I care about them and want them to be alive. I’ll never know if my words are enough to save someone, but it’s worth telling them I love them, regardless.
If you or a loved one have thoughts about suicide or ending your own life, please reach out the National Suicide Hotline – 800-273-8255.
About the Author
My name is Cole Swanson, I’m a young creative who loves to follow my passions and aims to make a mark on the world around me. Through my love of writing, I have paved myself a path that allows me to always tell stories. With each blog post, I desire to share a story in hopes that it allows others to find the courage to share their own.
I’ve been actively working on my own mental health for the past three years. During that period, I learned of the struggles of wanting to give up trying to improve myself, as well as of the joy I feel when I know I’m becoming healthier.
At NAMI, I act as a volunteer for their Ending the Silence program where I talk to students about the power of vulnerability, empathy, and self-advocacy, so they can find the power to redefine the stigma of mental health.
The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of NAMI Eastside. NAMI Eastside will not be held liable for false, inaccurate, inappropriate or incomplete information. The content should be used for general information purposes only.