Though we’ll see how things go by the end of the post.
By Stephanie Zvan
[Trigger warning: description of persistent suicidal ideation.]
Does it hurt?
Oh, it really doesn’t matter.
I spent much of my teen years in an anxious funk, with less than zero motivation to do anything but escape my world through acting or reading. There were periods then when I was suicidal, times when I desperately wanted everything to just end already. The funk lifted for reasons I don’t understand around the start of my senior year of high school. The periods of being suicidal didn’t stop with the depression.
I’m just fine most of the time. The times when I’m affected are brief, generally not more than two or three days. I don’t get a lot of warning, nothing that isn’t easily buried under the normal ebb and flow of emotional life. It might be tied to the migraines, or a certain sort of migraine, since I have (non-painful) migraines pretty frequently. It doesn’t seem to be tied to a particular degree of stress, though some types of stress feed it more than others. Being treated as invisible is extra good for this.
Does it burn?
Oh, I don’t feel a thing.
It takes so little time to go from normal to the self-loathing ball of pain I turn into that it would be funny if it weren’t exactly the opposite. Admittedly, I was trained very early to consider myself worthless. Apparently some kinds of training stick very well. The feeling that the world would be a better place without me is overwhelming, as intense as any other experience I’ve had.
It’s not much fun being a waste of space. It doesn’t help to be surrounded by talented, brilliant people. There’s no envy there, or jealousy, except in knowing that these people don’t go through what I’m going through. There’s a big chunk of despair, because this was all supposed to end when the depression stopped, and it hasn’t, and unless menopause turns out to be more miraculous than anyone has considered promising me, or I have some kind of head injury, it isn’t ever going to. I’ll get this, over and over, for the rest of my life. If I choose to live, I live with this.
Does it hurt?
Oh, yeah. It really doesn’t matter.
Asking for help is nearly impossible. One of the down sides of being one of the rational ones is that people don’t really believe me when I’m irrational. They get annoyed that I’m not making sense. They don’t understand why I’m arguing that I really am not worth the oxygen I’m using when I should just take their word that I am. They try to offer solutions to make me feel more like I’m contributing to the world, which only tells me that I’m not contributing right now.
The alternative is to tell everyone, as I’m doing right now, that this is something that happens sometimes. I’m not sure what that’s supposed to do, except make people treat me as fragile during the majority of the time that I’m perfectly fine. That would make the times when I’m not suicidal much less bearable. This sort of insanity is binary, and it seems to actively resist every effort to make things better. It argues. It fights for its own existence.
Does it sting?
Oh, I don’t give a damn.
The good news is that I understand, even then, that this is temporary. I don’t believe it, but I understand it. I know that this is me, but it isn’t all of me. I know that those people around me who are hurting me are trying to help me, even when I can’t convince myself that they care or that there’s a reason they should. I know the pain will end, even if I don’t do anything to make it end.
And I know, having seen the effects of suicide, that ending things would only put an end to my pain. It would be the start of a great deal of pain for the people I care about. They wouldn’t understand why I did it or why nothing they did was able to help. Killing myself to end an experience that is awful but brief doesn’t seem, even then, to stack up to the pain I would cause. I can’t manage the same kind of irrationality about other people that I experience about myself.
So in the end, it is the bits of me that stay rational, stay sane, that keep me alive long enough to want to live again. It is the knowledge that this is not a visitation for anything I’ve done. It’s the understanding that, no, this isn’t fair. It’s the hard facts that trying to make it better will only make it worse in the short-term and that my ability to argue anything is a liability in these times.
This is an ugly situation, but I deal with it in all the ugly facts. And I hang on, because the ugliest fact is that it’s going to happen again. But that means that first it will have to pass, and I won’t feel like this anymore.
[A version of this post appeared previous at Stephanie's blog, Almost Diamonds. Stephanie Zvan is a skeptic who knows better than many that she can't rely on her own rationality. She blogs about science, religion, politics, and art at her blog Almost Diamonds and hosts the Atheists Talk radio show for the Minnesota Atheists.]
What Stephanie describes here–the awareness of descent while still maintaining some rationality about how giving into the ideation would affect others and that the trough has an end–is not uncommon. For anyone who feels their grip on those rationalities slipping too far, the following resources might, quite literally, be a lifesaver:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (US): 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- For the deaf or hearing impaired: TTY by dialing 800-799-4889 or click here to chat with a counselor
- Materials and resources, including hotlines, state by state
- Coping with suicidal thoughts
- Developing a safety plan for when you have suicidal thoughts [PDF]
- When someone you love is having suicidal thoughts