When I was a teenager, I fantasized about suicide in the way one might consider a good night’s sleep. My life thrummed to a constant backbeat of “Oh, wouldn’t it be nice if I wasn’t around.” I’d think about ways to do it, decided all of them involved too much pain or messiness, and I really couldn’t do that to Mom and Dad and Tommy anyway, and I’d set it back on the shelf like a favorite DVD, to be replayed later. Suicide was my copy of Princess Bride, a luxuriation of thoughts of nothingness and coffins to sink into when I was stressed out.
It took me a long time to understand how rare and bizarre those fantasies were.
LiveJournal woke me up; I did some poll on suicidal thoughts, and I discovered that the idea of self-harm hadn’t even occurred to most of the people on my friends’ list. And my friends’ list was filled with freaks like me. So I did some checking, and sure enough, the vast majority of people, even when faced with massive stress, never think about offing themselves. The idea never presents itself as an option.
Yet here I am, a supposedly healthy adult, and about once a week when something wrong happens, I go, “Oh, that’d be nice, wouldn’t it?” The idea is like a pretty garden, walled off with barbed wire and high taxes; the cost of getting there is ridiculously painful, but sort of sweet in its own way.
When I talk to other suicidal people, though, they often feel the same way. Their lovers have betrayed them, their job is full of stress and uncertainty, they can’t pay the bills, and their health is fluctuating. And so they seek suicide, and some of them get it.
Here’s the problem, though. What many of them don’t want is suicide.
They want a vacation.
For me, these thoughts of suicide often arise because I’ve got so much stress in my life that I can’t possibly stop the hits from coming. If I’m in the middle of a huge emotional fight with my girlfriend and work is filled with deadlines, I can’t take a day off – and even if I could, I’d be filled with so much worry about oh my God what’s going to happen with Doreen, what does it mean that she’s so mad can we work this out oh God she’s calling now please let us not fight that the day off would be useless. There would be literally nowhere I could go to get away from my worries; I’d carry them with me. The only thing I could do would be to try to sleep (which I couldn’t) or maybe take some pills or alcohol to try to blot it out.
And I think: If I was dead, none of this would matter.
That blankness seems so glorious.
But I don’t go down that barbed path, because while suicide does technically stop all those troubles, it also ensures that I would never get to hit the unpause button and find new lovers, work through my unhappiness, and find joy again. Which I have done, time and time again. Life seems so overwhelming and futile, yet if I buckle down and work at it, I usually find a way to get somewhere better.
It’s not a promise, of course; nothing is. But I can think of several times I was like oh my God I can’t handle this where if I’d hit the perma-kill button, I never would have seen the other side. Me, as an awkward lonely teenager, convinced I would never find a girl willing to hold me. Me, as a twentysomething crazy person, convinced I’d never get it together. Me, at the helm of a failing division at Borders, convinced I would get fired and never have a career again. Me, in the first year of my crumbling marriage with Gini, convinced we’d never work this out.
That’s an awful lot of nevers in my life that proved to be totally untrue.
And you know, I’ve known a lot of suicidal folks. A lot of them wind up happy later on. It can happen. Does more often than you’d think, really. Those nevers actually often turn out to be merely formidable problems – not the impassable barrier of a never, but a wall that can be chipped away, one fleck at a time, until you break a hole in it big enough to slither through.
And no. You don’t get to rest while you’re working on that wall, and it’s exhausting and frustrating and hurtful, oh so hurtful. But that work, more often than not, is rewarded in my experience – not just my personal experience, but watching other people go through it time and time again. You want to just lie down and fucking rest and not have people ask you any questions, and no, you can’t have that now.
But there is some peace waiting on the other side. More importantly, there’s more joy to be mined out of this life, more beauty, more chances to try again than you’d ever believe in this moment of despair.
So what I’m saying to you right now if you feel overwhelmed is, don’t confuse your need for a vacation for an actual life-ending. Hey, if I could give you a magic box to put yourself in where you could just pause the world and read books and breathe for a week, I totally would. That would probably make things a lot easier for you, because right now you feel like a boxer, with blow after blow hitting you and that goddamned referee refusing to ring the bell and give you a break.
Sometimes suicide looks like that break. But the problem with suicide is that you never get to hit that unpause button, and more often than not that’s a tragedy that affects everyone around you and you.
So think about your vacation. Revel in it. But be realistic about what that very permanent step would actually mean. Okay?
I want to answer this in some profound way but the words won't really come. A part of me wishes I had read this about a year or so ago (year and a few months anyway) when I had the plan, knew the where, when, and how. Another part of me wonders if I would have read through the whole post because at the time? I didn't care and was convinced that nobody else cared.
But I hope someone sees this and gets what you're saying. I hope they put in the work and slither through the hole to the other side instead of having a life full of Nevers.
You've nailed it; this post reads as if you were writing about the inside of my own head. I'm currently enjoying a personal milestone; it's been roughly three years since landing in a coffin was my active Plan B, though a bit over a year ago those thoughts were my first go-to when J and I almost broke up.
Here's to slithering through to the other side, as often as it takes.
Yeah this was me growing up - suicide or running away filled my weekly thoughts. Just to escape and reset and maybe that time it would be better. Only problem with vacations is now they just mean I come back to the same problems, just with interest.
I think the answer to your question is too deeply personal for anyone else to answer it for certain. A therapist or a good friend or another counselor can help you find an answer, but the answer has to be yours. Which I guess is just me saying don't take a lack of answer here to mean that there isn't one.
This pretty accurately describes my ideation as well, actually. I was always so confused by the idea that people would be afraid of death; it never made sense to me. Why would you be terrified of non-existence? It sounds so restful, so stress-free. The only thing easier and kinder than death would be never having had to exist at all, but that ship's sailed, so death's the next best thing, right?
Haven't honestly tried, don't plan to, but I still vividly remember storing up apple seeds for the supposed cyanide in case I needed it.
I think people are startled to learn that I think about it casually almost every day. Not in a fraught, arms-flailing kind of way, but quietly. Something hard will happen, because every day is hard in its own special fucking way, and I'll think, "Oh, man, I wish I could [[acquire materials necessary for The Plan]]" or "Welp, things could be better. I could be dead."
Even mental health professionals seems surprised. It's not a sad thought for those moments. It's not. And it's not something that can be medicated or therapized away, I think. I've been like this since I was in my late teens. Every. Day.
It's not the same as actual suicidal urges, or any sort of intent, it's very different, but you're right, it serves as a kind of blanket. And it IS mental shorthand for "give me a fucking break" because seriously, the cat can't wake you up barfing if you're dead. Bill collectors cannot harass you. Doctors can't make mistakes and hurt you. People who are supposed to care for you won't fail, and let you down. You can't wake up, heart racing, in the middle of the night having a goddamn panic attack for no reason you can name. All those things will go away and be gone forever and you will never ever have to deal with it again. And that is POWERFUL comfort, in a fucked up sort of way.
I want to live. I very much want to live. I've been in this wanting to live place for a while now, and it's nice here, but there are still things that, sometimes, I can see that if they keep going or they get worse, will push me right back into that place for real, and because so many people are laboring in similarly ugly places every day, for so LONG, it is inconceivable to me that there are people who go through that crap who have never, would never, and will never consider suicide. (Just like, and it's fine if people find this disturbing, I find it bewildering when people say they have never seriously contemplated violence toward another human being.)
Blargh. I don't know. I'm rambling. But yes, I like this, and I think people should read it and listen to what you have to say and stuff. Because you're right. And I really, really don't want to lose any of my friends like this. And I am afraid, because of how many people I know who are mentally ill, that will happen someday.
I will bookmark this and try to remember it is here next time I have a really bad time.
After many years and practice learning my way around my emotions, I've gotten to the point where I really, truly understand that the line "Please, God, let me die" that pops up now and then in my head is bullshit.
It doesn't actually have anything to do with death, in the sense of literal damage to a human body, the thing that happens to sick people when their hearts stop beating and their lungs stop working, and which is just plain awful and not gothily elegant at all. I don't *actually* want anyone, myself included, to go through what happened to my mom.
No, what I want every now and then is pain relief or stress relief or guilt relief. And, by now, I know the drill well enough that the feeling almost never presents as me actually *believing literally* that I wish I were dead; it feels like "I'm tired, I'm worried, I'm guilty, I want to quit." Which is so much better...
I wish that anybody in the world had told me, at eighteen, that they were sorry I was unhappy, and that I deserved to be happier. The people who did tell me that, a few years later, have my gratitude.
I have recently stopped feeling suicidal like this, but it is kind of weird and irritating. I have two distinct modes of suicidal ideation; one is pretty much exactly like this (I want the world to stop and go away) but with the extra bonus of actually believing in a good afterlife; the other is more on the 'if I was dead then sure people would be sad a bit but they would be able to get over it and I wouldn't keep being a constant drain on the world's resources' side.
Currently, though, I really want to live - even when life really sucks, even when I'm really ill - and it's kind of worse, really, because it means I can't escape from 'well I guess I have to see through this bullshit' or the need to do things that suck now for long-term benefits into the comforting 'well, I'll likely be dead before I need to worry about the effects of overeating' type thinking. And I don't really know why - there just seems to have been some kind of animal instinct to cling on, to want to see what happens next, awakened in me that I just didn't have before.
Suicide was never a vacation to me. It was a different kind of awful. I didn't think killing myself would fix anything or give me rest or peace. I just thought death would be nothing or at worst a different set of problems. I always believed in hell. I didn't know if killing myself would send me to hell but those times I tried it I was willing to go.
Because the thing I most want the vacation from-- the constant, never-ending pain, along with the daily battle to control my mental demons-- will never go away, unless the medical community magically develops cures, which is highly unlikely in my lifetime.
Which leads to a lot more than passing thoughts of "oh, wouldn't it be nice if..."
I actually came up with a plan that would look like "natural causes" because I have life insurance. I have not gotten the materials that I would need, because that way I am not more-than-tempted.
But I also undertand that at its core, the desire is exactly as you are describing it. I want a break from my brain and body. But the only way I can have that break is to follow-through with something I don't really want.
Mine were always "This is so awful, it's so awful and it will never stop being awful and there's only one way to get it to stop being awful."
Having climbed out of that particular pit of awful, I pretty much now know that I have crawled through the worst bits of awful, and I came out triumphant, so anything that comes along now will never be as bad as that was. But I only just made it out. Not everyone's so lucky. :(
I'm still trying to wrap my head around the idea that some people never consider suicide as an option. Not a viable option(1), sure, but never even made the brainstorming list? I find that hard to comprehend.
Maybe I've never been "that" depressed(2), but for me, the knowledge that suicide was an option generally serves me as a relief valve: if I contemplate the option, I feel less depressed, less likely to actually kill myself. Which, I suppose, is why I get kinda worked up when anyone suggests that it's not an option: how dare you take away my security blanket!
(1) pun intended (2) Not getting into a who's more depressed pissing match, thanks anyway.
Nietzsche said something like "Suicide is a lovely thought, by means of which one may get through many a long night." I encountered that quote at a point in my life when I had escaped the Hell of my teen years, but hadn't yet learned any coping skills besides "plan suicide" & "cut". That quote actually helped me learn that there were other options.
How bizarre that most people don't think about this. I've wondered, from a very young age, often, what this place would be like if I weren't in it - how people would react, how me being gone would change things. Oddly, though, I never actually thought about doing it, just wondered what would change if I weren't here. I don't think much about it anymore, but it's still there, to be redirected when it buzzes across my brain, unwelcome.
When I was a teenager I wanted to kill myself because it was the only way I saw to escape the Hell I was living in. I was wrong, there were other ways out, but I couldn't see them then. Now, as an adult, I've come to recognize that the voice in my head saying it would be so much easier to kill myself than deal with whatever shit I've got to deal with today is really just a sign I'm out of cope and need to shut off my brain for a while, usually by a good nap, sometimes just by some mindless entertainment. And yeah, sometimes that means stuff doesn't get done, but stuff not getting done is a much better end result than what happens if I try to ignore that voice.
I've only had one set of truly *serious* suicidal plans (which I was later told wouldn't have actually killed me). And those were "if my parents make me leave the boarding school, I will kill myself"-- and I still believe, years later, that there wouldn't have been a "come out the other side" if I'd been forced to leave that school. (My mental health problems are a lot more external than is typical: my parents actively *caused* some of them, via gaslighhting.)
But these days I actually use suicide as a motivating factor. My mental dance when life gets rough goes like this: "There's a chance things will get better tomorrow. If they aren't better tomorrow, I can reevaluate suicide. But right now, it's bearable enough that I can get to tomorrow and see if it's better then-- suicide will still be an option later if things get worse."
For me. those vacation moments are more like, "I just want someone to take care of me and make this end. Now.", coupled with anger at the knowledge (and resentment) that I have to take care of things myself. It often feeds the current despair and it become a trap until I can find some space to breathe, a shift, even momentarily, in perspective where I can say, "I want to live for this/do this/feel this", and step out of the blackness. I find to make that necessary, I have to find some space to be merciful to my own pain, and still move forward while caring for myself.
But that in between time, when I just don't want to be.... Yeah.
I am doing the Out of the Darkness walk to raise funds for suicide prevention, for myself, for all these times that I just wanted to stop, and for all my friends who made it and didn't. I am going to think of this and you while I walk and carry you guys with me.
Somewhere near the end of my fitful teen years I came up with The Rule.
The Rule is simple. It states that no matter how black the pit, no matter how miserable I am, no matter what Good Reasons I can come up with suicide is never an option. No matter how badly I may want it, it is permanently and irrevocably off the table.
Because if it is allowed on the table, even reasonably (eg: I am old, and dying of cancer and want to go with dignity), that opens the door. And once the door is open - even a crack - it is so much easier to pry it wider, to start seriously considering it.
The Rule must simply never be broken. Or even be an option for breaking. It must be as irrevocable as gravity or the conservation of energy. It is out of my hands. It just Is.
The Rule is nice. It means that once that particular route of escape has been completely blocked off you start examining others. Me? I have a new set of fantasies now. Of running off and living in the woods. Of quitting my life as it is and joining the peace corps. Of taking what money I have and hightailing it to the west coast and starting over from scratch where nobody knows me (like Buffy did). Of trying out the sport of jailbreaking (google it! Not, uh, actual jailbreaking as in, escaping from prison but the hardcore hitchhiking sport).
I cannot recommend The Rule enough. It doesn't mean I don't ever get suicidal, it just means that when I do I treat it just like my urges to be able to walk through a mirror or shapeshift. An idea, but, 100% impossible. So since it is 100% impossible I just have to ride it out and move on with my life.
It's a bit difficult to reconcile with rational thought; i.e. anything's possible (including gravity not being fixed and things not being permanent, which are more-or-less givens) but some things are considerably less likely.
Also not terribly keen on the idea of soldiering on with no quality of life to ease the consciences of friends/family/others.
This isn't intended as a personal attack, but it does sound like the kind of immutable rule that comes to teens when immortality still seems like an option, or a general "wouldn't it be nice if" belief that happens to centre around ageing and infirmity. Settling into positions that actively wall off 'having to' or feeling able to allow conscious thought about things can really mess people up.
But equally I'm sure that denial can be healthy in certain contexts. Trying to recover from life-threatening illness, for instance, at least to the point at which the effort is only causing more suffering.
One of the most horrific things I ever heard was in connection the documentary The Bridge.
The documentary is about people who have committed a suicide by jumping off of the Golden Gate Bridge in SF. Apparently it is a destination spot that some people make a special trip to just for the purpose of committing suicide. Anyway...
As part of the press junket, hey had a man who survived a suicide jump. He said that the moment he jumped, he thought, "Oh my god, I don't want to die" and tried to figure out all the way down how to hit the water and survive. Needless to say he was completely busted up but survived.
Whenever I hear of someone taking their own life I ask the nightmarish question of whether they changed their mine the moment the act became irrevocable.
Something else I don't publicly share often, I am the survivor of suicide.
Someone I loved very much killed himself on a beautiful spring afternoon. Countless hours of therapy and it's still a dirty stain on my soul. My shrink and I decided a couple of years ago that this is still so traumatizing that it was better to wall it up then to ever try to work through it. Every time I do, I begin to unravel and I've never been able to get past it.
I'll be damned before I would do that to anyone else.
I guess in a way ive been lucky. Ive had miserable times in my life, but none so bad that death seemed like a better alternative. Ive always been terrified of it. The idea of being nothing is really scary.
i've very honestly been suicidal. may 25th will be 22 years since my serious attempt, the one that ended me up in ICU then on the psych ward for 6 weeks. that was also my last bit of taking antidepressants...because that's what i OD'ed on. no more, thank you very much. not that they aren't a good thing for other people, just not for *me*. (i'm all for people finding their way, even if they need a chemical boost to do it!)
am i still suicidal at times? yes. i adore my husband and our situation here and my son WILL launch soon, giving us an actual honeymoon time at last. i'm also still in chronic pain that despite some treatment is still unrelenting. (and i'm unwilling to see a pain specialist because of the restrictions it would put on my treatment...in texas it would mean that if i were in an auto accident and needed additional treatment for pain? i would be blacklisted from getting ANY treatment for my chronic pain because of the contract i would have to sign.)
some days are better than others. lately, they're few and far between. so yes, i don't think of a vacation, i think of an End, and that's ok for me. but right now, i can go a bit longer.
In MD, at least in the chronic pain program a friend is in, if they are in the hospital and given painkillers, it's fine, they just have to get a note for the pain program and get the pain program approval before filling any prescriptions written by the hospital.
Are you absolutely certain that it's getting any pain meds at the hospital that leads to blacklisting, rather than getting meds and not reporting them to the program?
I've wanted to kill myself for two somewhat different reasons. The first is, as you say, "I can't stand this any more, and the only way to make it stop is to make life stop!" (The "it" was usually the emotional agony of rejection of one sort or another.) Of course, that kind of pain almost always stops by itself after a while, and then I always felt kind of foolish about wanting to kill myself over it. Eventually, as I grew older, I realized that it was a pretty foolish idea.
The other reason still sneaks in every so often. It's the utter certainty (which I can even "prove" logically) that I am completely worthless; lazy, selfish, self-indulgent, unwilling to even attempt to contribute something to the world, a financial and emotional parasite, a smart person who's never used that potential for anything worthwhile, so lazy that I don't even have any goals, ugly and fat and now old and useless. I should just die, and stop wasting valuable resources. (Even writing all that down causes a little whisper in the back of my brain, "You know every bit of that is no more than the literal truth...")
But, ironically, I'm seriously going to "live forever, or die trying", as Heinlein put it. Because one other thing I am is curious. There are so many things I haven't seen or done or learned yet! If I do die (other than by my own hand), my last words will probably be, "But I wasn't finished yet!"