Trigger warning for suicidal ideation, violent imagery, talk of depression and anxiety and disappointment in the NHS (and by extension the social security in Spain, which wasn’t any better).
Disclaimer: I am not a psychologist; I am not a qualified therapist, or a doctor, or anything of the sort. I talk about my lived experience and what I’ve glimpsed of others’ lived experience.
I didn’t intend to begin this post like this, but I will: there’s something really messed up about the fact that the only mental health symptom considered an emergency is attempted suicide.
Here’s how I wanted to begin this post: there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think, “I want to kill myself.” Sometimes it’s empty words; sometimes it’s cathartic, the only way to let off steam without screaming. Sometimes it’s just a chorus playing over and over in my head. Sometimes it’s calmness: sometimes I hit rock bottom, and I think about dying, and it’s comforting. My most violent imagery happens those times, when I’m not anxious, when I’m instead calm — unbearably sad, disappointed, resigned — and it helps to picture ways to die.
In general, suicidal ideation is pervasive. The scale goes from those empty words I mentioned above to desire and intent. You need to attempt suicide, or be very, very clear you’re going to, to receive any sort of emergency help. To check into a mental hospital. Feeling like you’re going to explode doesn’t matter unless you plan to end your life. It doesn’t matter if you just want to be dead. Resources cannot be allocated to run-of-the-mill breakdowns.
Suicidal ideation is a symptom of many mental disorders, and I know plenty of people who struggle with it. But I rarely see talk of it in this blogosphere that — wonderfully — speaks up about anxiety and depression so often, and I want to do my part for it.
I started to think about suicide when I was thirteen. I remember lying in bed after a fight with my father, one of the many he started picking back then. I remember bawling my eyes out. I remember wanting it to stop, wanting the pain, the frustration to go away. I knew nothing about anxiety back then; not even my proneness to tachycardia had manifested. All I knew is the only thing that made me feel better was to think about the scissors in the bathroom: about running there and sticking them in my throat and making a mess.
I’m a wimp. I don’t want to cause myself pain. For a long time, that was the main thing that kept my suicidal ideation ideal and not actual or attempted. It’s never been actual or attempted; it’s barely got close a couple of times. But the reasons for this vary.
Over the past few years, after I dropped out of college, I lived with my parents and sister, sometimes with my grandma. When my grandma was around, I shared a room with my sister. Those were the worst times: the worst times for an introverted creative who didn’t feel she could go anywhere — not spend £2 on coffee every day just to camp out at a coffee shop like I do now, for my mental health — and, even though she wasn’t professionally working, wanted to create things, and needed quiet time for this and more.
For these years, I was mostly confined to my room, because my parents smoked — and smoke — everywhere else in the flat. For these years, I stopped eating in the living room, because my father would inevitably pick a fight after every meal. I started to ignore him, when I could. Sometimes I engaged, and it took me a long time to acknowledge and understand that this was my prerogative, that it was not my responsibility to keep him from hurting us further. That I had no say in the matter anyway; it was his choice at every step.
This is not a post about abuse. But the situation wasn’t good, and not getting anywhere wasn’t good. The financial problems were piling up; sometimes our electricity, and with it my only life, my life on the Internet, got cut off. I developed a pavlovian reaction to the thought that the electricity might be off: my legs began to shake.
I don’t recall specific incidents, but I recall many, many showers when my will to live was gone and the only thing that helped was fantasizing about falling, hitting my head on the marble and bleeding out, bleeding out under the hot water, until someone noticed, until I was done.
I’ve had that kind of showers time and time again, even after moving to London. The showers I used in May didn’t get the bloody accident fantasy treatment, but the ones in Hampstead Heath and Belsize Park did. Have. As recently as two weeks ago.
In Hampstead Heath, the last time I was flathunting, just after finishing being weaned off the antidepressants I’d taken since 2012, I was walking home from the Starbucks in Hampstead — the long way home; they closed later than my favored Starbucks on South End Rd — and I felt desperate; I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere. I stopped in the middle of the street and thought, “What if I stepped in front of a car?” Would I end up in hospital? Would that give me time to find a place? It probably wouldn’t. It wouldn’t help. And I was carrying my laptop, and I didn’t want it smashed. I couldn’t afford a new one.
So I cried the whole walk home instead, and cried at home some more.
It’s only at some point in the past few months that it’s got bad enough for me to worry about my parents, my friends, everyone who’d suffer if I died — not just emotionally, but the effect on their lives, on their finances. Having to ship me back home, having to ship my shit back home. I can’t put that on people.
(I’ll tell you a secret though: sometimes, some days, the really terrifying ones, I stop caring. I just want everything to be over. I want to stop being in pain. I want to stop feeling like I’m going to burst.)
And it’s only at some point in the past few months that my suicidal ideation has taken on an air of resignation, too: that’s the reason reading I Was Here by Gayle Forman prompted me to write this post. There’s a passage that describes some feelings I’ve been having perfectly, even if it wraps up in a way that falls flat. The main character writes in a suicide board, trying to find some truth to tell a lie to get closer to the person she blames for her best friend’s suicide:
“[My life] doesn’t seem like living to me. It seems like persevering, like that’s the most I can hope for. I’m not that old, but I’m already so tired. Even getting out of bed each morning seems like an enormous chore. Life seems to be about endurance, not enjoyment, not fulfillment. I don’t see the point.”
And that’s been the basis of my suicidal ideation for much of the past few months. And it’s happened every day, every single day, little thoughts and big, once and gone or over and over. What is the point of living if I keep struggling? Take it one day at a time, but every day is awful, and no progress is made. I don’t enjoy it; I don’t have a life. I’d rather be dead — inanimate, motionless, without feelings or needs. I wish I could be dead, without the hassle of it, the hassle for my family, the emotional repercussions. I don’t think about undoing my birth, like Cody later says, and I don’t think meaningless bullshit like “Is my life an illusion?” like she says before what I quoted — though I suppose wishing to end your entire existence is much like wishing to erase your birth. Die without consequences. That’s the dream, isn’t it?
But none of it is an illusion. It is real, and it is hard, and I’m tired. I’m exhausted. I can’t handle it anymore, and even when I think of an option, a break — when I think, “Maybe I could check myself into a mental hospital, because I’m shattering to pieces and I don’t know how I’ll ever glue them back, and I can’t keep going, and I can’t survive like this,” that’s not an option because I’m not attempting suicide. I’m not a danger to myself or others.
It’s only ideas in my head. It’s only paralyzing stress. It’s only panic that kept me from sleeping all night because I didn’t dare listen to what my brain might say.
It’s only ideation, at various levels, but nothing that puts my life in danger — if you define life as continuing to breathe. If you define life as living, I can’t think of a better word to describe my mental illness than a threat to it and to myself.