I cannot pretend to understand your situation. You are a stranger, first of all, and everybody’s story is unique. So I’ll refrain from the clichés: “It’ll get better.” “This too shall pass.” “You are a good person and deserve to live.” Those statements may well be true, and I hope you will consider them. But if they were enough, nobody would die by suicide.
Instead of giving you superficial reassurance, I am going to ask you some important questions. I invite you to consider them thoughtfully, and to sit with your answers. They may surprise you.
Have You Tried Everything that Can Help?
You obviously feel tremendous pain, hopelessness, or other problems that are causing you to want to die. Have you tried out everything possible to alleviate those problems?
If you are depressed, have you tried every different type of antidepressant medication out there? (At last count, there were 30). Even if a few types of antidepressants haven’t worked for you, that doesn’t mean that none of them will.
Have you tried therapy? Research indicates that various therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy, can help to reduce suicidal thoughts, improve depression, and strengthen coping skills.
Have you increased your exercise? Exercise can be as effective as antidepressants in relieving depression, and it helps reduce anxiety, too.
If you are experiencing a life situation with devastating consequences – perhaps you are being bullied or facing jail time – can you consider the possibility that the situation may change, or that it may become more bearable in time?
If you are hearing voices telling you to kill yourself – perhaps the voices say that you are a bad person or that you do not deserve to live – can you consider that the voices simply are wrong? Can you talk back to the voices? Have you tried every type of antipsychotic medication there is? (There are at least 18, not including mood stabilizers.) Might the voices come to a stop, or change what they tell you, or become less believable with time?
Similarly, if you are plagued with thoughts of worthlessness, hopelessness or unlovability, can you entertain the possibility that those thoughts are not true? You do not need to believe everything that you think or feel. I have heard the saying before (though I forget where) that many people have a prosecutor residing in their head, and they lack a defense attorney. You can learn to defend yourself against self-condemning thoughts and to feel better about yourself and your life again. (Cognitive behavioral therapy especially helps with these types of problems.)
Whatever you are dealing with, can you consider that you still can craft a purpose for yourself in life in the months and years to come, whatever that purpose may be?
What Would You Say to Somebody in Your Situation?
Now imagine that someone you care about very much came to you with the same problems, the same reasons, the same desires to die. What would you tell them?
Would you say to this person you care about, “You’re right, you should kill yourself”? If not, why?
What Are Your Reasons for Living? (Or What Were They?)
Something has kept you alive this long. What has kept you going?
Here are common reasons for staying alive that people provided in a study by Marsha Linehan and colleagues:
- Attitudes toward life, survival, and coping (for example, a belief that things can change for the better)
- Responsibility to family
- Concerns for children
- Fears about suicide (for examples, fears of death, of suffering injuries from the attempt, of feeling tremendous physical pain, of doing violence to oneself)
- Fear of social disapproval
- Moral objections (like thinking suicide is morally wrong, or believing people who die by suicide go to hell)
Other reasons might include pets, dreams of traveling, love of the mountains – you name it. Whatever keeps you here may well be worth staying for.
Do any of the above reasons apply to you? If not, could they in the future?
Where Is Hope?
What do you hope for yourself for the future? What can you do to help you survive long enough for those hopes to be realized?
Are there things you hope for immediately, like a chocolate bar, a good night’s rest, a day off from work? What are the little things that you hope for that might not be getting your attention during this time of crisis?
Have you lost all hope? If so, think back on what gave you hope in the past. When did those things stop fueling your hope? Could they again?
Maybe you are thinking “Things will never get better” or “I have nothing to live for. ” Can you be certain your thoughts are correct? More to the point, even though it is painful to have such thoughts, is it possible you are wrong?
Remember, some conditions – like extreme stress, or depression – can cloud a person’s thinking, making hope invisible. People with these conditions may be unable to remember the good things in their life and unable to tap into the good things that may come. But hope does not really die. It just hides. Even amid a terrible storm in the head, it is still there behind the clouds, just like the sun.
Think of Other People – Or Not
Some people are angry at those they believe have failed them. They may feel, often rightly so, that their suicide will cause guilt in those they left behind, and for a small number of suicidal people, this may be a fate that they welcome. In this context, suicide takes on a vengeful quality, whether that is the primary purpose or a byproduct of suicide.
Other people may feel convinced that they are a burden on their loved ones, and that their suicide would be a way to spare their family and friends. Even more common, perhaps, are the people who are suicidal precisely because they have no one who cares (or believe that to be true, even if it is not).
I also know that when the pain and desperation become excruciating for a person considering suicide, the love and support of others becomes only a small solace. Even parents of young children die by suicide, not because they do not love their children and not because they disregard the pain it will inflict on their children. No, for many people who are suicidal, their pain is so great that they desperately want to escape it. Even though they know their death will bring great pain to those left behind, a more frightening scenario for them is having to continue enduring their own pain, day after day.
I recognize that sad reality. So the question of who your death will hurt might not be relevant to you. But if it is relevant, please do consider that those who care about you will be devastated.
Remember the saying: “To the world you may be only one person, but to one person you may be the world.”
To which people are you the world?
Whose world might you become in the future, whether or not you have met that person yet?
What people might you help, whether professionally or personally?
How Have You Coped in the Past?
Think of another time when you really struggled in life. Perhaps you did not think of suicide, but you felt extremely sad, or angry, or hopeless. How did you get through that? What helped you? Who helped you?
If you have ever experienced this kind of despair and suicidal thinking before, what stopped you from killing yourself then? What did you do, feel or think then that you might be able to repeat now?
Is It At All Possible that Things will Change?
Even though it does not feel like it now, there is hope for change. The horrible situation you are in might get better, or it might become more bearable. The pain you feel may ebb, or you may develop techniques for coping with it. Hope may return. Goodness may come.
Consider that among people who survive a suicide attempt, about 90% do not eventually die by suicide. Even these people who made the decision to die find reasons to live again.
Can you know for certain that you won’t rediscover reasons for living, or reconnect with those that already exist? Maybe not now, but there may well come a time when you look back on your suicidal state of mind and are glad that you did not die.
There is a good saying: Don’t quit five minutes before your miracle.
Similarly, I have a piece of artwork on my wall that says, Any moment can change your life. You just have to be there.
This applies to you, too. It applies to everyone.
Finally, What If You Survive a Suicide Attempt with Serious Injuries?
You could suffer permanent injuries from jumping, trying to hang yourself, or doing other bodily injury to yourself. Consider what happened to Kristin Jane Anderson, who attempted suicide by lying down on railroad tracks when a train approached. She lost both her legs. (See her excellent, inspirational book, Life, In Spite of Me, about rediscovering hope and purpose in life in the years that followed.)
If you shoot yourself, you may still survive. Some people who shoot themselves do permanent damage to their face, experience severe brain damage, or become paralyzed. In another book by an attempt survivor, David Wermuth describes the ordeal of becoming blind from shooting himself in the head.
Some people who survive an overdose damage their kidneys or liver in the process. A transplant is sometimes necessary.
I said this is a tough question to ask, because I do not want to challenge you to come up with a foolproof method for killing yourself. Instead, I want you to consider that things don’t always go as planned. Whatever problems you struggle with now could be made even worse with a suicide attempt.
Many people think of suicide from time to time. The philosopher Camus noted, “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide.” The philosopher Nietzsche said, “The thought of suicide is a great consolation: by means of it one gets through many a dark night.”
To seriously consider suicide is a sign that something is wrong. Our natural instinct in life is to survive. People endure unimaginable horrors in order to stay alive – as but one example, just think of the man who cut his arm off with a pocket knife in order to liberate his body from a boulder, having been trapped beneath it for five days and seven hours.
If your instinct to survive has become weakened, it is a sign that you need help. Please seek that help, whether from a trusted friend or family member, clergy, physician, therapist, or some other supports you have.
What can you do now, right now, to help yourself?
For a list of resources you can contact immediately, via hotlines or online, click here.
© Copyright 2013 Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW, All Rights Reserved. Written for www.speakingofsuicide.com
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