I love that the American Sign Language sign for the letter S looks like a fist. Why? Because that’s exactly what feeling suicidal feels like, a clenched fist that you’re using to fight against the impulse to die.
I’ve felt like killing myself since I was about thirteen years old, off and on. More on than off. I don’t remember exactly when it started. You see, the thoughts crept up on me. Somewhere between realizing boys weren’t icky, growing breasts and realizing that the sexual abuse was finally over, thoughts of death and images of killing myself just faded in.
I image that those with a somewhat healthy feeling of self-worth would be shocked by such thoughts. But to me they weren’t shocking; they were just a logical extension of my negative feelings and thoughts of worthlessness.
Here’s a typical dialogue between me and my brain when I’m just feeling mildly suicidal:
Me: I should get up.
Brain: Why? Stay in bed.
Me: I’ve gotta go to work.
Brain: They can handle things without you, better even since you’re such a screw up. You always do things wrong; you can’t meet goals or do anything perfectly so why even bother.
Me: But I’m supposed to be there.
Brain: They’ll be relieved if you’re not there. That way they don’t have to see your disgusting body and ugly face. Stupid girl. What makes you think you’re worthy of leaving your room much less going out into public.
Me: If I don’t go to work I won’t have money to pay bills or rent.
Brain: So what? You’re not going to be around much longer anyway you worthless, ugly thing. You don’t deserve to have a nice place to live. You’d be better off dead.
Me: But people love me.
Brain: Do they? Prove it.
Brain: No one calls you. Or if they do, you don’t answer the phone, you stupid girl. Then, when you don’t call them back, they don’t call you again.
Me: Well, that’s my own fault.
Brain: Exactly! You’re a horrible friend. An awful family member. You don’t deserve to live. You should just die. Right. Now.
Me: But—but people will be sad if I die.
Brain: Oh yeah, sure. They aren’t sad right now that you’re not in their lives. If they were then they’d be coming over and trying to see you. They’ll be better off without you anyway. If you die now then they don’t have to feel obligated to invite you to gatherings at birthdays and holidays. Your ugly, fat, disgusting, worthless self won’t be bringing down their celebrations. No one really loves you. You should just kill yourself. Get it over with. You know you have pills in that drawer. Just take ‘em, get all this crap over with. Make it easier on everyone else and just get outta their hair.
Me: I don’t know. I don’t think I have enough pills to kill myself.
Brain: What about hanging? It’s more likely to be successful anyway. Look, you could hang yourself from the closet pole.
Me: No. No. That’s just wrong. I can’t kill myself. It’s wrong.
Brain: No. It’s right. It’d be the only thing you actually did do right in this life. Right now, you just take up space. You’re never gonna do anything or be anything worthwhile. You’re a weak, disgusting person with no courage. You don’t have enough courage to live, so you might as well as die.
Of course that’s just if I’m feeling mildly suicidal. When I’m bad enough to need to be hospitalized, it’s no longer a conversation. At that point my brain is constantly feeding me images of ways to kill myself and the impulses to copy those images are nearly impossible to resist. I’m a danger to myself around pills, ropes, knives, breakables and motor vehicles.
After a lifetime of being suicidal I’ve come to the conclusion that the only time I’m not going to feel that way is when I’m on psychotropic medications. I hate it, but I’ve accepted it. Somewhere in my childhood a self-destruct switch was flipped in my brain.
Does that mean I’m brain damaged? Sort of. There’s some evidence that those people who had traumatic childhoods and/or Major Depression have differences in their brain makeup and/or damage to their brain structure. In any case, I try to think of it that way. If I have brain damage, then it’s not my fault. I’m not a bad person, I just have an injury and illness that has to be controlled by medication. Am I fooling myself? Maybe, but it’s better than feeling ashamed of myself for being suicidal.
Don’t get me wrong, there is still a part of myself that feels ashamed. There’s also a part of myself that’s proud. I’m ashamed that I didn’t have the courage to make a choice. I was too afraid to choose to live by clenching my fist and making sure I got the correct help sooner. But I’m also proud that I clenched my fists and fought the impulse to kill myself. I didn’t give in. I kept fighting.
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Please, please, talk to someone if you or someone you know may be thinking of suicide. Get help. Fight. Live.