Unfortunately, I know this subject all too well. When I was 19 years old I my dad died by suicide, and I have had an almost fatal attempt myself in my early 20s, along with very regular ideations of wanting to end my life.
One thing I have learned through the years, is that if you are suicidal is incredibly important to reach out for help in a way that is supportive for all involved. It is not easy for anyone, and there is a very big difference between using suicide as a means to manipulate people in an abusive way, versus a means to ask for support to get the help you need.
As I said, I know this issue well and unfortunately I didn’t learn really how to communicate suicidal feelings in a way that was healthy for both myself and others. And unfortunately I learned this from my dad. As he didn’t know how to do it in a healthy way either, and all around him really didn’t know how to get him help.
At a young age, my dad threatened suicide as a means to punish us for not being happy around him and for his feelings of guilt for being unhappy with his anger. And as a family, we were terrified of losing him and of course we wanted him alive — yet we wanted him healthy. So when he would have uncontrolled anger, and then later regret it, he would feel so bad he would threaten suicide. So instead of setting boundaries and getting him into treatment, there was a long cycle of untreated mental health problems.
I remember him telling me when I was a senior in high school that he would kill himself if he lost anything related to our family. I made him promise, at that moment, that he would never, ever do that and always come to me first. He agreed to that, and he was also finally starting to get treatment for his mental health. Unfortunately, I think it had gone on way too long where he didn’t get treatment, so he decided to drink a significant amount of alcohol and end his life, just as his sister had and some say his father too.
I wish I had learned from that experience, but I was fairly deep in my own addictions, so went through my own cycle with my first serious boyfriend where I would threaten self-harm if I made too many bad choices or mistakes. What I was trying to say was “This feels terrible, help me.” But what I was really saying was “Do this or else…”. This is abusive behavior, not anything I am proud of, and the reality is when we do that to others, we end up just pushing them further away and not getting the help we need. As it is not about “them”, it is about learning how to deal with the curves we are presented in life and maintaining a hopeful mindset through it all.
It took a lot of time and practice, but now when I feel suicidal, I’m able to say to my Hope network, “I feel hopeless, any ideas for how I might get support?” And when I say it that way or ask it that way I generally get the support I need that helps my internal healing, as opposed to just fixing surface problem that at the time feel like life or death. It is easy to fix things short-term, but to create the kind of long-term healing we need to stay healthy and in positive relationships, we need to be able to get to the deeper root of why we don’t think we can remain in a hopeful state.
When I went through a divorce, I remember feeling incredibly hopeless as I had significant challenges that felt completely insurmountable. I really didn’t know how I might recover, and how I was going to get through it. So I called my oldest brother, and instead of saying, “I’m going to kill myself if you don’t help me,” I simply expressed how terrible I was feeling about my situation. So he got a U-haul and moved me to be by his family. I got my medications modified, went into intensive therapy, practiced meditation, exercised regularly, practiced gratitude, focused on giving back, journaled, got closer to my spiritual guidance, and got my life back on track. Ironically enough, when I put my mental health before all of my other emergencies and issues, the other issues slowly resolved themselves.
I was in a recent relationship where someone was threatening suicide, and it was pretty devastating to me as it reminded me of my dad and all I went through with him. Yet it also reminded me that I can’t allow myself to be manipulated by those who are suicidal and refuse to get help. I cannot sacrifice my own mental health to keep others alive. I can’t spend enough money, give enough love, or fix enough problems to help another heal. It is a decision we all have to make for ourselves, and then go about doing the work to make it happen.
Thankfully, these days I’m feeling really good, off medication, have 14 years of sobriety and a close network of people I know I can turn to when I don’t see a way past an obstacle, including my higher power. The reality is statistically I have a very high chance of dying by suicide, so I need to be extra vigilant about sharing with others how I am feeling as I don’t want them to be worried about me taking my life. Yet I also want to be able to share when I am feeling that low, so that they can support me in getting the help that I need.
We all need networks for hope, to know we are not alone, and to be able to share authentically our health status, and that includes our mental health. Yet we need to do it in a way that is respectful not just of ourselves, but others, so we strengthen our relationship instead of tear it apart.
If you, or someone you know, is feeling suicidal please reach out to 1800-273-8255 (TALK) to find resources in your area.