I used to pray that I would die. Each night before bed, my head resting upon a pile of pillows, a solitary tear seeping from the corner of my eye, I would beg God to take me in my sleep. I would repeat this prayer until I drifted off, which most nights took hours. There were nights, though, that an overwhelming peace would envelop me, and I would wrap my comforter tighter. I always thought this peace came from the belief that that would be my last night; sometimes I truly believed God had finally answered my prayer and I could rest, long at last. But I always woke up.
I am unsure I can accurately explain suicidal ideation to people who have never experienced it. I can only explain what it felt like to wake up each morning after that prayer. At it’s simplest, it was heartbreak. Sometimes I would burst into tears in the morning because waking up meant I had to feel everything for another day. I had to feel unbearable shame, incessant anxiety, debilitating sadness, and chronic fear. I had to feel dizziness, migraines, and nausea. Living was exhausting and it hurt—a lot.
Many people with suicidal thoughts are high-functioning, productive, friendly members of society. They are incredibly good at hiding their pain. I was an honor roll student, competitive athlete, participant in multiple clubs, and a loving daughter.
Although people can conceal their suicidal thoughts, there are signs that those close to them can note. They may casually talk about death or make passing comments about dying. They may not sleep, or they may sleep an excessive amount. They may give away personal possessions. They may act impulsively or recklessly. They may cut themselves off from loved ones. The complexity lies in the “may”. No two suicidal people act the same way.
My signs were: insomnia, extreme weight changes, I never wore a seatbelt and I drove carelessly, I lacked proper hygiene (i.e. showering regularly and brushing teeth), and I overworked myself in all aspects of my life—soccer, homework, job, volunteering, school clubs—all so I didn’t have to sit with my feelings.
With medicine prescribed by my doctor and my own personal counseling, I have found a way to live a wonderful life alongside my suicidal ideation. I have more lovely days than dark ones. But what really saved me? Someone looked me directly in the eyes, held my hands, and said “you are suicidal”. No one had said that to me, and I had never even admitted it to myself. I thought everyone felt the way I did and just learned to live with it.
Some fear that if they say the word “suicide”, or ask someone if they are suicidal, that they are placing the thought in the person’s head. This isn’t the case. For a person with incessant suicidal thoughts, they think about it every day. When someone who cared deeply for me named my thoughts, I knew I did not have to hide them anymore. I could share my pain with someone else, someone to carry a part of the load, and I could start working towards healing.
If you think someone is thinking about ending their life, ask them; ask “are you suicidal”? I understand this question feels scary, heavy, and uncomfortable. Thoughts like “what if they get mad at me” and “what if they say yes” cross my mind. They may lie. They may get defensive. They may fall into your arms, depleted, surrendering. It’s hard to say. But after losing a loved one to suicide, I can tell you I would much rather have a friend alive and mad at me than dead (*should I put a softer word here?). Because someone directly asked me about my suicidal thoughts, I felt I had received permission to share my truth and I had been given a chance at healing (*this word feels repetitive).
I love the life I live. Some days my suicidal thoughts walk alongside me; like feet shuffling through fallen leaves, I can hear their presence. Most days, though, I live with contentment and hope, and I can’t find my thoughts walking along my path at all.
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, know there is hope. Someone I loved once asked me if I had hope. Looking down at my hands, folding a tissue back and forth, I said no. She replied, “that’s okay, I have hope for you”.
I have hope for you, too.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255