A lot of times, “suicidality” doesn’t mean planning out how you’d do it. It doesn’t mean having a note written, or gathering supplies, or dispersing valuables amongst your loved ones. It can be as quick as a fleeting thought while waiting for the light to turn green. “What if I just…let go of the brake…” “That’s a long way down…If I took just two steps…”
Admitting you feel this way can be difficult. It requires a lot of vulnerability. It might affect the way some people view you, for better or for worse. Personally, I’ve managed to adapt and learned to observe these thoughts when they arise and allow them to dissipate without letting them take deeper root. I’ve had plenty of practice, however. It wasn’t an easy journey and I’m not a mental health guru by any stretch.
The first instance in my life happened when I was around five years old: I came up to my mom and told her, “I wish I had a rope and a ladder.” She was initially puzzled, but I explained my wish, bewildering and horrifying my poor mother. I’m not 100% sure, but I now suspect some kind of sexual abuse took place in my infancy, or maybe when I was a toddler. While I don’t have any specific memory, there are these vague feelings of violation, and it sort of falls into place as this missing puzzle piece. It would explain why I was such a hyper-sexual child, why I had these crushing feelings of inadequacy at such an early age, why I had the thought to end my life so young, among other anomalies.
For the last 20 years, I’ve battled suicidal thoughts ranging from the fleeting “What if I just parked on these train tracks?” to the overt, sobbing with a belt around my neck and staring over a balcony. I pictured my roommates coming home, finding the sliding door open and their initial irritation turning into sheer horror as they found me dangling there. Or worse, the neighbors on the second story, or God forbid, their children, over whose balcony my feet would be swaying ominously. I imagined the devastation that would overcome my mom and younger siblings upon hearing the news. Loosening the belt from my neck, I returned to my bedroom to pull myself back together.
I’m not fishing for sympathy in recalling these sordid details. My hope is that my stories will resonate with some and coax them down from the proverbial ledge. For more than 3 years, I’ve seen the same therapist at least biweekly. More than once, we’ve upped that to a weekly basis to play it safe. It took me more attempts than I’d like to recall to find a therapist with whom I felt safe and comfortable being authentically myself. There are plenty of factors that play into my access to the variety of therapists, psychiatrists, and psychoanalysts I’ve seen over the years; I don’t want to come across as oblivious to my own privilege. My point is that it’s not as simple as laying on some mustached man’s couch with all of his diplomas and credentials displayed prominently on the wall, you have some chats about your parents, then one day all of your personal problems are solved.
Times are changing, though. For nearly a year, all of my therapy has been conducted virtually, over FaceTime calls, more or less. (It’s some other app, bizarrely called BlueJeans) I wouldn’t say it’s been any less helpful than going to see him in person. If anything, it’s been easier to make appointments without needing to drive anywhere. Virtual therapy was on the rise before COVID-19 turned everything upside-down, but now it’s the only kind of therapy available.
Services like Talkspace and Betterhelp aren’t outlandishly expensive, especially when compared to traditional therapists. On the other hand, 7 Cups of Tea is a free service whose creators were aware that many who could benefit from therapy might not necessarily be able to afford it. Although I can’t claim to have personal experience with their service, their ratings would indicate it’s at least worth a shot if it’s something you’re thinking about.
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I’ve found therapy to be enormously instrumental in my pursuit of wellness, and while I recognize not everyone heals the same way, I feel relatively certain I couldn’t have made the progress that I have on my own, or even with only the support of my family and friends. Having a professional whose entire job it is to listen supportively and encourage you to delve into the hurt places is a very different dynamic than friends who are struggling with their own neuroses and traumas telling you, “I feel you, man. That sucks.” Those conversations have their place, but they honestly don’t compare.
Trying to combat mental health battles alone is a figurative and literal suicide mission. No matter how strong someone seems, whatever posturing or machismo or “Good Vibes Only” they try to project, they too need someone with whom they can be truly themselves.
P.S. For more urgent circumstances, the National Suicide Hotline number is 800–273–8255. Please talk to someone, especially if you’re feeling like there is no other option. Suicide is not an answer.