Sometimes we can’t see anything good, our entire being feels wrong, and it’s a struggle just to breathe or get out of bed. In response to those who’ve felt this way (in the past or recently), we’d like to share some thoughts from Mary Ellen Copeland and Ken Braiterman to consider if you or a loved one has thoughts of suicide.
From Mary Ellen
“It is so, so hard when you feel that way. What I do when I feel that way is to think of just one thing I really love to do and then do it—take a long walk (this one helps a lot), or talk to a good friend (this one helps a lot too). Sometimes I make or buy myself something I really like to eat and eat it. It gives me some relief. After I do one thing, I try to do another, and another until I feel better. Also, this time of year, getting out and getting some light through your eyes can really help. It is really hard to do this. You have to “make” yourself do it. But it is well worth it.”
From Ken Braiterman
From my own experience, just in case you start hearing voices, having impulses, or seeing things that say you and the world would be better off without you, remind yourself that suicide leaves behind a special kind of grief that never goes away. Others never stop wondering if they could have done something to help the person survive. No matter how much time and energy they did put in, they never completely lose the feeling they might have done one thing more, and that might have saved the person’s life.
Despite their best efforts, no matter how much they love the person who died, they also never lose some very painful anger at the person they loved for deserting them. People don’t want to feel this way about someone they love who died so tragically, but sometimes they do. It is painful because it’s a feeling they don’t want to have. Feeling this way makes them wonder if they’re a bad person.
If you are thinking of suicide, make a list of all the people you would never want to damage permanently in this way, and keep it with you. Also, keep a list of people who will care if you’re gone.
If you start to think you can get back at the people who hurt you by killing yourself, remind yourself that they WILL NOT care. You won’t succeed at getting back at them this way. You will only do permanent damage to the people you don’t want to hurt.
Very occasionally, I’ve had powerful impulses to try to kill myself that took all my energy resist, even after I decided not to attempt. Twice in the last 30 years, those impulses lasted a few days before they burned themselves out and went away. Resisting those impulses to attempt felt like life- and-death combat because that’s just what it was. Following Mary Ellen’s suggestions will help a lot. Having someone stay with you or stay on the phone with you for a while helps. You know you won’t attempt if someone is with you. There are three people in my life who have invited me to call them 24/7 if I’m in bad shape. In exchange for that gift, I try not to call them in the middle of the night. My therapist is on call 24/7 and doesn’t mind being called. She is very good at helping me through crises in the middle of the night. And if she’s unavailable for some reason, her answering service knows it, and she has a backup. Keep a list of 24/7 emergency hotlines, like 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.
The thing to remember in these life-and-death sieges is that the impulses will go away. So do whatever you have to do to postpone the attempt, and keep postponing it until the impulses go away. Once, in one of these long sieges, I counted all the pills in the house to see if I had enough to kill myself, or just enough to do permanent damage. Since you can never know that for sure, and I did not want to live with permanent damage, I never swallowed the pills. That postponed the attempt for an hour. Postpone long enough and you will survive.
Keep saying to yourself, “this too shall pass.” You can’t believe that when you’re in that dark place, but it’s always true. Life is so precious — even if it doesn’t feel precious right now — that you do whatever works to postpone the attempt until the feelings pass.
Mary Ellen Copeland, PhD, developed Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) with a group of people with lived experience who were attending a mental health recovery workshop in 1997. She is the original author of the WRAP Red Book, as well as dozens of other WRAP books and materials. She has dedicated the last 30 years of her life to learning from people who have mental health issues; discovering the simple, safe, non-invasive ways they get well, stay well, and move forward in their lives; and then sharing what she has learned with others through keynote addresses, trainings, and the development of books, curriculums, and other resources. Now that she is retired, and that, as she intended, others are continuing to share what she has learned, she continues to learn from those who have mental health issues and those who support them. She is a frequent contributor to this site.