The life of someone you love is threatened at this very minute. He/she will not reach out to you for help for fear that you might learn their secret. This isn’t the first time their life is at risk, it’s happened over and over again without you ever knowing. It was critical during these times that they appear calm, stoic and show no sign of distress; because showing that to you would mean exposing everything.
It’s a horrifying scenario for both parties. Wanting to reach out for help, but knowing you can’t for fear of potentially hurting someone you love. Knowing it is imperative to remain calm so no one knows what fear and anxiety lies within you, but frantic about what could possibly be in store for you at the end of the day, and desperate to do something to save yourself.
No one has any way of knowing this person is in distress. There are no outward signs for this occasion, and all past occasions were covered up as well. It’s virtually impossible to expect anyone to be able to help in this scenario.
But really, how often does this happen? Does it ever outside of a movie theater?
It happens… and to some it happens frequently.
Some people who suffer with chronic anxiety, depression or other mental illness struggle with suicidal ideation attacks like the one described above. The overwhelming feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness come on like a punch to the gut and knock the wind out of you. As soon as you regain your breath, you notice your legs feel 500 lbs heavier and it’s harder to move. Sometimes your vision blurs for a while and you’re disoriented.
The only difference with the scenario presented initially is that the reader can easily assume that the person’s life is threatened by an outsider, not by the person’s own mind.
These attacks can be short or can last for days. In my own personal experience, it is like someone is following me around with a gun to my head ready to pull the trigger at any moment. If I make one wrong move I’m done. I have to behave normally to get through the day, but on the inside I’m screaming to be set free from the terrorist which is my own mind.
What causes these episodes? It’s likely different for everyone – this isn’t a scientific paper, mainly based off my experience and a couple others and input from my doctors.
I think the better question to ask is why do we have these episodes? Why are we going for the need to remove ourselves? It is driven by lack of self-worth. (You can see how these episodes would correlate with any mental health issue that has a depression component.)
Self-worth is the component that anchors us to a place in this world. It validates our right to take up space, and get the same resources and opportunities as everyone else. For some of us, self-worth gets distorted or corrupted. How that happens is different for everyone. I think some of it is how we are raised, I think some of us are born with a personality that makes that development harder, and some have significant life events that change our perspective on who we are.
It’s important, as you read on, to understand that there is no quick fix to these issues. Recovering self-worth and curing people from suicidal ideation attacks is something that takes understanding and time. They didn’t develop overnight- and they are very challenging to reverse. Having recurring issues is not a sign of failure. Keep working. Read on.
One might think that this would be something sufferers would have no trouble reaching out for help with. “Hey, help me, my mind is playing tricks on me! Give me something to feel good about! Tell me there isn’t someone with a gun to my head!” But, most people at this point have been down this road more than once. And, it’s not that simple.
You’ve reached out to people before. Asked a friend or loved one for help; or, they’ve insisted you tell them what is going on because you did let on something was up. Most people respond immediately with something that boils down to, “How could you do this to me? We need to get you to a mental hospital right away! Where is the number to your psychiatrist?” At that point you’ve gone from looking for comfort into a full blown panic thinking, “Look what I’ve done now! I hurt/confused/angered him/her by just letting them know what I’m experiencing. If I share who I am, it hurts people.”
It’s very easy to learn that sharing who they are and what they’re going through is negative. These reactions promote the idea that they are inadequate and keep them from engaging socially and seeking support.
Time to slow down and examine the situation from both perspectives.
First, the receiver of the information. If the receiver is not prepared, he/she is at a disadvantage from the start. Reactions like the one described above are normal, given what they perceive as a scary situation with someone they love.
So, what to do? First, try not to overreact. The fact that someone is sharing this deeply personal information at the risk of being judged is a sign that they are in need of some comfort and acceptance. The experiences they’ve had include a repetitive dialogue that goes something like this, “you don’t belong here, you are making everyone’s life worse, remove yourself so things can be better without you.” These thoughts are very real to them; it’s OK to say you don’t feel the same way, but do not to deny their feelings.
Please, keep in mind. The people struggling with these issues often have been through a lot before they open up to you about it. Repetitive negative thoughts like the ones described above have significant impacts. To name a few: panic attacks, the feeling as if they have just made a suicide attempt, exhaustion, shame, self-hate, and trouble seeing past the issues in their mind to the big picture, etc… You can see, the person dealing with this has a lot on their plate. Often, just listening without judgement, without trying to fix the problem, without overreacting, and simply saying, “I’m always here for you. I love you and I’m glad you can share these thoughts with me,” goes a long way to building a support system they can feel safe with.
A key word is that these are often thoughts that people are sharing and not suicidal plans. There is a big difference. Will talk more about that in a couple paragraphs.
Next, therapists and psychiatrists are there to help. They are trained to handle these discussions with care. They know what questions to ask, signals to look for, instructions to give…. to BOTH parties. Ask if you can go to the next appointment so you can learn how to best communicate in a therapeutic way.
Next, the person in crisis. You are in a vulnerable state. You have a huge burden you are trying to diffuse. Remember, the information you are communicating is familiar to you, but very new to the person you are sharing with.
If you can, try to remember how scared you were the first time you had these thoughts. You likely over-reacted, called everything in your life into question, and made some bad decisions. You can not expect others to be cool, calm and collected as your therapist and know what triggers to avoid. Remember, they truly want to help and they are going to do what comes naturally to them, which is likely going to make you worse . If you can – guide them to help them help you. Tell them, “I have some upsetting news to share with you. I would like you to just listen to me and be here for me. I need someone to accept me for who I am right now. Please don’t try to fix the situation, just say that you love me.”
This does not mean that all hope is lost and you will never have a support system that can automatically respond to you. It means that it takes education, communication, and patience from both parties to develop a supportive relationship.
The person in recovery wants exceptions taken for the struggles he/she is having, but it has to go the other way too. This is hard on the people around them and a practical perspective of that can not be lost. For example: don’t overreact when people don’t comfort you in a way you need. If you’re too upset in the moment, remove yourself and come back when you’re calm and explain what you need and why their instinctual reactions do not work for you. That is your responsibility in developing your support system.
Being able to communicate with your partner or family and friends effectively is complementary to and does NOT replace PROFESSIONAL help and doing work on yourself!
Last, some pointers for both parties. One thing that both parties have to accept, is that you must do a real, honest, check-in about planning. Suicidal ideation and planning are two different things. It’s one thing to have a voice in your head telling you that you should be dead and you don’t deserve to be part of the world around you, it’s another thing to start thinking about a plan and then putting a plan together. However, it doesn’t take a lot of stress to go from ideation to planning. So, it’s important to be honest and clear about this.
If you or someone you know needs immediate help, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
No matter what problems you are dealing with, we want to help you find a reason to keep living. By calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area,anytime 24/7.