Suicide: What to do with suicidal thoughts

Don’t give up before the miracle happens.
Fannie Flagg.

The main thing to understand about suicide is: DON’T DO IT!

Life may seem darker than an oil slick and bleaker than a bad diagnosis, and still be precious. When you are mired in misery, it’s best to remember that your most important job is taking another breath, and getting through each minute. Some days are like that; then, one thing changes and everything shifts. It could be a phone call from a friend who really understands you, a conversation with a child whose love you can feel from miles away, a tax refund, or, you just wake up and, for no discernible reason, feel buoyant.

There are two problems with suicide: if you fail you may live with unpleasant consequences for the rest of your life; and, if you succeed, you have relinquished your future on earth.

Usually, by the time you reach middle age and realize there are fewer days ahead of you than behind you, you have come to appreciate how life is more than accruing possessions, fun experiences, or success. It is about everything, even the experiences that bring us to our knees, or to contemplating our own demise.

It is far more difficult for younger folks. You simply haven’t lived long enough to have much perspective. Each loss, each mistake, seems monumental. They always appear that way in the moment: overwhelmingly awful and often unfathomable. Later on, you realize you were able to mobilize your resources, ask for help, and get through it.

Sometimes, even with the best track record, it feels as if life is not worth living. Luckily for you, a feeling isn’t a fact. It’s a passing emotion that can change on a dime. Just as your body constantly adjusts to bring it back to homeostasis, your mind has moment-to-moment fluctuations that need readjustment. Before that natural realignment happens it is easy to misjudge and assume your despair will never end. Again, that’s an assumption, not the truth. It is very real while you experience it, but it’s time bound, ephemeral.

An interesting experiment is to take your emotional temperature:

Get a piece of paper and number it from 1-15.
Watch a clock. Each time a minute passes assess your mood on a scale from 1-10, where 1 is abject misery and 10 is extreme joy.
Do this for 15 minutes.

Even in as short a span as 15 minutes you will notice some fluctuations. Maybe it is only a one point difference, but your state of mind did shift. Imagine how much more your emotions can change in a day, week, or month.

When you are suffering, even an hour can seem like an eternity, but it isn’t. As Gilbert and Sullivan used to say: “Things are seldom what they seem.” You have faced unhappiness before and can handle this. Of course, you don’t like it, but you don’t have to. Sometimes, the holy grail is just living through a bad time. No law of the universe says you have to deal with everything gracefully. So you stumble, you fall, you cry, rant, or rave. Your ego will rebel, but that is no reason to quit this mortal coil. Survival is the point. No one is grading you on how you get to the finish line; and, there’s no extra credit for not complaining.

Here’s a little story to help you remember the freedom and joy that can sometimes come from allowing yourself a bit of self-pity. Some years ago, there was an expedition to Alaska. A small group of hikers were dropped off by helicopter to a remote location for a few days in the wild. When the pilot came back to get them, the weather had turned and there was no way for him to safely land. Winter came ferociously and immediately. In the Spring, the pilot came back expecting to find the party’s remains. Instead, he found them all alive. Incredulous, he asked, “How did you manage to survive such brutal conditions?” They said, “Early on we agreed we could all complain as much as we wanted.”

Suicide not only closes all your doors, there’s the potential it may lock them forever. A wise woman I know once said, “The smartest people keep all their options open.” By loving yourself enough to see another day, you give yourself the gift of more possibilities.

When the darkness settles inside you, remind yourself:

This won’t last.
I will feel better.
It’s OK to be afraid and vulnerable.
It’s temporary.

Falsely believing your misery will never end makes the thought of suicide so attractive. Be exquisitely patient, gentle, and loving with the frightened part of you that doesn’t see a better future. Remember other times in your life when things looked horrible and then improved.

Asking for help is very hard for many people. If you are one of them, ask yourself, would you lose respect for someone who had the guts to reach out when suffering? In America, we have a legacy of rugged independence. It may have served us well during the Westward Expansion, but it is hindering our emotional growth and connection in the 21st century. Many years ago, it might have been prudent to keep a stiff upper lip, as everyone on that wagon train was shouldering a very heavy load. Now, with plenty of help available, it doesn’t make sense to tough it out on your own.

What stops you from seeking help? Often, it’s your ego. The ego doesn’t like feeling weak, needy, or dependent. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone suffers, everyone has losses, and everyone feels existential angst, even if they don’t call it that. (The sometimes terrifying sense of isolation and meaninglessness that can spawn a plethora of negative, self-defeating thoughts.)

It is all illusion. You are an energy being. Everything is energy. You are connected to everything. A sense of separateness is only that, a feeling. It will pass. You will feel connected again. The Buddha didn’t study sub-atomic particles or string theory but he knew we are all one. You may not feel it, but how aware are you of the earth’s rotating on its axis right this minute? You don’t need to feel something for it to be true. For now, just take it on faith that your life has meaning, the world needs you (or you wouldn’t have been born), and there are better days ahead. (Viktor Frankl’s book: Man’s Search for Meaning is an inspiring read.)

If you are still thinking of ending your life, remember: You are a sacred being full of grace. If you find that concept inconceivable, stick around and keep looking. At some point, if you pay attention, you will wake up to your inner light and beauty.

The National Suicide Prevention hotline is: 1- 800-273-TALK (8255) and it is open 24/7.

You can also call 988 for the Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

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Nicole Urdang

Nicole S. Urdang, M.S., NCC, DHM is a Holistic Psychotherapist in Buffalo, NY. She holds a New York state license in mental health counseling and a doctorate in homeopathic medicine from the British Institute of Homeopathy.