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Rest assured, I’m not suicidal.
I’m just one of many who have these thoughts from time to time.
On my eighth birthday, I was gifted my first diary. After many years and moves later, even after becoming a so-called adult, I unpacked a box that always ended in the back of a closet—entombed along part of my path. There it was: my first diary.
It was the kind of diary that a little girl gets to write in and hide under the bed or underneath clothes in a dresser door—one with the fake metal lock that any adult could easily pop open without a key.
But when you’re eight, you don’t know that. It was a sacred place for the secrets in my head that only I could unlock.
I was elated to come across this piece of my written history. I couldn’t wait to read my own words from so long ago, to relive some childhood memories, kind of like opening my own personal time capsule.
“Damn, what did I write about as a kid?”
As soon as I started reading, I realized I thought about suicide back then. Maybe even before. That was just a point of documented proof I had in my hand, in black and white, in my own handwriting, vulnerable and private. Facing that hit me hard.
I still remember the realization of knowing I was eight years old and wrote about killing myself.
What? Kids aren’t supposed to think about such things.
Unfortunately, after many more moves, I lost that original diary of my childhood self. Fortunately, I still have another one that was, ironically, also gifted to me.
Being a child of divorce, moving around so much, and many other developmentally forming experiences may be why I had these thoughts at such a young age.
Maybe it’s genetic. Maybe that’s just how my brain functions. Maybe it’s just me.
I don’t want to get into a nature versus nurture debate. For whatever combinations of however many possible reasons, the fact is that I had these thoughts as a child.
I struggled with these thoughts for a long time. It’s hard enough for a child to grasp the concept of death, much less cope with having thoughts of wanting to die. However, I can tell you the date and time that suicide was no longer an option for me: May 8, 1990, at 10:18 a.m.
I was 17 and got the call from the doctor’s office that my pregnancy test was positive. Coincidentally, it was also the day my mom brought home my prescription of birth control pills. Oops. Now it’s a funny family story of me telling her I’m pregnant as she sits the birth control on the ironing board that doubled as a table behind the couch.
That was a call that changed my life in countless ways, forever.
The best way I can describe it is that a switch flipped, and I knew. It was as quick and natural as flipping a light switch when you walk into a room. Suicide was no longer an option for consideration—forever. It was off the table. I had a child I had to be responsible for.
I won’t leave my child. I won’t let my child (now children) think that their mother abandoned them.
Even though I was a pregnant teenager thinking about my options, there was no way I could put my baby up for adoption either. (Yes, you can add abandonment to my list of issues.)
Given my disposition toward periods of depression, childhood issues, PTSD (stemming from a long-term abusive relationship), and…being human, the thought has still crossed my mind a few times. But it’s a passing thought. A little, secret fantasy thought that helps me process what I’m feeling and going through. After all, if I’ve survived these thoughts and feelings for at least 40 years, f*ck it—might as well keep going and see what happens.
Here are some things I’ve learned that help me:
Like most everybody, I’ve had many ups and downs. That feeling of being at the bottom of a circular underground well made of cemented red bricks that you can’t climb up and out of. A scene from “Silence of the Lambs” pops in my head, but I can’t find a usable link to that specific scene.
Or I feel caught up in a strong current that knocks my legs out from under me, reminding me of its force. I can’t find a footing and struggle to get my head above water for a breath. (Yep, I also have issues with water.)
Sometimes I feel so buried or drowning that those sneaky little secret thoughts cross my mind again. Death seems comforting that there will be an end to this suffering—mine, and others.
But, now, I recognize it as just a thought.
After 40 years, I’ve learned these thoughts will come and go—through different waves and different flows.
Even though occasionally I may think about it, I know it’s just a thought, a side effect from whatever.
Maybe Mars is in retrograde or something. I don’t know. Somebody check an astrological chart for me. Oh, yeah, it’s a full moon.
I lived long enough to learn that this too shall pass.
Despite life’s ups, downs, and curveballs, it’s been a long journey for me to get to this point.
Fearing these thoughts make me more anxious and exacerbates my mood. I can’t run from it. It’s there whether I like it or not. I can’t hide from it because I can’t hide from myself. And trying to fight it makes it worse. It’ll sneakily stay in the background, building and festering, ready to explode at any given (completely inappropriate) time. Nobody wants that to happen, trust me.
Yes, I still get depressed. Yes, I have hard, rough, severe times. When I think and feel that it’s my darkest of days—that I’m so far down and there’s no way out—I sit there a minute and remind myself that I’ve been in this place before and survived. I can sit here a minute and listen because it’s part of me, my being.
Now, I give myself permission to be in that place.
‘Cause f*ck it! If I’m going to be this far down, I might as well accept and allow it. I deserve the space, time, and gravity to go through it. I’m worth that. I can use it to learn, grow, and evolve. Spoiler alert: it’s a human superpower. I can be down in the pit of my darkness and know that every little thing is gonna be alright.
I have the strength to face it head-on, eye-to-eye. It’s an old friend who checks in every now and then. I sit with it long enough to take a good look and hear why it’s showing up. Maybe it’s because there’s a shutdown due to a pandemic, and I’m suddenly out of work. Maybe it’s an anniversary of something that triggers me. Whatever the reason, I’ll take some time with it because it’s an important part of me too.
Sometimes I can share this part of myself with others, which is also helpful. I’m lucky that I have a few people I can call when I need someone to talk to. Even if they can’t answer the phone because they have lives too, they check back.
One time I was struggling and needed an ear but didn’t feel comfortable revealing current circumstances to someone who knew me. I needed an anonymous, unbiased, unknown, impartial sounding board. I called the suicide hotline number.
After being on hold for an unacceptable amount of time, I remembered community services I had used before when I left my way-too-long-term marriage. So, I hung up and called the Domestic Violence Support | The National Domestic Violence Hotline. My call was answered by the second ring. After a little time with this complete stranger on the other end, I felt better. Not magically fixed—but better.
There’s a stream of hotline numbers. Why did I think I could only call a specific one?
“It’s a hotline. If they can’t help, they’ll do what they can to find someone who can—duh.”
Call until someone answers. Family, friends, hotlines, start picking random numbers if needed. The animosity of talking to a stranger can be beneficial. If you feel that far down, in a pit or drowning, with no way out, keep calling, keep reaching out and keep reaching in.
I’ve also learned to be comfortable with responding, “Not at the moment, but I will be,” when someone asks, “Are you okay?”
It’s my way of letting people close to me know I’m just going through a thing, dealing with emotions or whatever sh*t might be happening.
Maybe I dealt with too many people too much today and need a break. (Or maybe Mars really is in retrograde?)
But I will be okay. Sometimes I need to sit with it a while before I can talk about it—if I ever do. After all, no one is happy all the time.
Sometimes we forget that it’s alright not to be okay for a bit.
This piece is dedicated to all who haven’t survived these thoughts.
If you need a list of hotline numbers:
My top three related song choices: