Suicide: Me Versus My Illness
One particular phrase I have heard myself say is: "If I just kill myself, maybe then they will understand just how badly I feel."
The "they" are family, friends, co-workers, doctors, etc. In my personal experience, this manner of thinking would arise when my suicidal thoughts were strong and I felt like I was dismissed for feeling the way I did, and for the number of people who judged that my depression, anxiety and post-traumatic were signs of self-indulgence and that if I really wanted to, I could "think" my way to a positive attitude that would solve my emotional labile state. So, maybe killing myself would drive the point home to "them". This was an irrational thought, but it made sense to me at the time.
I now know that suicidal feelings and ideation are signs of mental illness. At the time, I believed that my taking action on suicide would "show them" how deeply my pain ran, and maybe this would get the reaction out of them that I so desired while living: to be heard, to be loved unconditionally, and to be perceived with compassion and understanding.
I wrote many suicide notes, filled with apologies for not being a good enough person, for the disappointment I created in my family's eyes, for not being able to continue forward in my wearied state. I never followed through with my desire for suicide, although I thought about it constantly. I could not foresee my circumstances changing and the only way out I knew was to leave.
My one and only reason for not following through on suicide had to do with the idea of meeting God in heaven and have Him look at me with disappointment. I feared He would say something like: "I gave you life and you threw it away." Yes, that is a judgmental thought as well, but it did prevent me. The idea of God being disappointed in me was more than I could bear-more than trying to survive on earth. I felt I was disappointing God routinely on earth; to have my "final encounter" be of disappoint too was far too shameful.
My thoughts about religion have changed since then, but in a healthier and loving way. The disappointment factor that prevented me from suicide is now opposite to the reason why I continue to choose to get the therapy, medication and support I require for my mental illnesses. God is not disappointed in me-He loves me. Having an intentional relationship with God taught me my first understanding of unconditional love. The idea that I could be loved unconditionally is something I had not experienced until my thirties. This was a major turning point in my life and how I chose to live.
Once I felt this unconditional love, I was able to then apply it to myself. Once I was able to apply it to myself, I was able to apply it to others. Being in relationship with anyone without judgment and without strings attached has freed me. Should I experience negative self-talk or feelings of despair, I respond immediately and do not wait because I know it is the illness speaking (or screaming), not the true me. This awareness has come through education, and knowing the difference between me and my illness. I chose to educate myself because I love myself. I choose to take action because I love myself. I do not allow the illness to have full control or the final say. I purposely surround myself with people and mental health care professionals who know my truth. I have no secrets anymore. No game face required.
With unconditional self-love, I do not feel shame, embarrassment or that I need to hide my illness or why aspects of it have come about. Yes, I will have moments when I am self-conscious and feel like I should be doing better than I am, but these moments are no longer constant. (Self-love has not suddenly made me invincible, a saint or never sad; rather, simply an awareness that I matter enough to receive treatment.) My initial reasons for suicide-to be heard, to be loved unconditionally, and to be perceived with compassion and understanding-this is now something I can give to myself as well as others. I am also able to receive it from others as well. Without self-love, my punishment and judgment of myself would only have continued: berating myself for not being like other people, feeling stupid and worthless all the time, feeling pathetic because I needed pills to make me "normal", requiring therapy and treatment because I was unable to figure out my circumstances myself.
This is how my personal awareness came about for self-accountability for my mental illnesses. Religion can sometimes get a bad rap, and religion of any sort is not what feels right for everyone. This is simply how my knowledge came about and is not a panacea that I will be well because God will provide and I can sit back and wait for all to be resolved. God has provided unconditional love, and this in turn has given me the understanding and ability to love myself and take action for the treatment I require. In my opinion, all God wants from us is to respond in the best and most loving and caring way we can. All we can control in this world is our response-no more, no less.
I also am aware that there are no guarantees. The medications that are working for me now may not always work for me. Frankly, I do not like this idea, but I know that it can happen. If it should, I know myself well enough that I will speak up and work with my mental health care team to find the best answers. I know that for me, I had a lot of trouble finding the right combination of medication. I have a low threshold for seizure response, and this removes most antidepressants from my option list. But this is not my focus: if that day should come, it will come and I will respond. Right now, I am grateful.
I also do not believe that God made this illness-or any other for that matter. The human body is a fragile network. Genetics are in play and irregularities arise and medical science has enabled many of us with illness to live life with options for replacing chemical imbalances. God does not hand out illness to see how a person handles it. Illness happens. Sickness happens. The flu happens, and if we don't take care of ourselves with the flu, it may turn into pneumonia or bronchitis. To me, this same principle applies to my mental health. Catching signs early improves my chances to not spiral into a deeper depression. Catching my ability to disassociate faster has the effect of shortening the episodes and their effects. Asking for help and reaching out is not an issue anymore. Like with any other manifestation of illness, I get the treatment I need right away to prevent further complications.
I have shared on this site that I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in my late twenties. Since that time, I have required surgeries, ultrasounds, tests and check-ins with an oncologist. Whenever an ovarian cyst bursts, I need to see the oncologist. Whenever I have pain or symptoms, I need to see my oncologist. Whenever I do not have pain or symptoms, I need to see my oncologist. I take my ovarian health seriously. I take my mental health equally seriously. One is not more important than the other because I know both have the potential for lethal consequences.
Knowing I am not my illness has made a difference. Knowing I am more than my illness has made a difference. Not judging myself for having this illness has made a difference. If I can free myself from the stigma, then I can free myself from worrying what others may think about me. What matters is what I think of me. If someone wants to slap a label on me, go for it. It won't stick. Labels arise from ignorance, judgment or a lack of understanding. If I take on these labels, I will no longer be able to identify myself for who I really am.
Education and action will always be my best, most loving and caring response to any of my health concerns.