Dealing With Suicidal Thoughtsby Karen Lee Richards Patient Advocate
This is a subject that no one likes to talk about, but one I've found has at least crossed the mind of most chronic pain patients. It's kind of a "dirty little secret" that we keep to ourselves. Most people I've talked to who live with chronic pain admit to having had thoughts of suicide, asking God to take their lives, or at least wishing for a terminal illness that would put them out of their misery.
Even though I've never considered myself suicidal - mainly because of my spiritual beliefs - there was a time I thought that if I got some kind of serious, potentially terminal, illness, I wouldn't do anything about it. And I have asked God to take me home when there seemed to be no hope that I would ever get any relief from the pain and fatigue. (Now I can say I am thankful that was one prayer He answered with a "No.")
At the time I was having those thoughts, very little was known about fibromyalgia. My pain had been getting progressively worse for several years and doctors wouldn't give me anything stronger than ibuprofen. Despite my pain and extreme fatigue, I had to keep working because I had no other means of support. Worst of all, I saw absolutely no hope that anything would change.
That is the key word - HOPE. Somehow, in spite of those feelings of hopelessness, I managed to hang on to a seed of hope. I think the main thing, besides my faith in God, that helped me to hang on was knowing how much losing me would hurt my children.
Now I can look back and see how much I would have missed if I had given in to the hopelessness. I would never have seen my eight precious grandchildren who have brought me unbelievable joy. I wouldn't have fulfilled my lifelong dream of a career in writing. And I wouldn't have gotten to know so many wonderful people in the chronic pain community.
Yes, hindsight is easy. The point is, none of us knows what is just around the corner. My lowest moments came only a few months before I found the first key element in what would become an effective treatment plan and things began to change for the better. Hope is definitely worth hanging on to.
When we're in the midst hopelessness, we're like a horse with blinders on. Our vision is narrowed and we can only see what is right in front of us. We can't see all of the possibilities that may be surrounding us. We are totally convinced that there are no other options and that nothing is ever going to change. And like that horse, we may not be able to take the blinders off by ourselves. We may need the help of somone else.
As strange as it may sound, during one of my lowest periods, I didn't even realize I was depressed. All I knew was that I felt horrible all of the time, nothing helped and all I wanted to do was sleep. Then one day my daughter called to tell me her mother-in-law had been diagnosed with breast cancer. My first thought was, "Why her and not me? She wants to live."
I startled myself with that thought It was then I realized I had a serious problem. But I was so down and felt so drained, I knew I didn't have the strength or even the motivation to try to get help. I did manage to muster up enough energy to call my best friend, Sharon, and relate the story to her. Thankfully, that's all I had to do. Sharon made some calls, set up an appointment, then came and picked me up and took me in to be tested.
The diagnosis was severe to extreme depression. It turned out that the combination of physical pain and some recent emotional traumas had caused a chemical imbalance that resulted in severe depression. With several months of medication and counseling, I gradually came out of the depression that had led to my feelings of hopelessness. Then I was finally able to see some of the good things in my life. Once I felt life was worth living, I began actively looking for new options to treat my pain.
The point of my story is, if you're feeling hopeless enough to want your life to end, you may be past the point of seeing clearly and being able to help yourself. Please reach out to someone you trust and ask them to help you get help. And don't assume they know how you feel. No one realized what I was going through - not even my mother or my closest friends - until I made that call to Sharon.
You're Not Alone
One thing I want you to understand if you're having any of these thoughts - you're not alone. It's not unusual for people whose lives have been drastically changed by a chronic illness, particularly when it's a painful illness, to sometimes feel that they can't go on living that way indefinitely. I can promise you that a lot of people here can relate to what you're going through, so don't hesitate to reach out.
I'm not a professional counselor, but I am someone who has been through the depths of depression and hopelessness and come out on the other side and I can tell you it is worth hanging on and getting help. You CAN have a worthwhile and fulfilling life even while dealing with chronic pain.