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Today I’ve got a very special Soul Story for you – my own!
Obviously, this story comes with a trigger warning because I’m going to be talking about my own suicide attempt. Please don’t read any further if you feel you might be triggered.
Let’s Get Some Terms Straight!
Before I get into my own story, I think it’s important that we make some terms clear. Passive Suicidal Ideation is not the same as Active Suicidal Ideation or Suicidal Intent. Passive SI is when you have recurring thoughts about dying, killing yourself, or “disappearing” that are NOT accompanied with a plan. While it can be disturbing, SI is not always a medical emergency. Rather it’s a condition that many of us with mental illness live with on a day to day basis.
Suicidal intent is when you have a clear plan and have committed to ending your life. It is absolutely a medical emergency and needs to be treated as such.
Both are serious mental health issues that need to be treated. Suicidal ideation can easily develop into suicidal intent under the right circumstances. Work stress, abuse, and losing a loved one are just a few of the triggers that can make passive SI veer into dangerous territory. A big part of living with SI is knowing those triggers and avoiding them or preparing for them as much as possible. We’ll talk more about that later!
What’s it Like Living With Suicidal Thoughts?
Well, it’s different for everyone who experiences it. I know some people who experience SI all day, everyday. Some people only experience it once in a blue moon.
Personally, I experience SI about once or twice a month these days. But that wasn’t always the case. Before I got into recovery, I used to be plagued with these thoughts pretty much anytime I experienced stress or discomfort. Which for me was….all the time. Yikes.
What did that look like? Well, if I felt like I had done a poor job at work or had a fight with a significant other, I would fantasize about jumping in front of a train or swerving my car into a tree so that the world would be rid of me. Any emotionally stressful situation would set me off.
Nowadays, I experience this so much less because of therapy, personal growth and building up my distress tolerance (basically how well I cope with stress).
But there are exceptions. The two times I still experience SI now is when I’m extremely overwhelmed by stress and/or about to have my period. Hormones can really do some crazy stuff to you and in my case, my hormones try to literally kill me once a month. This is because I have PMDD – Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, which a particularly intense form of depression during PMS. It’s during those 7-12 days before my period that it’s most likely for SI to occur and for my SI to turn into suicidal intent.
Check out how I cope with that in this post here and read on to hear more about how I overcome the challenge of suicidal ideation.
How Can Suicidal Ideation Turn To Suicidal Intent?
The answer to that is – very easily. And quickly.
This is the part where I share my story so if you ignored the TW above, here’s another chance to skip this section!!
I’ve lived with SI for some of my teen years and ALL of my young adult life. The urge to stand on train tracks or yeet myself into a body of water has always just been there when I’m upset. It’s kind of a given for me and I don’t see it as anything serious other than I need to do more self care and talk to my therapist.
BUT there have been a few times where it’s gone from ideation to intent. Times where I’ve had to tell my husband to hide the razors and make sure I take my sleep meds so I can sleep through the feelings.
And then there were the two times it’s gone from intent to action.
The first was in my freshman year of college. Let’s just say, I didn’t have a great first year because I was completely mentally unstable the entire time. It was my first time living away from home and I wasn’t anywhere close to emotionally equipped for college.
Long story short I ended up alienating my best friend at the time, slapping my roommate in the face, and throwing up down a chimney at a Frat party (where I got alcohol poisoning) among many, many other embarrassments. After the whole chimney thing my best friend called me to tell me what a shit show I was and that she didn’t think we could be friends anymore. I deserved it, but still – ouch.
And that was really it for me. I felt so alone, angry, overwhelmed and stupid that I just couldn’t handle it anymore. So I went up to my dorm room and swallowed a whole bottle of Advil. I don’t remember too much except that at some point I called my Mom (who was four hours away in my hometown) to come get me. Then passed out until my Mom and brother woke me up to take me home. I slept for a really long time and then felt really gross the next day. But other than that I was thankfully fine.
I didn’t talk to anyone about this and haven’t really ever told the story in detail. After that I continued on as if nothing happened. Didn’t get help or support. I wish I had told somebody, it probably would have saved me a lot of pain in the long term.
The Second Attempt
My second suicide attempt didn’t come until about 10 years later. It was just after I got married, which was stressful enough. My job was also super demanding and I was making WAVES of drama with my friends at the time. I also went on a low carb diet (Keto) without knowing that carbs are essential for Serotonin production.
All of this kind of combined to produce the worst mental health state I think I’ve ever been in. I was having SI daily and intent way more often than I’d like to admit, like wanting to jump off a parking deck one time that I was really upset. I was self harming as well by hitting myself in the face and punching walls until I was bruised and bloody.
At this point I was still undiagnosed with anything but GAD and PTSD. I was in rough shape and had no idea what to do or where to turn. I had very little support because I didn’t reach out to anyone. Depression had me isolated, truly believing that no one cared.
One night, after yet another meltdown, I went into the bathroom to cry in the shower. This was pretty normal for me at this point so my husband didn’t question it and gave me space. But this time was anything but normal. I hit myself and started to cry – huge sobbing tears. To the point I couldn’t breath. I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so upset since or after that point. It was really, really bad.
And that was the point my ideation to drown myself shifted to intent. And from intent to action. I put the plug in the drain and let the shower water rise up around me. I felt weirdly calm as I tried to breathe in the water to hasten the process. Of course, I learned later it’s really hard to drown yourself in the tub. THANK GOD. So my self preservation instinct kicked in and I pulled myself up before I could pass out.
What Happened After That?
I dried off and told my husband what happened. He was worried but neither of us knew what to do at that point. So we just went to bed. It wasn’t until two days later when I had another fit accompanied by the urge to commit suicide that I realized I needed to get help.
The day after that I checked myself into the hospital, got Baker Acted, and the rest is history.
Living With Suicidal Ideation: How I Manage
I’m Mindful Of My Triggers
From my story, you see how ideation can easily and unexpectedly turn into a suicide attempt. As a survivor who also happens to have consistent SI (that’s not always the case for everyone), I have to be really mindful of my triggers.
For me, my SI is triggered by stress, specifically work or relationship stress. I get depressed when I overload myself with assignments or social responsibilities. I’m also triggered by emotionally distressing situations like current events, relationship problems, and even tv shows.
Here’s how I’ve learned to cope with all that:
- I am mindful of my calendar and time: Scheduling myself back to back and having to run all over town is a big NO for me. So I make sure there’s time between any meetings I have and I don’t have more than two Zooms a day to protect my energy
- I take lots of breaks: Breaks are essential to maintaining my mental well being. I try to follow Dr. Elaine Aron’s rule of thumb for breaks: 1 hour a day, 1 day a week, and 1 week a season.
- I’m careful about what kind of media I invest in – Like anyone else I love a good, emotionally engaging Netflix series. But they can also be triggering for me because I get too emotionally involved in the show. I try to space out watching dramas.
- I take social media breaks – if you’re a fan of my blog or a personal friend, you know I’m incredibly active when it comes to social justice and reform. Especially online. This is important but emotionally draining work that I get regular space from before it zaps me. That way I can keep fighting the good fight without getting burned out.
- I run my own business – If I’ve learned anything from the last few years, it’s that I need to be my own boss so I can manage my own time without feeling guilty or pressured. Owning my own company allows me to say NO way more frequently and focus on my mental health in a way that I couldn’t do if I worked at a 9-5.
I Do The Work:
While avoiding certain triggers works well for me, I also recognize that, in order to exist in the world, there are situations that I can’t avoid. That’s why I do what Brene Brown calls “The Work,” more commonly known as personal development.
I’ve invested a lot of time and money into being more resilient. I did this by going to an Intensive Outpatient Program for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and regularly attending therapy for a long time after my suicide attempt. I also take medication to keep my moods stable. I meditate, practice mindfulness, and journal till the cows come home.
I’m constantly learning new ways to accept myself as someone with a mental illness. Which is especially hard since I spent most of my life thinking I had nothing of the sort. Learning my limitations has been something that both frustrates me (because I want to do EVERYTHING) and frees me (because I should not do EVERYTHING). And finally, setting boundaries with myself and others has been a crucial part of the Work for me.
Because of this, I can say now that I handle my triggers better than I ever hoped. I still have a long way to go – but I’m lightyears away from where I was!
I Have a Safety Plan
If you haven’t heard of a safety plan, you really should look into it. It’s a written document that helps me, my counselor, and my support person (husband) know what to do if I’m experiencing suicidal ideation or intent. It has information on it that describe my personal signs of a downward spiral. It also has guidance on what actions we need to take for each step.
It’s been a real lifesaver for me because when I’m experiencing SI and Depression very intensely, I’m not in touch with reality. Which makes it really hard to communicate my needs. With a Safety Plan, I can just point to it and say “I’m NOT good.” This triggers my husband to start going through the plan with me and determine next steps.
There are lots of resources on the web to help you do a safety plan, however I highly recommend that you create the document with the help of a therapist. If that’s not possible, remember these main tenets to help you build a great Safety Plan.
Make Sure Your Safety Plan…
- Lists your personal depression/SI warning signs (these can be anything from crying a lot to isolation to change in sleep patterns)
- Includes activities and suggestions on ways to distract yourself during moments of intense suicidality
- Contact information for your psychiatrist, your counselor, and external support system so that your support person knows who to call for help
- Contains a pledge to keep firearms and other means of suicide secured
- Is posted where you and your support person can clearly see it. Not away in a drawer or folder somewhere. (We keep mine up on the fridge in the kitchen)
- Advises on medical steps you or your support person may need to take for you
- Has Suicide Hotline number and local support numbers (like 2-1-1 here in Florida) clearly listed on it.
I got my Wellness and Safety Plan from the WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan) website. WRAP is an incredible organization that goes into behavioral health facilities and provides free crisis intervention. I’ve linked the Crisis Plan below but I also highly suggest checking out their entire website while you’re there!
Today, I’m proud to say that it’s been a year and a half since my suicide attempt. And I’m more than a year free of self-harm! I have a much better handle on my Suicidal Ideation and my relationship with myself is so much stronger than it’s ever been.
For the first time in my life, I can say I’m stable. This is a pretty big milestone that I never in a million years thought I’d reach. But here I am.
And you can be here too.
If my telling my story does anything, I hope it’s to help encourage others to keep going on their quest to mental wellness. I know it gets hard and there seems to be more down than up. But as Winston Churchill famously said – “If you’re going through Hell, keep going.“ Don’t give up, because there is a life worth living on the other side. I promise <3
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