Nobody really wants to talk about this subject. I get it. Suicide is a tragic subject, and if you have been left behind by someone you loved that has died by suicide, you know the impact. Yet this is Suicide Awareness week, and awareness month, and we need to talk about it.
Let me also start by saying that i am not a doctor nor is this medical device. If you are currently suicidal, PLEASE talk to a doctor or reach out to the crisis text line by texting HOME to 741741. I’m someone with lived experience, and have studied the space intensively so want to share some hopefully unique insights, yet in no way does this substitute for medical advice.
My dad took his life when I was 19, and even though I know the immense pain it inflicts on society and I can’t stand hurting others, I have suicidal ideations myself. That is the reality of it, I don’t want to yet I do. I also have an attempt in my early 20s, and have all the risk factors for suicide. So I speak from this place of knowing.
I’ve also had the opportunity to learn from experts around the world in mental health the last 15 years, and what we know is it is suicidal ideations are biological and behavioral. They have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, and it is a never ending battle that, thankfully, I am winning.
As here is the thing. In order to overcome suicidal ideations, you need to understand what they are. I needed to understand what they are. And what are they? Through research, and trial and error, I have come to realize there is really one fundamental question I must ask myself when I feel suicidal:
What am I hopeless about?
This one, single question, has profoundly changed my life. And saved my life. As each and every time I have suicidal ideations, I am hopeless about something.
Sometimes one thing. Sometimes many things. Sometimes everything. And for every person I’ve ever met that has been suicidal, they have said this to be true for them as well.
Hopelessness is a known predictor of suicide, and it makes sense, as hopelessness is a feeling of despair, and sense of helplessness. So when I feel hopeless, I feel horrendous, and I don’t feel able to do anything about it. Except, perhaps, end my life, as that at least stops the pain.
And learning that has changed everything for me. As instead of just having suicidal ideations, I can start being curious about them. I can start understanding them. I can start getting to the root of the problem, the why. And that gives me back my power.
And then, when I understand what I am hopeless about, I ask myself ‘Can I do anything about it’? If the answer is no, I feel the despair. I mean, I really feel it. I mourn. I cry. I grieve. I get angry. I rage. I feel the fear. In every inch of me.
I don’t hang on to it, I am curious about it. I embrace it. I listen to what it is telling me. And I do whatever I need to do to release it, without acting out against myself or others.
For instance, when I lost my dad, I needed to grieve fully. I still do, to this day sometimes. So instead of running to addictions, I grieve. I wail. I cry. I do whatever I need to do to let the energy go through me. I let it pass. And I focus on what I can control.
What I can control is filling my life with people that bring me some of the gifts my dad brought me; laughter, mentoring, fun, adventure, love, etc. I bring that into my life, yet i don’t fixate on having my dad here. As I can’t control that. And the more I focus on having my dad here, the more hopeless I feel. And then I start ideating. That is how it works.
Let’s say I feel hopeless about my finances, something I can control. First, I get myself to a better mood state, so I can be in the part of my brain where my problem solving happens. Problem solving is virtually impossible when in despair, as that is our ‘downstairs’ brain. So I do something that improves my mood. Go for a walk, call a friend, play with my dog, etc.
Then, once a little more positive, I work on my sense of helplessness, or inability to act. I set SMART goals; specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound. I chunk down my goals to micro goals. I stay present, and don’t worry about the future, as I can not control it. I take it one step at a time, as sometimes that is all I can manage. I celebrate my small wins, even if it is just making my bed. I am kind to myself.
Hope is both positive feelings and inspired actions. So much of what is happening in the world right now is out of our control. Our ability to navigate it is going to ultimately predict if we stay out of anxiety and depression. Staying in a place of positive feelings and inspired actions is harder to get there when we feel our freedoms taken away or when we feel oppressed, yet it is possible.
The other thing about suicidal ideations is the biology. When I am PMSing, they happen repeatedly. Like clockwork. It is so bizarre.
So I make sure I have a great support system, take extra care of myself, get through a few days when my feeling state is off, and get to a doctor if the feeling persists so I can work on my biology. The funny thing is, when my hormones changes and get in balance again, the thoughts and feelings of needing to escape this life go away.
It is sad, as in my younger days I didn’t know this, so I often escaped the feelings with temporary fixes. And this made the problem worse. I have come to understand that sitting through discomfort is always better than temporarily solving via substances. Another game changer.
I believe the thing that brings us the greatest pain is a key to our calling. It shows us what we are passionate about. When I finally learned to stop running from the pain of losing my dad, and asking this one fundamental question, ‘What Am I Hopeless About’, I changed my life.
As once I asked myself this question, and started writing, thinking through what I can and can not do, holding off on drastic action, and listening to insights, I started my real work in the world. I can always just feel, and work on my mood state. Going through this exercise took the power away from the ideations, and gave it back to me.
I’m here for a reason. We all are. You are, for sure. Even though it may not seem like it at times.
I’ve worked with global experts to actually operationalize this concept, and we created a program so anyone can teach the skills of hope, free, globally, to kids called Hopeful Minds. When I feel really hopeless, I find figuring out how to teach others is another life saver. Even if you can’t reach kids, you can always just download the curriculum and learn about the power of hope for yourself.
September is suicide awareness month, this week is Suicide Prevention Week. If you want to help someone that is struggling, consider asking them this question. Consider supporting them as they feel their despair, and in honoring their feelings of helplessness. Share with them the Crisis Text Line, a group that provides free, 24/7 support via text message. They’re here for everything: anxiety, depression, suicide, school. Text HOME to 741741.
These are challenging times. So take good care of yourself, and others. Know there are always people that care. And no matter what, may you always find your way through, and to, hope.