On Not Committing Suicide

semicolonToday is World Suicide Prevention Day. I’ve been dithering about whether to actually post this, but it seems appropriate now. This is about one of the reasons that I am alive today.

This isn’t going to be a post about general long-term management strategies with depression, or even my list of short-term methods for dealing with depression in the moment. I think that writers better than me have said everything I could possibly have to say about those topics.

What I wanted to talk about here is a sort of last-ditch defense system. It’s about what happens when whatever coping strategies you may employ have all failed you, and you find yourself absolutely in the grips of depression. And your jerkbrain has taken over, and everything it tells you is making perfect sense, and is totally correct, and it’s even convinced yourself that you would be better off dead.

It’s about what kept me from committing suicide through my late teens and early twenties, when I didn’t have coping mechanisms, not really, and I had suicidal thoughts on a fairly regular basis. I actually made a suicide attempt when I was sixteen; this is about what happened after that, and I why I never tried it again.

And it’s a simple thing, really. The reason I haven’t attempted suicide again is that I promised I wouldn’t. I didn’t promise myself, of course. That wouldn’t have done me any good, because I would have absolved myself from that promise when it came down to it.

I made the promise to the person who, at the time, was the most important person in the world to me; my first love. When I told her about my suicide attempt, she made me promise that I wouldn’t do it again. And when I made the promise, I wasn’t sure if I meant it, or if it was something I really had any say in. But I made it anyway, because I didn’t know what else to say, really.

But the thing that I found, as the years passed, even as she broke my heart, and we both moved on with life and found love in other places, that no matter how hard my jerkbrain fights to convince me to just kill myself (Just do it. Life is too hard. It’s so much work, all the time, just being alive. And it never stops being exhausting and painful. And it’s always going to be this way, you know. It never gets any easier. So you might as well just stop.)

No matter what it has to say to me, it can’t tell me that I didn’t make that promise. It can’t argue me out of it, as long as I insist on clinging to it. And it’s a tiny, almost meaningless thing, but it’s what has stayed my hand many, many times. It doesn’t make me feel any better, and it doesn’t make my life any easier, but it ensures that my life will continue beyond that moment, and eventually, I always find my way out of that hole, and am grateful.

It doesn’t even really matter that I haven’t seen or spoken to her in probably half a decade, at least. Of the few things in my life that I am sure of, I know that at one time she was the most important person in the world to me, and that I made her a promise. And the only way I have left to honour the love we once shared is by keeping that damn promise, and so I will.

It’s not even a question anymore. It’s just the way things are. And because I have this one solid thing to cling to, this one tiny sliver of reason to keep on leaving, that has nothing to do with myself, and therefore can’t be unseated by my internal monologue, I am still alive today.

 

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I’m not really sure if this is an experience that other people will find useful, and I don’t know how generalizable this anecdote is to other people, but it’s one way of approaching bare survival that I’ve found immensely valuable, and if it’s useful to even just one other person, than I’d be glad to have it out in the open, and so that’s why this is here.

And if you are feeling suicidal right now, and have found yourself here for whatever reason, please reach out to someone. Call a suicide hotline in your area. It doesn’t matter if it feels silly, or if you don’t know what to say to them, do it anyway. It certainly won’t make you feel any worse than you already do, right?

5 comments

  1. This is similar to my last-ditch anti-suicide strategy, except that I sort of did make the promise to myself… I’ve just also told everyone who I’ve ever been very close to about it as well. But my method is… decidedly less healthy?

    I first considered suicide when I was 14, and I spent several long sleepless nights thinking about it, and I convinced myself I couldn’t ever do it because I’d hurt other people. Fuck what my jerkbrain said about them being “better off without me,” it didn’t matter how I felt they SHOULD feel, what would matter was the subjective experience of losing someone to suicide. I thought through the whole thing in gruesome detail… how traumatizing it would be for someone (anyone–even a stranger, but I was particularly worried about it being one of my younger siblings) to find my body, how traumatizing it would be if I somehow managed to not let my body be found and left people wondering, how much my parents would blame themselves, how betrayed my younger siblings and friends would feel… etc.

    Basically, I inoculated myself against suicide by forcing myself to confront all the pain I would leave behind. Over and over and over. I told myself that if I did it, I’d be a horrible selfish person. I told myself that people would miss me and be forever changed by my inability to get my shit together. I couldn’t make myself care what happened to ME, but thanks to my highly developed sense of empathy, thinking of causing others pain is infinitely more painful.

    After years of doing this, I’ve built myself a mental wall against suicide, to the point where I’m sickened with revulsion at the thought, and any time I am depressed enough to be thinking about killing myself, I hate myself extra for even CONSIDERING being so selfish. This is hardly the healthiest suicide prevention method, given as it required me to go “fuck what you want, self, you don’t count, you have to stay alive for OTHER PEOPLE, whether you like it or not. So long as people love and care about you, you’re just going to have to find a way to deal with being stuck living.” It’s a suicide prevention method based on self-brainwashing and believing that I am such a nothing that I don’t have the RIGHT to hurt other people by taking my own life. When I was at my worst, it sometimes led me to resent the people who cared about me, because their existence and caring trapped me.

    I’ve explained this whole reasoning to several therapists at this point, and they usually respond with awe of the “fuck that it is SO AWFUL, do you get how deeply FUCKED UP that is” variety. They wanted me to care about myself and to want to live, not abuse myself into living because my relief wasn’t worth other people’s pain. And at first I was like “yea, so, what do you care, I’m alive, isn’t that the point?”, but now I get it, I do… the lack of caring for myself and what happened to me ran deeeeeep, and holding on to that hinders my ability to deal with my depression long-term and actually get meaningfully better. I get that I need to actually care about myself, and not just care about myself on behalf of others. And so I’ve been trying to work on not-hating-myself, and I’m getting better at it… though frankly I’m still completely dependent on the “imagine what you would say if someone you care about said/felt these things” trick… hating myself is still the default that I have to actively fight.

    The self-brainwashing has been damaging in other ways. Intellectually, I know that I shouldn’t hate people who commit or attempt suicide. I, of all people, should have compassion and understand that they acted out of deep pain, and that they didn’t necessarily have control over their actions. But emotionally, I can’t let myself forgive other suicides because that would mean letting go of my defense against my own. I have disabled my empathy for suicides in favor of empathizing with those they left behind, and I hate the way this disables my compassion and makes me deeply irrational around the issue of suicide.

    A family friend killed herself a few months ago, and people expected me to be sad, and I was… but mostly I was ANGRY. She had a family, kids. And friends, a lot of them. I know she was dealing with severe depression linked to a horrible chronic pain condition, and on some level I felt for her… but mostly I felt for the people who her suicide hurt, because that is who I have trained myself to empathize with. I really had to avoid talking to anyone who knew her about it, because I don’t want to infect them with my anger. But when people comfort each other about her death by saying “well at least she’s in a better place/at peace now”–it takes every ounce of my willpower not to scream. Because NO, she fucking isn’t. She’s just dead. She’s just gone. And she’s just transferred her pain to her husband and three children and they will be scarred for life by her fucking selfish actions. I loved this woman, she had been one of my mother’s best friends since before I was born, she babysat me as an infant and toddler, she taught me my first goddamn words for fucks sake, she was effectively part of my family, and she was suffering through pain that no one should have to endure… and all I can feel towards her is anger.

    So I have decidedly mixed feelings about the way I’ve avoided suicide all these years. On the one hand, I’ll be 25 this fall, so I’ve survived 11 years worth of depression, anxiety, and self-hatred, and I don’t know if I could have without this strategy. For the first 5 years at least, before I first saw a therapist, I really, deeply needed that wall. But now I shouldn’t need it anymore, I have other tools… but I’m stuck with it, and stuck with the ways my psyche has been warped around it. Was it worth the cost? I really don’t know.

  2. My promise is a tattoo of a persons initiall on my left wrist. It’s a promise for both of us -reminding him someone cares enough to have a piece of his identity with them and on show forever. Reminding him he is not alone and never will be again. It’s a promise to me that no matter what my brain may say, to one person I mean something. Its a promise not to cut any more (I slipped up once and the pain of breaking that promise, the look in his eyes, that has stopped me cutting more times than I can think of) and honestly the promise thing I agree with you. It’s there and because it was made nothing can change it and it’s a good reason to carry on

  3. One thing that works for me is “suicide – you can always do it tomorrow”. Because if nothing else is true, that definitely is.

  4. I’ve done the same thing, My friend is concerned about me and he made me promise to not commit suicide. But now I’m stuck with passive suicidal ideation and every day I pray that something or someone will take my life… I’m not even religious but…. yea.. at least i will remain alive right?

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