Surviving Suicide Ideation and Self-Harm Tendencies in a Pandemic

Trigger warning: This story contains mention of suicide ideation, self-harm tendencies and abuse. 

My therapist says I can’t make the monsters disappear no matter how much I pay her. All she can do is bring them into the room so, I can get to know them. So, I can learn their names. So, I can clearly see their toothless mouths, their empty hands and their pleading eyes.

– Jose Olivarez 

The worst thing about living with suicide ideation is that many of the stories you hear are binary. One moment the person has suicide ideation, and the next moment they just don’t. Some of them survive a suicide attempt and then bam! They are healed and their life sees a 180-degree turn.

Honestly, that doesn’t happen with most of us. I mean, yes, surviving a suicide attempt will impact you in ways deeper than most can imagine – but you aren’t suddenly healed.

I live with suicide ideation. This means it’s always at the back of my head, on the look out for failure. Something goes horribly wrong and it comes running at me. I fall prey to its spiral more often than I’d like to believe. Some days, I survive on my own. Some days, I try to reach out. I am still learning the art of reaching out.

But even though the success rate of my suicidal ideation has not been great, I am still scared. So very scared. Sometimes, I have this thought at the back of my head. “Haha, you can’t even die right. You don’t have what it takes to die by suicide. Haha, what a coward.” Some days, I feel like shutting that voice once and for all but then I choose not to act on it. I just sit there and let the thought pass me by like a winter.

My suicide ideation is a parasite that hosts on me and reveals itself on difficult days; on some days, it’s painful to visualise a tomorrow. When it has found an excuse, it jumps right in front of my eyes and everything else becomes a blurred motion picture.

It took me a lot of work and a lot of hope to tell myself, “It gets better”.

It has to, right?

Also read: ‘Suicide Is for the Weak’: Confronting Bias in the Indian Medical Fraternity

Even if my suicide ideation is passive, that doesn’t mean it’s not there. It doesn’t have to be visible to be viable. I have wanted to die for as long as I can remember, but that doesn’t mean I always actively act on it. It comes on in subtle but intrusive ways. If this ceiling fan falls on me and I die, I wouldn’t mind. If this lift free falls and I die, I wouldn’t mind. If someone pushes me off fourth floor and I die, I wouldn’t mind.

My suicide ideation played out in ways invisible to the eye.

Until it wasn’t invisible. My semi-successful suicide attempt brought it to my attention. I was 18, and in a terrible place in life. But even though I survived, I wasn’t given a badge of honour reading “healed”. I chose to resort to healthier coping mechanisms.

On bad days, I still fear that it might return. But now I have the tools to handle it better. Therapy has helped me understand its ugly roots, which helps me look at it discretely. Something that I acquired while shifting counsellors, therapists and psychiatrists is that the first step is externalisation, to look at it separate from oneself. Reminding yourself time and again, “I am not suicidal; I have suicide ideation”. For me, the process of externalising my suicide ideation is writing about it. I have written way too many suicidal poems to count on my fragile fingers. The more I wrote, the more I wanted to live. The more power I gave to my pen, the more power I took away from that abusive voice in my head.

I am learning to challenge that voice that tells me I am worthless. I am learning to have a dialogue with it, ask it questions, and look at it with an objective lens. Where does it come from? What does it want? How can I disempower it? Asking these questions will give you a deep understanding of your triggers.

None of this happens overnight. It took me years to be able to see it clearly, and I might have more to discover about it. Take it one day at a time, the revelation won’t come in one therapy session. You won’t figure it out all at once because no one can. It can only happen piece by piece.

One thing to always remember is that there are good, empathetic people out there. Reach out to them. Don’t shy away from asking for help when you need it. There is no point in holding grief because it soon takes up permanent residence in your body.

It gets better. It has to.

Ghazal Khanna is a writer, poet and educator.

Featured image credit: Pixabay