How to Communicate Suicidal Feelings
Unfortunately, I know this subject all too well. When I was 19 years old I my dad died by suicide, and I have had an almost fatal attempt myself in my early 20s, along with very regular ideation of wanting to end my life. One thing I have learned through the years, is that if you are suicidal, it is incredibly important to reach out for help in a way that is supportive for all involved. It is not easy for anyone, and there is a very big difference between using suicide as a means to manipulate people in an abusive way as opposed to using it as a means to ask for support to get the help you need.
As I said, I know this issue well and unfortunately I didn’t learn how to communicate suicidal feelings in a way that was healthy for both myself and others. And let’s be honest. Not many people even want you to mention the word suicide, let alone hear you feel like you want to end your life.
Unfortunately, I learned these behavior patterns from my dad. As my dad told me many times, if X happens, I am going to kill myself. So I thought that was normal. And my dad lost his sister at a young age to suicide, so maybe he thought that was normal as well.
So when my dad’s untreated depression got the best of him, and he lashed out in anger, he felt so much sadness after and didn’t know what do to do with it and why he could not control it. So he told me that he felt so bad he wanted to die. And I didn’t know what to do with it. So instead of setting boundaries and getting him into treatment, I tried to make him feel better, which resulted in a cycle of untreated mental health problems that ultimately destroyed him.
What is so sad, is I know he didn’t want to die. He wanted to be a great dad and husband and meet his grandkids and not lash out in anger. He simply didn’t know how to control his emotions. So in the end, he drank a ton of alcohol to give him the courage to go to sleep in the garage in the car with a bible on his lap. And a late Valentine’s Day card to me, telling me our family was the most important thing in his life and he hoped I never felt the deep unhappiness, regret, and sadness that he felt. Little did he know that by leaving me that way, that is exactly what I would feel.
I wish I had learned from that experience, but I was fairly deep in my own addictions and the pain from the loss and feeling of having failed to save him, so went through my own cycle with my first serious boyfriend where I would threaten self-harm. Yet it was always because of own bad choices or mistakes. What I was trying to say was “This feels terrible, please help me.” But what I was really saying was “Do this or else…”.
The bottom line, is this is abusive and manipulative behavior, and not anything I am proud of doing. I just didn’t know better, or how to deal with the intensity of my emotions. And the ironic thing, is that when we do that to others, we end up just pushing them further away and not getting the help we need. As it is not about ‘them’, it is about learning how to deal with the curves we are presented in life, navigate through the pain of it, and maintain a hopeful mindset through it all.
It took a lot of time and practice, but now when I feel seriously suicidal (as opposed to just suicidal thoughts), I’m able to say to my friends, family, and therapists I have identified in my Hope network — “I feel hopeless, any ideas for how I might get support? How I might fix this problem that feels overwhelming?” And when I say it that way, or ask it that way, I generally get the support I need that helps my internal healing and growth for making better, most positive choices.
By threatening suicide, we don’t solve anything, anyway. We just fix a surface immediate problem, instead of getting to the root of the behaviors or limiting beliefs causing it in the first place. As it is easy to fix things short-term, but to create the kind of long-term healing we need to stay healthy and in positive relationships, we need to be able to get to the deeper root of why we don’t think we can remain in a hopeful state.
When I went through a divorce, I remember feeling incredibly hopeless as I had significant challenges that felt completely insurmountable and I was sober so had to feel my way through the pain. I really didn’t know how I might recover, and how I was going to get through it. So I called my oldest brother, and instead of saying ‘I’m going to kill myself if you don’t help me’ I simply expressed how terrible I was feeling about my situation. So like the hero rockstar brother he is, he got a U-Haul, came and packed me up, and moved me to be by his family where I got to be an aunt to two of the coolest kids (now grown) I know. I got my medications modified, went into intensive therapy, practiced meditation, exercised regularly, practiced gratitude, focused on giving back, journaled, got closer to my spiritual guidance, and got my life back on track. And ironically enough, when I put my mental health before all of my other perceived emergencies and issues, the other issues slowly resolved themselves.
I was in a recent relationship where someone was threatening suicide, and it was pretty devastating to me as it reminded me of my dad and all I went through with him. Yet it also reminded me that I can’t allow myself to be manipulated by those that are suicidal and refuse to get help. I simply cannot sacrifice my own mental health to keep others alive, nor is that my job. While it was hard and triggered a lot of my own trauma, it was positive as it led to a lot of my own healing from PTSD I covered with alcohol and drugs for many years. As I can do everything I can to connect people in pain to resources available, but people need to want to get treatment themselves. I can’t spend enough money, give enough love, or fix enough problems to help another heal. And while nothing hurts more to me than watching those I love suffer, when I abandon myself and stop helping myself, everyone loses.
Thankfully, these days I’m feeling really good, off medications, have 14 years of sobriety and a close network of people I know I can turn to when I don’t see a way past an obstacle, including connecting to my higher power when nobody else seems to understanding. And using the power of surrender, a true gift. The reality is statistically speaking I have a very high chance of dying by suicide, so I need to be extra vigilant about sharing with others how I am feeling and reaching out for support when I need it.
We all need networks for hope, to know we are not alone, and to be able to share authentically our health status, and that includes our mental health. And I think especially so when we are feeling that we don’t want to be alive, as that is a pretty clear indication we need help. Yet to be the kind of people we want to be, we need to do it in a way that is respectful not just of ourselves, but others, so we strengthen our relationship instead of tearing them apart. As that is the way we get to true healing and recovery.
If you, or someone you know, is feeling suicidal please reach out to 1800-273-8255 (TALK) to find resources in your area.
Goetzke, K. (2018). How to Communicate Suicidal Feelings. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 6, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-to-communicate-suicidal-feelings/