What does it feel like to want to die?
Mental health is kind of a cause of mine. Though you maybe couldn’t tell if you knew me, depression is something I’ve struggled on-and-off with over the years. Kicking it and picking it back up like a bad smoking habit. (Had that too.) I’ve never, however, harboured any strong suicidal thoughts. I feel there’s an important difference between wanting to die or wishing to not exist anymore and wanting to kill yourself. I remember this confusing a counsellor I visited back in my university days — one of the many questions she asked during our first session was, “Do you ever think about killing yourself?” And when I answered with full confidence, “F-ck no,” her response was a smile and a “Good!”
Which it was. Good.
I respect the struggles of suicidal persons enough that I would never claim to be one, no matter how deflated or angry or boxed-in I feel on any of those hardest of days. But she also seemed to take that to mean that I couldn’t actually be depressed. Not for real. I disagreed, of course — I also see a distinction between just having the blues and being actually depressed (I can handle the blues), but I guess I’m always a bit nitpicky with my words.
We parted ways soon after.
So what was I missing, and what was she looking for in me? Scientific American’s Jesse Bering has a great column entry up called “Being Suicidal: What it feels like to want to kill yourself.” It’s an important piece, written very well, and I encourage you to check it out — for your sake, someone else’s sake, everyone’s sake.
From Bering’s intro:
…I do hope that having knowledge about the what-it-feels-like phenomenology of ‘being’ suicidal helps people to recognize their own possible symptoms of suicidal ideation and—if indeed this is what’s happening—enables them to somehow derail themselves before it’s too late. Note that it is not at all apparent that those at risk of suicide are always aware that they are in fact suicidal, at least in the earliest cognitive manifestations of suicidal ideation. And if such thinking proceeds unimpeded, then keeping a suicidal person from completing the act may be as futile as encouraging someone at the very peak of sexual excitement to please kindly refrain from having an orgasm, which is itself sometimes referred to as la petite mort (“the little death”)…
That’s the good writing part, where I’m all I see what you did there. What follows is a list of six steps, a little academic for a topic dealing with emotions, but very on-point. I’ll link it again here in case you’re a scroller.