Several of my friends suffer from bouts of suicidal ideation despite taking medications for depression and/or psychosis. After my last psychotic break close to 10 years ago, I, too, fell into suicidal depression while taking greater and greater doses of my anti-psychotic medication. I spent a lot of time considering and imagining how I could end my life. Ultimately, I settled on death by carbon monoxide poisoning in my garage. Obviously, I didn't do it, but for a while I really wanted to. From what I can remember, thinking about the ways I could kill myself became like an addictive narcotic. It was oddly soothing to get serious about once and for all ending my suffering. Instead of doing that I just held on through the following months of this. My depression after my last break was so strong that I couldn't do much of anything. I wound up forcing myself to go to a good local library so that I could check out a bunch of audiobooks to listen to and that's how I spent hours of my time, passively listening to story after story. It made me realize that there was a larger world outside my sad corner of it. It made me realize that other people were also struggling, yet living to tell their stories in a therapeutic way.
Suicide is the leading cause of death amongst schizophrenia sufferers covering about 10 percent or more of all deaths. It's a massive problem, one that I think could be partially remedied through the reduction of the stigma attached to the illness. The people I know attack themselves for not being "normal"; their self-esteem is always shaky. There is a before/after scenario going on in their heads. Before the illness struck them they were still a part of the human race, but afterwards they see themselves as defective, lacking in basic human resources such as the resilience to take on the responsibility of having a family, a job and a place in their community. Even if they do have a family and/or a job and/or a place in their community, they are acutely aware that they have these things but at a greater cost than the general population. They tire more easily and suffer from stresses that "normal" people would shrug off. Their ability to get things done and to stay organized is challenged. They fall into regularly comparing themselves to others, especially extremely successful people. These comparisons in particular I think are the culprit that spurs on suicidal ideation and underlying these comparisons is this pervasive sense of isolation even when in the midst of people.
Is life easy? No, it is not and that goes for all of us. Yes some people are on the top of the Wheel of Fortune, but they can't stay there. The illusion that there are people out there who are deliriously happy all the time is something that is taken for granted. The media gorge on showing the success of popular figures who never seem to age and who stay forever bright, talented and wealthy. Of course they also gorge on the crashing failures ad nauseam, and yet people continue to believe that some people are statically successful. They are not. They eat, shit, puke, age, worry and die just like the rest of us. This is a very important point. We ALL suffer. No one is exempt. To stay stuck in the comparison game, which is also more addiction, is to live in a delusion. Easily said, but how do you stop comparing? When you live among people, it is very difficult for even "normal" people to abstain from comparing their lot to someone else's. Television brought the rich world into poor living rooms years ago and that continues with films and computers. That is the lay of this land, there are those who have and those who have not. But again, it's an illusion. People who have also get struck by calamity, just as people who have not escape from calamity. It's the luck of the draw.
So how do the handicapped who feel their disability every day fight off thoughts/feelings of suicide? How do you get someone who wants to die to be willing to fight to live? There's no easy answer, but I think it is very healthy to talk/write about these thoughts and feelings to other people. That's a healthier response than shutting down and closing people out of your life. It's also less shame based and it gives other people the opportunity to share their own stories of struggles. For myself, believing in a higher power helped me to stay alive, though I know there are those who do not believe, but for them as well, there must be a belief in something greater than yourself, a cause or organization of people. Belief in something greater puts your place in a better perspective. You are not a god or demi-god with the weight of the world on your shoulders, you are instead a small but essential part of the whole. Believing in a higher power is especially motivating because it involves the unknown potential in all things. To suspend disbelief is to open to the world around you. For me suspending disbelief means believing in the Buddha Nature of all living things, a belief in our essential goodness. Belief in that one thing takes a great burden off of me. I don't have to shame myself or others. What I do have to do is understand myself and others to the best of my ability, understand and then communicate honestly.
Besides communicating with others and having a belief in something greater than yourself, you have to work on years of conditioning, the conditioning of seeing the glass as half empty instead of half full, years of negative thinking or what 12 steppers would call "Stinking Thinking". And again, the addiction model I keep bringing up hooks in with the phenomenon of suicidal ideation. In fact, suicidal ideation IS stinking thinking. If you can become aware of your thought pattern while honestly acknowledging that it is unhealthy, you then have a choice in front of you. Glass half empty or half full? Do you stay with the negative thoughts which invariably wind you up back in thoughts of self-destruction or do you take a look around you and break out of your tunnel vision? It's the tunnel vision of addiction--you take the substance, or do the action, or obsess on the thought which will bring pain to you, but before the pain comes the pay-off, the pleasure and yes there is pleasure in negative action/thoughts. Some would call it comfort. The comfort of doing things the way you've always done them. And then the pain comes and seems to justify all the negativity making it all by then a vicious cycle. Still, think back...there was a moment when you were aware of your negative thoughts stirring, when you had a choice. Well, that choice always returns as long as you let yourself become aware of what the hell it is you are doing.
I still have suicidal thoughts when I get depressed, but I don't take it into the fertile ground of my imagination. I leave it be. So it never gets into the planning stage. The challenge for me now is to not only stay alive but to find my place here and that means sitting with my own discomfort. It's a conundrum, a riddle--how to live in this sea of constant change, this dimension of pleasure and pain. It's also a challenge for every one of us. I do believe that Nirvana exists and it is right here, right now. Change your attitude, change your life, that's essentially what Buddha did when he woke up.
A Recovery Blog
This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.