I find mental health diagnoses really weird. The brain isn’t the same as the rest of the body in that its illnesses are completely different for everyone who experiences them, even though they might come under the same label. Depression is different for everyone. Anxiety, too. Every single mental experience is completely different so every single mental illness will be very different. Of course, there will be similarities/crossovers and, with the improvements in mental health understanding and awareness over the last twenty years, it is becoming ever more understood just how complex the human brain can be. As I have understood my own illness more over time, I have grown more and more interested in mental health awareness and begun to value the importance of sharing personal experiences in order to help others. It is vitalthat we talk about our mental experiences so that we can normalise very frightening realities of the mind which most people will probably experience at some point in their life. Recently, I was introduced to the term ‘suicidal ideation’ – I might have been told about it at previous points in my treatment over the last five years but I hadn’t connected it with my own experiences. It was in doing research for my dissertation that I came across the term recently; I think somehow reading about it in an ‘objective’ context completely separate to my own personal experience allowed me to emotionally connect with the experiences, and therefore to make it personal. I began thinking about it…
Suicidal Ideation. What exactly does that mean? I think it must be different for every person who experiences suicidal ideation; in my research so far, there are such varying experiences of mental illness. Some of the labels which are most commonly used are ‘depression’, ‘anxiety’, ‘mood disorder’ and ‘personality disorder’ but I think the reason ‘suicidal ideation’ stood out to me is that I hadn’t heard it used much. So I want to talk about it. I want to explain myexperience of suicidal ideation, starting with what it is to me – I have to stress that this might not bear any similarity to another person’s experience of suicidal ideation, but since my most up-to-date diagnosis I have come to accept ‘suicidality’ as being almost synonymous with ‘suicidal ideation’ – so when I am said to experience suicidality, I have come to think ‘suicidal ideation’ is a better label for me.
For me, ‘suicidal ideation’ is this constant stream of consciousness in my mind which thinks about nothing other than suicide. I think I should mention hear that I’m a vocal thinker, meaning that I hear my own voice saying my thoughts – I saw something recently saying not everyone thinks like that so I thought I should clarify why I use the word ‘voice’ without meaning voices other than my own. I hope that makes sense?
I have had this part of my mind which thinks about suicide for almost as long as I can remember, I think the earliest memory I have of a suicidal thought was when I was about nine or ten and I was being bullied. I remember thinking everything would be better if I killed myself – I thought everyone would be happier, I’d stop suffering and that would be that. Over a decade later and I still think about suicide every day.
When I say I ‘think about suicide’, I mean that I think about the topic of suicide and not just my own potential suicide. I have a fascination with suicide it seems, which I think I probably had before I ever even experienced depression; depression must just have led me to thinking about myself in the suicidal situations rather than another person. I am 21 now and almost every day I wake up with suicidal ideation; I wake up disappointed that I have woken up and that part of my mind fantasises about how I might manage to never wake up again.
The reason I think ‘suicidal ideation’ feels like a more appropriate label for myself is because my experience is not ‘active suicidality’. I don’t always feel the need to act on my ideations. It’s just this really annoying suicidal voice which wakes me up and whispers to me throughout the day. It is always, without fail, the first voice in my mind each morning. I’ve got pretty good at drowning it out though, hence why I don’t want to describe it as ‘active suicidality’. I can make my other thoughts louder and stronger so that the suicidal thoughts are muffled, but they’re still there. It’s almost like a low level of white noise humming in the back of my head; only, every now and again a word slips through the hum like “drown” or “suffocate” or “die” and for a moment the ‘bad brain’ has a hold of me.
Thanks to a form of self-medicating I have been using over the last 2 years, my experience with this immediate suicidal ideation most mornings has improved. I have become able to shut that suicidal voice up or, if I can’t silence it completely, I can make my other voices in my mind louder to drown it out. I have become able to sleep at night without fantasising about suicide too. Of course, some days are worse than others and some nights the suicidal voice is still there, some mornings the suicidal ideation doesn’t stop or I can’t make it quieter, some days are entirely bleak because my dominant voice is suicidal all day. But those days are farfewer than before, they are easier to manage and they are less terrifying for both me and those around me.
I want to stress to those who know me that this should not raise alarm bells. This is something I have been experiencing for years and am only now finally able to explain and give a name. I am stronger and more equipped through experience to deal with everything than I have ever been; in learning more about my own mind I am becoming more able to cope with it. It seems a bit odd that giving myself yet another diagnosis/label makes things easier, but it does. I think about my semi-colon tattoo, about the semi-colon project and its meaning; the author uses a semi-colon when she could have used a full-stop but the sentence isn’t quite over yet, it’s just a new part of it. My moments of suicidality make me the author of my life and I make the decision to use a semi-colon. It is a bump. A pause. It is not the end.
So, there’s an insight into my mind; I hope that anyone else experiencing anything like what I have mentioned is able to feel less alone in their experiences. Please reach out for help if you are struggling, more people care about you and want to help than your mind lets you think.