Slogging Through The Muck – With Love

Mental Health, Relationships , , , ,

I’ve talked about suicidal thoughts a lot here. The reason I do is because I know a lot of people have them. In fact, I think everyone at some point in their life has them. And society shames us for thinking about it or attempting it. But despite what religion says about it, it’s not shameful to think thoughts (no matter what they are) and moreover, it’s actually entirely normal and rational.

No, I’m not condoning anyone to act on them. Please don’t think I am. I’m only not condoning it because I think that there is always a point in living just one more day to see where your story takes you if you’re entirely free of the shackles of assuming you will live a long life. Because when you’re suicidal, meh, who really cares? Fuck it, spend the money and go on a trip to Nepal alone. Fuck it, quit your job. Fuck it, end that relationship you’ve suffered so much in. Fuck it, be the actor you always wanted to be because your parents told you to be a doctor. Fuck it, might as well sky dive.

I’m totally being serious. There is freedom in not feeling you have anything left. And that’s when you have everything.

Having said that, though, chronic suicidal thoughts are a bit different. They aren’t the ones that are entirely honest. They’re the ones that come out when you’ve lost hope in yourself and your situation and you’re stuck and you don’t know how to get out of your brain. You’ve probably dealt with mental illness for most of your life and the constant lows just aren’t worth being here for the highs. You don’t *really* want to die. You just want to escape – your brain, your situation. And they come out almost all the time, not just when you’ve hit a breaking point. Sometimes even when you’re relatively happy. These chronic suicidal ideations are often not based on a “serious” desire to commit suicide as much as they are a reminder that something in your life needs to change (even if it’s just your brain or your perspective or your general situation). Suicidal thoughts can be comforting – knowing there is always an option to leave your suffering behind.

For example, one might think: My romantic relationship feels like it’s falling apart. I could just swerve off the road for a second and stop hurting so much. My car broke down. I could spend the time and money and effort to walk to service it and get a tow truck and buy a new car if it’s irreparable…but suicide is easier. I had a fight with a friend. I could try to repair the friendship, but that is hard and super painful. It’s painful to be friends and it’s painful not to be. They’re my only friend and now I’m alone. But…I could jump out this window and put this behind me.

As silly as this might sound to you, I’m not being sarcastic or cavalier. These are actual thoughts that come to my head on the regular. I’m used to them now. I just kind of roll my eyes at them inside…until they start screaming at me that it’s really just not feasible to keep living like this. Which also happens rather regularly. And that’s when I curl up in bed and hope I just won’t wake up. Because in those moments, committing suicide also seems like too much work.

I’ve discovered some different mental paths and “strategies” recently, though. So I hope others who are reading this who have had similar chronic thoughts may benefit from them as well.

The first is by far the easiest strategy. Whether you are aware of it or not, our environment and how we take care of (or don’t) our bodies is drastically relevant to our moods. Which is why I force myself to get out in the sun, exercise, spend time with friends, and eat well – especially when I least want to. One of the factors most people don’t realize is that the short days and the less intense sun in general in the winter (as well as the bundling up) prevents us from getting the sun we need to get both enough vitamin D and enough full spectrum lighting hitting our retinas. Why is this important? Because both are really important to our mental health. So if we live any further north than Florida in North America, most of us will experience some amount of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), which can be greatly improved by just 10-15 minutes a day of exposure to full-spectrum lighting in the morning (and for some people, the afternoon). It’s hard, of course, to identify exactly what makes us feel better or worse on any given day, but I’ve found that on the days I use the full-spectrum light, I do tend to be a bit more calm and have a more elevated mood. This could just be placebo, but this is based on evidence-based scientific studies too!

The second strategy may well be the most important to your general wellbeing. My co-depressed friends and I set up what we call the “buddy system.” We promise that we will reach out to at least one person when we are suicidal and tell them we are suicidal. It isn’t necessarily a request to help or do anything. Just to tell them that we’re in this place. The other person provides compassion and normalcy to the desire. We tell them we understand. It’s okay to feel that way. And ask if there is some way we can support each other. Sometimes, the only support is just knowing someone hears you and understands and is going to stay connected if you need something else while you are there. Sometimes, it’s offering cuddles. Sometimes, it’s talking about the things that triggered those feelings and trying to work through them. Sometimes, it’s encouraging the person who is suicidal to take care of themselves. Because when you’re depressed, the last thing (and the most important thing) you do is take care of your basic needs. Which creates a downward spiral.

The third strategy has been a result of a lot of therapy research…and a lot of courage…and maybe a lot of “I can’t deal with these feelings anymore.” This feels (at least temporarily) like the biggest step I’ve made in healing yet. I’m always hesitant to say definitively until I’ve felt a lot better for a while. But here’s the gist:

Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy:

This type of therapy is outlined in the book “It’s Not Always Depression” by Hilary Jacobs Hendel. It centers around what she calls the “change triangle.” The change triangle consists of 1) Defensive Thoughts and Behaviors 2) Inhibitory Emotions and 3) Core Emotions. This was kind of eye-opening to me because the author categorizes suicidal thoughts and self harm as defensive thoughts and anxiety, shame, and confusion as inhibitory emotions that prevent us from really processing core emotions (sadness, fear, grief, anger, etc) – all of which I do or have done. I had always associated anxiety, shame, and confusion as feelings themselves, not inhibitory mechanisms to prevent me from understanding or processing underlying “real” feelings. And I’d never viewed suicidal thoughts as a way of preventing myself from experiencing emotions – because those emotions seemed really damn big on their own!

As I thought about it, though, it made sense. I’ve used suicidal thoughts to escape every time something is hard and big because the “real” emotions felt too scary to sit in and hear. Suicidal thoughts have been my back burner plan and though I had no official plan to act on them in reality, those thoughts prevented me from being curious about why it was I reacted in ways I did to people and situations. And until I now, I didn’t see it as a crutch as much as a weakness of mine. To be afraid of my emotions, especially my fear.

Needless to say, like clockwork when relationships feel like they are falling apart, I begin to lean towards death as a solution. But this weekend, instead of running to someone who could allow me to talk about the suicidal thoughts and focus on those instead of the “real shit,” I wrote in the Youper app (highly recommended, based on CBT) about my emotions and then I meditated for 3 minutes. That was it. 3 minutes. And I half fell asleep, but it was a meditative sleep, like I was aware of my body in space and time more than if I was in deep sleep. And when I “awoke,” I stayed in bed. But I didn’t wallow or wish for eternal sleep. And I didn’t read a book. And I didn’t go back to sleep. I stayed prone with my eyes closed and a weighted blanket on me and I began asking myself questions. I confronted me about using this as an escape, as an unwillingness to see what I was really hurting from. And I just waited and I breathed. I waited for my heart to stop racing. I waited for an answer. I waited for my insides to release to me the secrets they’ve been hiding and holding onto. And every time I began to sink into a core emotion and become anxious (inhibitory) or begin thinking about suicide, I’d wait again for my body to calm down and I’d sit and watch until it had something productive to say. Eventually, I felt sadness, grief, anger, and deep loss – for parts of me that I had long ago decided weren’t worthy of my love. For parts of me that didn’t feel loved or heard by others. For parts of me I avoided and had blocked off. I kept going back to being anxious and confused. And I’d wait again. This process took me 5 hours.

Internal Family Systems Therapy:

During that process, I also did what IFS therapy calls “parts work.” Maybe this sounds crazy to many of you, but hear me out (because I also thought it was crazy). I had previously identified the different parts of me that exist within me. In all of this, per IFS, there is at least one part of us from the past that is a “protector” and protected us from pain or the outcomes our parents or others had for us when we asked for what we needed or wanted and they weren’t there for us. “Protectors” can also prevent us from remembering painful and traumatic events, among other things. We also all have at least one part of us that is “exiled,” meaning parts of us we are ashamed of or guilty of, parts of us we didn’t want to love and judged negatively. We have pretended they don’t exist anymore and thus we neglect them. We also have one or more “managers,” the part(s) of us that manage the “faces” we need to project to the world – the “professional,” the “daughter,” the “wife,” the “mother,” etc.

During this 5 hour journey, I visualized asking each of them what they have been trying to tell me with these recurrent suicidal thoughts. Each of them “spoke” to me in different ways. Each, I realized, was trying to protect me from pain. But none of them seemed to understand that protecting me from pain has prevented me from moving on and growing and being free inside of me.

The most difficult part to speak with was the part of me that existed during my and D’s relationship (and I think this is why I ended up reaching out to him and closing the door). I visualized her hiding in a corner, rocking, desperately trying to be small and scarce. I realized I’d exiled her the most. I thought she was weak and I had shame about her. I felt she was stupid for choosing D and especially for staying so long and not seeing what she should have. But in looking at her in the corner, I became sad for her. I remembered the pain and anguish and “stuck”ness she felt, the desire to find someone to escape into and be lost. I was reminded of a comment my friend said to me once that I was a bird who flew everywhere with joy in her heart until I walked into the house I shared with D, when I would go back into my cage and lock the door behind me. I suddenly had such compassion for her. I wanted her to see that she could open the cage herself and fly out. I offered her my hand and asked if I could hug her. She nodded with terrified eyes and melted into my embrace. I told her I was sorry for shaming her and judging her. That I loved her too. And that her biggest strength was being willing to trust someone and see the beauty in someone who was hurting her so much.

The little girl inside of me was difficult to confront too. She had her fists up and she was screaming that I was going to be hurt and the only solution was to fight back or to run away. I felt the hurting in her chest (because, of course, she is me). I kneeled in front of her and told her she would be okay because she is so strong. That pain is not the end of the world. She began crying and I held her, rocked her. She put her head in my lap while I touched her hair and for once, she seemed to feel calm and safe and fell asleep.

Once I had “spoken” with all the parts, I thanked each one of them for protecting me, as each was created in my time of need. And I asked that they stop protecting me, but continue supporting me. I asked that we all support each other and recognized the strengths of each part and asked for those to grow while letting go of the fear and anger inside each of them.

I am still working on the last strategy and so many others, of course. I hope we will all keep adding tools to our toolboxes to continue being the best versions of ourselves. Not for others, not for saving a relationship. For ourselves. To live in the world comfortable in our own bodies, in our own minds. To be satisfied, to feel full, to feel we are choosing our own lives and not controlled by others’ feelings, wants, desires, or our own chaotic emotions and thoughts.

Two steps forward, one step back. “Progress” is often not linear or clear. But change – if you’re looking for it – can be noticed. And change is still something different, something that isn’t stagnancy when you’re unhappy. If you reacted in a situation you believe you would have reacted one way and were able to act differently today, give yourself a party! Or cake. Or whatever.

Some days, like the other day, feel like leaps and bounds. But I know there will be days hereafter where I will forget the lessons I learned again and come back to the concept of death as a comfort.

And at that point, as a dear friend of mine said last night: “it’s time to start over – and pay attention this time and do it with love.”

Source: and Never Ending Story

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