72. On Suicidality

Trigger warning. This post discusses suicide and suicidality. If you are experiencing thoughts of harming yourself or ending your life, please consider calling the following helplines if you’re in Singapore:

IMH Mental Health Helpline: 6389 222
Samaritans of Singapore: 1800 221 4444

25 Oct 2018

What do you think of, if you’re asked to visualise a place of peace? A garden? Maybe with a waterfall, some rocks, the babbling sounds of a brook, cute rabbits grooming themselves and playing by the banks. Or a beach? With the sound of the surf, the sun and the wind vying to play on your skin, getting you to lift your face to view what’s in front of you. Probably not your office. Or even your home. Almost definitely not a hotel room where you’re alone?

And if you invited me along in your imagination, not that you would or should… 

I’d be looking at how many possibilities there are to harm myself.

There’s a land bridge connecting the mainland of Singapore to a little “island of fun” to its south, Sentosa. It was totally redone a few years back, and I can’t say I don’t like it, especially with the freedom to just walk in. I haven’t done that in recent months, when I’m alone though. The Singapore government took the chance during the renovations to clean up the seas around that area, and it’s an azure blue. Almost artificial. When there’s a strong breeze, the waves are almost hypnotic, sound and sight. The land bridge gives a very good vantage to the waves, and there’s only a waist high barrier that stops any accidents.

It won’t stop a determined effort to breach them.

Suicidality is something the doctors and medicos all don’t understand, he proclaimed, waving his arms as he made his point. He’d recently been arrested – again – for just sitting on a high floor of a block of apartments near his home. As he’d gotten arrested and hauled over to the IMH (all cases requiring official psychiatric assessments are handled there), his psychologist immediately launched into him. “Do you know that I would have to testify in court? Against you? Do you know you can be charged? Is that what you want?” He also would have had to report back to the Investigating Officer on a certain date. 

He’d never make it back. I wept when I heard the news.

Indeed too many people don’t understand what suicidality is. It’s not simply “wanting to commit suicide”. It’s the same problem that distinguishes feeling depressed from having depression. Wanting to commit suicide can happen to anyone, at a blink. It can come on the heels of events, or when one is overwhelmed by things. Suicidality can careen into that particular state, for sure. But suicidality is way more than that.

Suicidality is constant. It’s sometimes more muted, sometimes louder. It gets reinforced by words, usually insensitive ones that keep repeating themselves in the cranial space. It’s a sense of wanting to step out and not step back in, because the fight just isn’t worth it. It’s a constant looking out for opportunities, a constant sense of struggle to decipher what is “right”, what is “wrong”, what is “helpful”, what is “not helpful”, what is downright “harmful”. There’s guilt for living on. There’s guilt for not wanting to live on. There’s pain and wanting the pain to end. Now, if possible. There’s the idea of determinedly putting one foot in front of the other, simply because it must be done. It’s trying to escape into addiction, whether to food, drugs, alcohol, computer games, arcade games, or even sometimes people. 

It’s a desperate fight that never ends, from the time the eyes open, till the eyes close. The prayer remains the same.

“God, please take away the pain and this nightmare. Or if you’re willing, just take me away. Please?”

Suicidality is the sense that things will never get better because I suck. Or the world sucks. I’m a burden either way, or I’ll never fit in, or I’m useless, or this is just too much to take, or I can’t take another day of this. And yet.

And yet…

I have loved ones. Who want me to carry on. Friends. Family. People who don’t know me who think that I have some reason to fight on, which I can’t see, but their belief is so palpable, I have to believe they know what they’re talking about. And these are the things that hold me back. 

I don’t know what holds others back. Because when suicidality is present, sometimes, even love is not enough.

When I write this, I want people to understand that suicidality especially in mental health, isn’t a response to how things are bad for this instant, or for this moment. It’s a living constant, the little devil on the shoulder waving its trident to poke at self-esteem and worth even as it’s the little angel whispering how much better it’d be for everyone if I cease to exist. Someone once wrote, “I lost a few million dollars. If I’m like you, I should have killed myself already.” If I had had a few million dollars to lose, it won’t have made a difference. I’d still fight because my family wants me to. Not because I want to. I’d still want to die. Not because I lost the money. It’d just be another reason to add to the hemlock.

At the same time, I know that the siren song of suicidality is a wrong song. It’s precisely that fact that makes me label it a siren – after the Sirens of the Odyssey, who would lure sailors to their death upon the rocks of the island from which they sang. I know that it’s a song of no future. A song of hopelessness, rather than hope. A song of no return. Other mistakes and attempts can be undone. Not this one. 

But it doesn’t reduce the song’s volume and attraction, just to know this. It’s still super attractive because it’s so difficult to walk on and breathe on. It’s the most attractive when things seem to tumble down, and it’s attractive when things do t

I catch myself looking at the faces of the ones I love… and wondering how long more I have with them.

What helps? What would stop the song? Therapy. Medication, to some level. Treatment for sure. But while treatment can help us to cope, it never fully removes the suicidality, the idea that the world is better off without the curse of our presence. That has to come from within, and sometimes that just isn’t enough. I pray, and sometimes God keeps me safe even when I put myself in danger. Actually, practically every time. That’s how I know I need to keep myself safe. I don’t want to burden Him further.

Again, what helps? Love helps. To a large extent. Love, care, knowing that someone who doesn’t have to, thinks I’m worth some care. It quietens down the song. It thumbs the nose at the music in the background because someone wants me to be around. I’m not that bad of a curse. But it only lasts for as long as I can hold on to the words of care. 

In the darkness, in the pain, in the maelstrom of whirling emotion, hugs help. Countless times, my wife has held on to me, physically drawing me back from the mental abyss where I teeter over, with the knowledge clear to the both of us that if I fall over, it’ll really be over at that point. It’d only be a matter of time. Or place. Or opportunity. 

My wife read somewhere, that caregiving to someone with suicidal tendencies is like holding on to someone’s dress at the edge of a cliff. You never know when it’ll rip.

Changing environments won’t help. The thoughts go with us, the songs and the guilt. Helping others helps only for the moment. When things quieten down, the mind reminds us just how hopelessly useless we are, no matter what we’ve done. If not useless, than the pain will return. And we’ll again struggle. 

Scolding us won’t help. Punishment won’t help – arrests and the fear of exposure? Last things on my mind. Do that to me – to us! – and you give us more reason to make sure we succeed. Telling us the reasons to stay on? We mumble the reasons to ourselves all the day long, and then tell ourselves that we suck anyway, that we’ll fail each and every reason that we’ve listed, that have been listed for us. 

Prayer and focusing on God helps a little. Like hugs. And love. It’s a reminder of what’s good and what’s important. Right up till the moment where the only thing that matters is getting away from this world which we’re a burden to. Including God and His goodness which we don’t deserve.

The best way I know of is still therapy. Rethinking, reframing how we view ourselves, how to allow suicidality without letting it take over or tempt, how to just exist and focus on what matters to us, rather than all the background noise. And then suicidality slowly becomes background noise… 

It may never ever fully go away.

Does suicidality mean that we don’t want to live? We do. We want to learn to enjoy life as others do. We want to fulfill our responsibilities properly. We want to be useful. We want to care and be cared for. We want a pain free life. We want all these things, and we just want life to be the way we read in the news. We know life isn’t easy, and won’t be easy and we don’t want it any other way. 

But we don’t want the pain. We don’t want the constant guilt. We don’t want the constant recriminations in our head and from the lips of those around us who say they love us but want us to be a certain way, or a certain form. We struggle with these two sides of the coin because we can’t think all that straight. And we want to achieve more than what we can, right now, including brushing our teeth and combing our hair instead of being stuck in bed, hair matted and tears coursing down our faces. But we can’t.

And through it all, one voice cuts through, cleanly.

The voice of suicidality.

So what happens to those who’ve struggled and struggled and one day, just can’t go on struggling? I don’t blame them. You shouldn’t either. The pain, the terror of going on, all these things weigh so hard and painfully down on us. I admit even to a bit of envy, even as I remember that I mustn’t go down that road.

What if you’ve lost someone who gave up? Remember that waist high barrier I mentioned earlier? Everything is but a waist high barrier. Short of you standing right next to the person who’s planning something, you can’t stop a determined person from carrying out the action. If you can stop them – and you should! – by all means. But if someone is really really determined, you’ve only postponed the plan. The hope is to be able to dissuade the person from carrying it out again. To give enough hope for that to be possible.

But the fact is… sometimes, no one can do anything. There’s just not enough warning. There’s not enough time. There’re not enough promises to make. Not enough hope to give. Not enough love. Not enough anything to make up for all that’s happened before, up till that point. 

No one could have done anything more. I know that, where my friend is concerned. I miss him. I couldn’t have done more. No one could have. 

But it doesn’t take away the helplessness and grief. The sense that I could have done more. Should have.

Don’t blame yourself. There’s no point. You can’t stop someone who’s determined to open a can of cat food to try its contents. What more someone who’s determined to vault a barrier at a cliff edge?

“Access denied”, says Google.

As a Christian, I am very thankful, and am very blessed. On the day I marched into the hospital, only concentrating on walking despite the gray darkness that surrounded me, and the pain in my heart, I wished to be knocked down. I wished for the choice to be taken out of my hands. I did not wish for life. God yet chose to preserve me, despite my desire for self destruction. And along the way, He helped surround me with the love of so many, including some who read this blog. He has given me a stubbornness to keep my promises, and I promised my wife, while I was still warded, that I would let her know if I wanted to harm myself. In bad times, I now beg to be released from the promise. She never agrees. 

If I had not made that promise earlier, by God’s grace, during a brighter period of the depression, it would be a lot more tempting to make plans to end things. If you asked me to make that promise now, if I hadn’t made the promise before…

I’d refuse. Because suicidality whispers at my shoulder. Always. I don’t want to break my promises.

So I don’t want to make a promise I can’t keep. 

But for now, God wants me to stay alive. I’ll keep trying, praying, crying in the arms of my wife and in the arms of those who love me. But it isn’t at all easy… Every. Single. Day.

I want to live. But I also want to…

Cry.

That rhymes.

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