Whew, has it been a while! I’m not going to sit here and explain (though I somewhat feel that I should) because the truth of the matter is, I ran out of steam at some point. The past few months have been no harder than the previous months before it or the ones before that but something changed, in that I just no longer had the energy. Every little action has felt like pulling teeth lately and the most mundane of daily activities take up so much of my energy that by the time I’ve showered and gotten dressed in the morning or finally ran that errand that I’ve been avoiding for days, it feels like I have nothing left to put towards the things that are not absolutely necessary for my survival.
This blogpost will end up being somewhat confessional it seems, though as someone who avoids vulnerability at all costs (even when I am certain of its necessity for my own betterment) that was not my intent when I decided to write about this topic. But I go to therapy now and part of coming to terms with my reality, no matter how unhealthy it may currently be, includes realising that allowing things to come into existence as tangible does not mean that they are any worse than before, simply that I can invite others to understand parts of me and through that, create space for dialogue.
This topic is no longer heavy for me but it may be unbearable for some and that is okay, I’ve come to realise that there is no right way to feel about this.
There is no subtle way to say it, but I am not, and have not for a while, always been attached to the idea of being alive. It is hard to remember an extended period in time when I was not accompanied by a feeling of suicide ideation. From having to ensure my back is rested against the wall while the train approaches on my morning commutes or having to do the physio-mental gymnastics of purposefully grounding myself when I am anywhere near a balcony, the feeling of death as something not only inevitable but also quite easily accessible, is one that I am always accompanied by.
There are a variety of explanations of what suicide ideation is or could mean. Some say that it is “thinking about or planning suicide. Thoughts can range from a detailed plan to a fleeting consideration. It does not include the final act of suicide.” verywellmind explains the two main forms it can occur in stating that “passive suicidal ideation occurs when you wish you were dead or that you could die, but you don’t actually have any plans to commit suicide. Active suicidal ideation, on the other hand, is not only thinking about it but having the intent to commit suicide, including planning how to do it.”
For the past year and a half, I have been struggling with passive suicide ideation. The feelings are constant and relentless at times, and some other times, they come in waves. It, however, is nothing sudden for me and I suspect, for the vast majority of people who also endure these kinds of thoughts. It is simply the tail-end of a long history of mental ill-health that has festered and briefly died down and returned again when least expected. The important thing that I’ve been forced to learn these last couple of years while trying to not let the realisation overwhelm me is that mental health disorders rarely operate singularly. They are always interlinked and co-dependent; operating in a twisted ping pong formula where they sustain and re-orientate each other.
My first experience with mental ill-health began with daily panic attacks which after a few months morphed into generalised anxiety and then after years of failed treatment, a deep and unwavering depression. These symptoms did not replace each other but instead slowly incorporated themselves into what I came to consider as part of my functioning as a person, even if slightly abnormal. After a few years, I also began to develop symptoms of what seems to be mild OCD and maladaptive daydreaming, as a coping mechanism. There is no doubt in my mind that my suicide ideation stems from these long-standing issues and that it is perhaps the ultimate coping mechanism. A form of escapism via immateriality.
More than anything, my struggle with ideation has made me wish that we made more space to speak of mental ill-health in ways that do not consider depression as the last stop on the spectrum. For there to be space for us to delve into the struggles that come with/after it. The ones that are considered to be too ugly or extreme or taboo to be part of communal conversations.
Drawing back to the Gambian community where even the mention of depression can sometimes feel blasphemous, I yearn for the day when we can discuss issues like suicide ideation openly and create a space for understanding and being understood. Considering also the religious aspect of our cultural context, thoughts of suicide can feel like a disavowal of the deen. That you would even think of attempting to take into your own hands a matter that Allah has already finalised feels like a sin in itself. As in “kullu nafsin zaikatul maut” and thereby isn’t ideation inherently a transgression?
But we are not perfect and Allah is merciful so it is necessary to step out of guilt and into acceptance that these thoughts do not come from a healthy place but more importantly, that they are not self-inflicted. If you add to this the fact that most of us are raised in environments where we are allowed very little, if any, ownership over our actions that have the capacity to extend beyond the private sphere, suicide ideation will usually come with a side of shame. You will be the child of so and so, from such and such background that took their own life and in doing so not only failed themselves, but also their family. Of all the ways one can die, it happening through your own wilful doing is considered to be the least acceptable and the least respectable. Nothing noble about losing out on life because you were sad. Aren’t we all?
For me, suicide ideation is not a feeling of seeking death but a craving of nonexistence. It is no longer having the energy needed to endure the mundane day to day reality and wanting out with my mind constantly drawing me back to the one way it can conceive of making that happen. It is difficult to talk about openly. You get to a point of realising that not everyone will understand the specificity of this feeling unless they too have experienced it. The balance of explaining that yes, it is a very real feeling but that no, I am not actually at risk of harming myself so you shouldn’t worry is difficult to strike. Finding people that you can grapple over the severity of this ideation with in one breath and laugh over an existential meme with in another is near impossible and quite frankly, can be a lot to ask.
But I will say this – if active suicide ideation feels like being hit with a ton of bricks, then passive suicide ideation feels like being part of the cement itself. The feeling surrounds and engulfs but isn’t always overwhelming. It simply weaves itself into your everyday. You get to a point of forming a comfortable coexistence with these thoughts. Yes, it’s hard, but not always as hard as you might think. You are sure that you wouldn’t but that doesn’t stop you from regularly feeling inclined to. It is floating in a grey space and making peace with the sombre.
If you’re feeling like you want to die, it’s important to tell someone. Help and support is available right now if you need it. You don’t have to struggle with difficult feelings alone.
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