The dark subject of suicide has been on my radar several times this weekend. A news report of a teenage boy who had killed himself really saddened me. I was speaking at an event where both my co-presenter and I had been in some really dark places, and had fortunately found hope and and are living really fulfilling lives. And the thing that prompted this blog was a radio discussion about how reporting today should avoid too much discussion or suicide and all mention of method, so that people are not prompted to copy.
It occurred to me that what might be really helpful to have out there is more awareness that despairing and even suicidal thoughts and feelings are not reliable. It seems to me that people act upon them because the pain is so severe at that point, and they falsely believe it’s always going to be like this. In fact there are usually a whole host of misunderstandings that are being combined and taken seriously to create what feels like intolerable pain. When one is in such a state of mind it feels all-encompassing, permanent and a prediction of the future. Yet all of that is an illusion. A very powerful illusion perhaps, yet sit with it for a while and some change in mood, in thoughts and feelings will occur. When I experienced my darkest times I did actually notice this. The night before I might have been at my most desperate and self destructive, then the following day I found myself feeling disconcertingly ‘normal’. At the time I took that as even more evidence of my instability. Now I know it was merely the human system doing what it does. After being really congested with dark, toxic thoughts my mind had become distracted and reverted to a clearer, more resilient normal. As thoughts ebbed and flowed, my feelings mirrored them.
It’s entirely normal for thoughts and feelings to go up and down. What makes it problematic is to believe that low thoughts are your new normal. Or to believe that they are telling you about who you are, or your future, or that you are broken.
The other big misunderstanding that many people in our culture subscribe to is believing that they feel bad because of their circumstances. This is true of most people, not just those who are currently in despair. So people attribute their anguish to circumstances like the loss of a partner, redundancy, money problems or a criminal charge. Yet none of those circumstances has an inherent power to create a feeling in anyone. Those feelings are created by how the individual is thinking about the event. Because thought is so instantaneous and subconscious, its role is invisible. And the person attaches the terrible feelings to circumstances he or she is powerless to change.
The really painful thoughts are usually not the simple ones about the immediate circumstances. To illustrate, if someone is made redundant, and they knew that they would be offered their dream job at twice the money in a month, it is unlikely that they would be experiencing such despair at the event. If someone is experiencing despair they are almost certainly believing a lot of hidden thoughts about what this says about them, their future, their value etc. This stream of negativity occurs innocently and unbidden. What if this stream of horror is no more real or significant than a nightmare? Many people experience some relief in realising it is occurring within them.
The part of you which recognises that feelings are being created from this ebb and flow of thought is also the part of you which has unlimited resilience and resourcefulness. There is an essence which is unbroken. It is the part of you that can revert to peace and acceptance in the face of any challenge. And the more you get curious about this part the more relief you can experience. If you have been experiencing despair and misunderstanding, please do reach out. You can contact me for one. There is another way to be.