Let me speak directly to those who may be considering suicide.
You are suffering greatly. You think you are alone. You perceive that you are a burden to others. You have been trying to solve the problem. You long for relief. You see no other way out.
You feel unbearable psychological pain, anguish and aching. You are hurting. You are carrying wounds, and these wounds cause you to ache. You may not understand the origin of your wounds and pain. You may not even be aware that you carry these wounds. These wounds have spread to other areas of your heart and result in emotional unease and mental suffering — a general state of internal pain — from which it is hard to come back. This psychache encompasses a cluster of guilt, shame, humiliation, dread and loss.
Know that — with professional support — there are ways to more effectively solve the problem and restore your hope and strength.
Your anguish feels deep. This is beyond any typical trial or tribulation in your life. You think that no one understands the depths of your anguish. You feel very alone in your pain. Often, this is the most difficult part of enduring such painful suffering. You may have even sought out consolation from others only to feel terribly disappointed by them.
My friend, it is important for you to know that you are not alone. You are not suffering alone. There are many who feel your grief, your hopelessness. Many carry burdens of illness and addiction, loneliness and hopelessness, rejection and anxiety.
It is your thoughts that sabotage you and cause you to feel so alone. Know that — with professional support — you can feel connected to others in meaningful ways.
You have negative thoughts about yourself and the future. You think that you are damaged goods, broken beyond repair, unworthy and beyond redemption. You think that you do not have value as you are right now. Your self-thoughts are distorted and inaccurate.
You think tomorrow will be just like today. You expect today’s pain to be repeated. You look into the future, and you think you will have no reprieve. You think there will be no joy in the future because the present holds such pain and suffering. This is why you find life unmanageable. What you expect about tomorrow is not a certainty. Your life can change during this very day. This is hard to believe, and so you are skeptical. You are in pain, and you have a distorted perception of your actual life situation and what options are available and appropriate for you here and now.
It is your negative thoughts that sabotage how you feel. Know that — with professional support — you can change your thoughts starting today and feel better.
What to do
Call for help. If you are imminently suicidal, dial 9-1-1 or go to the nearest ER now. If you are having suicidal thoughts but do not have a plan, and you are not at imminent risk, call or drop in to see a licensed psychologist or MD today. Tell them exactly what you’re thinking, how long you’ve been thinking it and why. Tell them you need their help. Replace your negative thoughts with more positive, rational ones. Strengthen your social support and meaningful connections. Lower your risk factors, and strengthen your protective factors. More effectively solve the problem.
Use distress tolerance skills when in acute distress. When your distress spikes, hold ice (literally). Grab an ice pack in each hand and hold for two minutes. Or consider an ice-cold shower for two minutes. Or hold your breath in a bowl of ice water, and trigger the mammalian reflex. This allows you to reset your hyperaroused nervous system by more quickly regulating your emotional intensity and restoring greater calm.
Shift your attention to your breath. Try box breathing. Breath in for a count of four, hold for a count of four, breath out for a count of four, hold for a count of four and keep repeating. Notice the difference after two minutes. Or simply shift your attention to breathing in and breathing out (like the Buddha under the tree); let everything else dissolve around you. This allows you to stay calm in extremely tense situations.
View your thoughts of suicide as temptations. Everyone experiences temptations. (Even Christ was tempted.) Temptations are not sins. Temptations, in and of themselves, require you to do nothing. Remain calm. Do not panic. There is no need to act on them. The temptations (and your great pain) will recede. Feeling tempted does not make you a bad person or weak in your faith; it just means you are human and vulnerable right now.
So have a plan — a workable blueprint — for appropriate action steps to take when temptations are triggered. How do you remain calm yet fight hard with everything you have? Even the alcoholic knows to remind themselves of the consequences of acting on their temptations, call their AA sponsor, distract themselves with a healthy alternative activity, challenge the thought that drives the urge, ride it out without giving in, leave temptation situations quickly and gracefully, and delay important decisions until feeling better. You can adopt such a plan.
Turn away from anything that is causing you this pain. Walk away from the habits bringing you this darkness. Your life is more important than the upended relationship, the alcohol, the pills, the porn, the gambling, the internet, the spending sprees and whatever else. Do not be afraid. You are worth far more than gold. If someone told you that you are bargain basement bric-a-brac, they are a liar! Stop buying that swampland! If an addiction or lifestyle has convinced you that you are worthless and can’t survive without it, it is a cock-and-bull perjurer! Arrest the false witness! If you are living in unrelenting chaos, stop the roller coaster ride of emotional dysregulation today! Get the help you need to turn away from these dark habits; know what to do when triggered, and change your current default position.
Pray constantly for help. Ask for what you need. Ask for your pain to be alleviated. Believe that your prayers are heard and that heaven moves to answer them. If your situation requires a miracle, you should ask for one. Miracles are not impossible; they happen every day. Unite your suffering with those who also suffer. In the midst of your great suffering, if you ask for graces for another (aka intercessory prayer), believe that your petition will be granted, and you will be on your way to becoming a saint. This is how holiness is forged.
Know that your pain will recede. Your great pain will recede, and you will feel joy again. It does not seem so now, but it will happen. Even Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet wisely admits: “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” You will also be so kind to others because you will understand how they are hurting. You will encounter others in torment, and your heart will be moved to tremendous empathy for them. You will remember feeling that badly. You will understand their anguish in a deeper and more nuanced way than others possibly can.
Consider, in the past, when you talked with someone who said they experienced the same thing that you did. Do you remember feeling understood? Do you remember how this helped emotionally validate and console you? This is how your great pain will be of service later. Someone who feels hopeless will feel understood and gain hope from you. If you take your life, you will not be around to help this person who absolutely needs you.
Stay in the world. Move through this day (which is already passing into the past), and think tomorrow will be better. Each day moves you closer to recovery. Do not decide your last day; that is up your pay grade. Do not think the answer to great pain is suicide. This act of self-harm is always a mistake. Always.
Know that who you are makes a difference. You are important. The department, the community and the world need you. Your life makes a difference. You are needed to serve in a way that you do not and cannot understand right now due to how you feel. Be courageous. Give it a little bit of time. We need you.