FYI, Feeling Suicidal is a Symptom

It’s Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and I have been thinking about the numerous aspects of what this represents.

Many people understand that suicide is terrifying and some people see it as a separate illness. So far, the psychiatric world does not see it that way and it can be a symptom of several mental illnesses. Some people believe that those who are thinking suicidal thoughts and/or acting on those thoughts are looking for attention. That is far from the truth. Having suicidal thoughts is not a choice. One does not choose to have them. They are uncomfortable to say the least. I speak from experience.

Unfortunately, having suicidal thoughts, plans and intentions are symptoms of many mental illnesses. I have experienced them many times and I can tell you quite clearly that I felt terrified of them, even at my worst when I had no clear cognition and truly believed everyone would be better off without me. I was not being selfish. My illnesses took over, which is what happens with this specific symptom. Again, it is not a choice, even when one “decides” to follow through with the thoughts, making a plan and acting on it. It is due to the state of the brain at that moment in time. It, in and of itself, is not a disease. It is a symptom just as change in appetite, low energy and helplessness is of depression.

Too many people do not understand this phenomenon and too many people with mental illness who have suicidal thoughts and/or died by suicide are blamed, as if we have emotional and cognitive control at those times. Our brains work differently than others who have not experienced these thoughts. We are wired differently. It does not mean we are “bad” or completely “fucked up.” Unfortunately, I have heard these adjectives in relation to my own illnesses, when I have been open about having suicidal thoughts when I was very ill.

I do not necessarily blame people who have these misunderstood beliefs. This is why I am so open about all of my experiences with mental illness. People need to have a better understanding of the realities of what it is like living with these illnesses and need to be educated. It is certainly not easy and no one should ever be blamed for their suffering. One would not blame a cancer patient for having cancer. That would be cruel.
Hint, Hint: it’s the same for someone suffering with mental illness…we should not be blamed.

Feeling hopeless, fatigued, having difficulty sleeping and eating, not enjoying things we used to and having suicidal thoughts do not warrant blame. In reality, suicidal thoughts and actions are not conjured up for no reason. It is due to illness, plain and simple. Just as I suffered from a sinus infection and dealt with symptoms of facial pain, difficulty breathing through my nose and a fever, I suffer from symptoms related to my mental illness. Very different symptoms but still symptoms nonetheless.

Doesn’t this make sense?

*Spread the word during this month: Suicide Prevention Awareness Month (and always). 


The Sound of Silence

I wear one several times a week and I hear nothing. I walk miles each day wearing it, passing many people and I hear nothing but the vast noise in my own head: my OCD thoughts and never-ending emotional worry. I try to focus on listening to the music through my ear buds, my 90s favorites. As I walk, I receive some smiles, friendly “hellos,” but otherwise silence. It’s deafening. They walk past, children and adults, and clearly read the message on each one. If eye contact is made, they either look away quickly or look past me almost pretending they never read it at all.
I know my expectations are very high. I want to be stopped, told how great the message is that I am wearing, that it’s so important, but, again, there is only silence. I want so much for people to engage, say something, let me know they get it. I want to hear how glad they are I am promoting such a critical message and fighting the stigma of mental illness.
The reality that faces me, however, is a quiet one. People do not comment on others’ messages on their shirts. I know I have never stopped someone to comment and perhaps it would be weird to do so. My passion gets in my way, at times. I know this and I am not naïve about this. Right now, I am feeling pressure, which ebbs and flows over time and that I have written about in the past. I am feeling the pressure of needing to be louder about my experience with mental illness, with multiple diagnoses and multiple treatments. I feel desperate that people will never get it and this is only added to my worry about the never-ending stigma that is rampant in society. I am so sick of it, of hearing about it, of living it. I am sick of hearing about people who have become outcasts from their own family and friends after a hypomanic episode, a psychotic episode or a depressive episode. We need support from those who know us and love us. Recovery simply cannot work without these people who are vital to our living the best we can. I cannot imagine living my life without the support I receive from those who have always loved and cared about me, during the difficult times as well as the better times. 
So, I am angry. I am fighting. I don’t really care when someone says, “I am so OCD about…”I simply hope s/he knows or is willing to learn about the reality of someone who lives with the real OCD. I don’t care when someone says, “I am having a bad day and I’m sooo depressed.” Again, I hope s/he can learn what it is like for someone who is living in a major depressive episode. I do care when someone says, “My husband and I had a fight about the laundry and I just want to kill myself because I am so annoyed.” I care because that person had an argument, which we all have with our spouse, but doesn’t mean she truly wants to kill herself as a result of that argument. She is using it as normal everyday jargon and that upsets me. Again, I know I have those high expectations of people, but saying that in front of someone you know has struggled with mental illness and/or has been suicidal or even a complete stranger, immediately stigmatizes not only that person but the term itself. 
September is Suicide Prevention Month and it is imperative that we educate one another, share stories and experiences and support those who are struggling and have struggled. You never know what another is going through unless s/he tells you, but even then, we never share every single thing that we experience. No one does. 
When my 8 year old daughter is angry, I ask her to talk and communicate about it and that is what I am doing here. I want people to say something, smile, give a thumbs up…anything to let me know they get it. So comment when someone is wearing any shirt that supports any illness or cause. We wear it for a reason.
My depression is treatment resistant, but erasing stigma doesn’t have to be.

Suicide Prevention Is Not Just About Awareness – It’s About Access to Mental Health Services