RECOVERING FROM THE TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCE OF SUICIDAL IDEATION AND ACTION

If you are in immediate danger, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

If you’ve ever had suicidal thoughts, you know how traumatic they can be. If you’ve taken the next steps of perhaps actually planning your own suicide or taking action to go through with it, you also know how intense that can feel.

Any interaction within this realm can feel quite traumatic and needs to be understood, put into context, processed, and eventually healed; just as any other traumatic event would need to go through these steps. The potential to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from having suicidal thoughts alone is possible. This can become an endless and overwhelming cycle if not understood, dealt with, and processed. You go from having suicidal thoughts, to feeling traumatized over having these thoughts, to feeling suicidal all over again due to the trauma you’ve experienced from having these thoughts. Developing PTSD after an attempt is even more likely, depending on how things are processed after the attempt.

Suicide typically occurs when a person encounters a problem that seems too overwhelming to solve on their own. Although sometimes these ‘problems’ may seem small or common-place to most people, to the person experiencing these thoughts, these problems do not feel small. They feel utterly overwhelming and life seems hopeless. The next logical step could be that the person thinks the only solution is to end his or her own life.

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I personally experienced suicidal ideation (obsessive thinking about suicide) off and on for about 12 years of my life, which makes this topic quite close to my heart and gives me an insider's view. For years, I engaged in self-harm and injury and would deliberately put myself into dangerous situations, not caring whether I lived or died. Upon reflecting, seeing that I needed real help, and subsequently getting serious medical help, I’ve since recovered and have stepped into the role advocating for and rallying around the cause.

I’ve come to understand that having these thoughts are traumatic. Not caring for myself and my well-being, and realizing that this has been my standard mode of operation for years, is traumatic. To understand how to heal, one must first understand what they’ve been through and how they got there.

I am lucky now to have been relieved of these rapacious thoughts and careless actions. Today I want to live and I am more careful to not put myself intentionally in harm's way. It was only through digging deep into my beliefs about myself and being willing to look at things in a new way that things began to shift. It was through revisiting old memories and being willing to be wrong about my current conclusions and interpretations of situations that I have begun to re-write my story. This shift did not happen all at once. It took over a year of intense therapy, working closely with mentors, and engaging in alternative and holistic therapies to change and update my understanding and heal.

Looking back, I basically created my own Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP); I did no less than 2-3 serious self-care activities each day that directly supported my mental health. I had no choice. I was either was at a final breaking point or I had to change everything in my life, including the way I self-referenced my own life story.

 

Let’s take a look at some instances in which suicide may feel like the only way out.

  1. Depression. There are many reasons and explanations as to why a person may be depressed. It could have hereditary links, chemical imbalances, inability to adapt to a major life change, or not having the skill set or tools to adapt to and engage with life.

  2. Feeling Misunderstood and Out of Place. When we don’t feel like we ‘fit,’ we naturally may conclude that we just don’t belong here; we don’t belong on earth. Our thoughts tell us that no one would even notice if we were gone and we feel as if our existence isn’t contributing to anything.

  3. Abusing Substances. When a person is actively engaged in addictive actions it tends to lessen their ability to self-regulate, think critically, and control their thoughts and actions. This can inevitably lead to half-baked conclusions and thus result in engaging in dangerous behavior.

  4. Overwhelming Feelings. Humiliation and anger can feel like such big and unsolvable sensations in the body that, for someone who is already stressed with no support system, having an event that brings on feelings of humiliation or anger could feel like the last straw.

  5. Getting Older. Growing up isn’t always fun. As a person ages and they are faced with new challenges. Feelings of wanting their life to be over sooner than later may arise.

  6. Feeling Like an Outsider. While being a loner isn’t a bad thing, for someone who longs to be connected and understood, feeling like they are always on the outside can be torture.

  7. Growing Pains. An adolescent has to deal with constant hormonal spikes and changes. When this is paired with lack of support at home, not having a proper peer group, and other challenges that come along with life, feelings of not wanting to be alive may begin to manifest.

  8. Stuck Thought Patterns. When we regularly engage in seeing only the negative things around us, this becomes our world and we begin to believe in only this reality. Not only that, but we also forget that there is any other perspective out there because these preoccupations have their hold on our minds.

  9. Feeling Hopeless. If we aren’t taught, or don’t inherently know how, to digest the perceived meanness of the world and process all of the suffering we are exposed to through the media, we may feel a sense of overwhelming hopelessness. This hopelessness can translate into a personal hopelessness and we feel as if we have no power to change anything; whether it be ourselves or the world. We can’t get our lives together.

  10. To Punish Ourselves. We have been told, or have come to conclude that we must punish ourselves because we are bad (note that shame comes from feeling one is bad, while guilt comes from doing something bad).

 

It is also common that a person may experience more than one of these instances and this increases the intensity of feelings of suicidal ideation and action.

While these are all complicated and intense situations to find oneself in, there are ways in which a person can begin to unravel the intricacies of their mental confusion, exhaustion, and pain. Because suicidal thoughts or a suicide attempt doesn’t come out of nowhere, healing from this needs to be all inclusive and holistic.

After a suicide attempt, a person may still be experiencing similar thoughts and feelings as before the attempt. A first step may be to discover what those thoughts and feelings are. Below are some next steps to healing and uncovering what might be beneath the suicidal thoughts or attempt.

Step One: How Are You Feeling?

Afraid? Angry? Afraid? Lonely? Numb? Overwhelmed? Relieved? Guilty? Hopeful? Grateful? Tired?

 

Step Two: What Do You Need or Want?

Companionship. Relief from depression and/or distressing voices. To be sober. Financial help. A place to live. Someone to really listen and not counsel me. Better relationships with the people in your life. Hope for the future.

 

Step Three: Connect with Others who Have Been Through the Same Thing

There are people out there who have recovered from suicidal ideation and attempts. You are not alone, you matter, and life can get better. Any effort invested in recovery is worth it.

 

By taking some of these steps, a person can make a start to recovery. Once you are able to determine what you are feeling, what you want, and ways to connect with others, you have begun your path to healing. As you feel ready, a fourth step may be to begin working with a counselor or licensed therapist to begin to uncover and work through some of the deeper reasons beneath your pain.

Present day, I try to engage in at least 1 self-care activity each day that directly impacts my mental health. If I somehow manage to make it 2-3 days without ‘checking-in’ with myself, there are consequences. Just as you would develop cavities from not flossing or brushing your teeth properly, someone recovering from mental health issues will experience similar maladies, but pertaining to the mind. The constant upkeep, for me, is a privilege. It’s a privilege to be able to feel so deeply and to be alive. It is now a privilege to be able to share my story with others in hopes of saving a life.

The road to recovery is challenging and trying. The good news is that you’ve already been through the worst hell of your life and things can’t get much worse. What have you got to lose?

If you are in immediate danger, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

A portion of this article utilized information offered here: https://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content//SMA15-4419/SMA15-4419.pdf.

For more information, please visit: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

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