My troubled mind now calm.
It happened a month ago, on a Tuesday, at 6:30 AM in the morning. I was downstairs in the kitchen, unloading the dishwasher as I do first thing every day. And part way through this ordinary task, I had an extraordinary realization; I hadn’t thought about killing myself in days. In fact, I couldn’t remember the last time I had suicidal ideations.
This realization landed with blunt force and a massive, positive impact.
Then & Now
I have lived with daily thoughts of suicide for as long as I can remember. We are talking thousands upon thousands of individual ideations over the course of my adult life, even in the last five years during which I have dedicated myself to a program of comprehensive whole-person care (i.e., body, mind, and spirit).
Before I put my self-care on a pedestal, my everyday suicidal ideations were, at worst, capable of creating a dangerous feeling of hopelessness, and at best a bothersome distraction that made concentration on important matters difficult.
Thanks to the help of many patient, wise and loving souls, I have become more aware of depression, more educated as to what it is and what it isn’t, and more willing to make the care of self my number one priority. The result is me becoming increasingly successful in managing this terrible medical condition.
But even still, the ideations came, and no matter how well you can deal with any form of mental illness, the truth is, living with the daily thought of killing yourself is awful to the nth degree.
- Getting repeatedly suckered punched in the face.
- Enjoying a really good day, and then the worst of bad thoughts descend on you as would a dark storm cloud that blocks out the sun.
- Being mugged, being tackled from behind, having someone violate your 3-foot personal space and begin screaming in your ear at the top of their lungs:
- “You f’ing suck!”
- “You are a worthless piece of crap!”
- “You are ugly, stupid, pitiful, weak, and an absolute embarrassment to the human race.”
- “There’s not enough paper in the world to list all of your mistakes, failures, and screw-ups.”
- “Do us all a favor and kill yourself, now!”
It’s like what I imagine hell to be; constant uncertainty, acute self-hatred and the total absence of calm.
Seven years ago, I was sitting in a group session in the psych ward and one-by-one we were doing a “check-in,” a standard, “how are you doing” routine for those of us who had been involuntarily committed.
The last person in the group was Gary, and after having been asked, he responded, “Pretty good. Today is the first time in 17 years I haven’t heard voices in my head.”
I can still recall my internal reaction to Gary’s statement; that must feel like calm on steroids.
And now, all these years after my hospitalization, I can more closely relate to what it must have been like for Gary. While I never heard an audible voice, I did experience decades of intrusive thoughts of suicide, which to me are yet another form of damning communication.
But, on a Tuesday a month ago, the thoughts of killing myself stopped.
Poof, they vanished.
Here one moment and gone the next.
They packed up and either went south for the winter or north for vacation; I’m not sure which.
They took off, having given no warning of their pending departure, nor leaving any note as to when and if they would ever return.
“Was it something I said?”
I hope so!
For a blessed month, there has been no thought that the agony and pain of depression will never end. There has been no thought I would be doing the world a favor if I killed myself. There has been no thought that everyone will be happier once I am dead, and no thought that no one will miss me or ever think of me again.
Those terrible lies have been replaced with even-keeled truths that are grounded in acceptance, understanding, and hope;
“Things will be better in the morning.”
“It’s a disease, not an identity.”
“Everybody makes mistakes.”
“It’s all going to work out.”
“Life is worth living.”
And my favorite new thought, one planted in my mind by my beloved sister-in-law, Staci:
“Things are about to get really, really good!”
But, the true icing on this cake of calm, has come in the form of me being able to look at my reflection in the mirror, and for the first time in my life say, “I love you.”
For many, this may seem like no big deal. But for someone like me who has had to force down a steady diet of acute self-hatred, the regard for, and love of self is an opulent feast. It’s what I imagine it would be like walking up to a buffet of my favorite foods that have been laid out just for, and in honor of, me.
I’ll admit, it’s an odd experience. So vastly different than before it has taken a bit getting used to. But each day that passes, the feeling of internal peace and calm spreads over a larger and larger part of my being.
I could so get used to this.
How And Why
In the beginning, I kept this news to myself. In part because I didn’t want to jinx myself. The remnants of my past thinking suggested that if I spoke aloud my new reality, the evil thoughts would again come knocking at my door.
Better to say nothing and just enjoy the benefits.
But, I can’t keep a secret, and so I first shared the news with both my therapist of five years, Barbara, and my psychiatrist of three years, Dr. C.
In the typical, and admittedly effective therapeutic fashion, each posed the same questions;
“Well David, how did this happen?”
“David, why do you think the thoughts have stopped?”
I am an eager and willing participant in therapy, and very compliant, but in response, I answered, “I don’t know.”
I then had to sit with an unflinching, “that’s not an acceptable reply” stare from both.
But, that’s the truth.
I am not exactly sure how or why, and to be honest, I too am dissatisfied with my response.
I want to be able to reverse engineer the experience so I can share it with others, ideally so they, in turn, can arrive at the same place, but much sooner than I.
One Possible Answer
To not mess with or cut short this, “however long it will last” period of calm, I have settled on this explanation; the suicidal thoughts have ceased to exist thanks to the cumulative effect of connection, whole person care, and acceptance.
My experience suggests this combination works like a can of liquid wrench at loosening a rusted cognitive nut, and absent that binding restriction, my mind can finally let go of years-long tension.
Put another way, the committed practice of creating connection anywhere and everywhere, plus a passionate devotion to self-care, and the experience of periodic bouts of self-acceptance has resulted in a tipping point in my favor.
My party has finally won the election, and the halls of internal governance have changed hands. The majority of at least 51% now rests with me, as does the power to veto any new attacks.
Understandably, this reasoning may be too simple for some and might even sound like an explanation that sparkles with the hue of Pollyanna.
But, it’s what I chose to believe, and in the end, it works for me.
All I know is my troubled mind is now calm.
Mental illness sucks.
I wouldn’t wish its cruel manifestations on anyone.
And yet, it exists, and its enforcer, suicide, is becoming busier by the day.
But, I know now, things can change. And, even if I wake up tomorrow with a thought of killing myself, these 30 days of a quieter mind are well worth any future pain. More importantly, even the possible return of thoughts of suicide is less daunting now that I’ve tasted the sweetness of mental calm.
All that aside, in the end, maybe the real reason for the change is those thoughts got tired. They realized the incredible souls who stand by and with me are never going to give up. And, in defeat, those terrible thoughts of killing myself threw in the proverbial towel.
Could it be with the help of others in our corner, we can land more punches than we take?
Could it be that if we keep on keeping on, we might just outlast those thoughts and be victorious?
Could it be if we stop trying to fight solo, and instead band with others, the foe will fall hard to the mat and stay down for the count?
I’m not completely sure, but I do firmly believe that what a close friend shared with me not-long-ago rings truer today than ever.
You have survived 100% of your worst days.
Never, ever give up!
David Bartley is a dynamic speaker, storyteller, and trainer. David has endured the early death of a parent, inherited the genetics of depression, suffered repeated sexual trauma at the hands of a trusted community leader, come face to face with the monster known as PTSD, and battled crippling depression for more than 40 years. He now opens minds, touches hearts, and inspires others to action by sharing his journey from mental “hellness” to mental wellness. David is a member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the International Association for Youth Mental Health, the National Storytelling Network’s Healing Story Alliance, and the Stability Network. Find out more about David’s work at www.davidwoodsbartley.com. This article was reposted with permission from www.davidwoodsbartley.com.