Hello hello and happy Thursday!
As you might expect from someone who started an anti-suicide website, I am personally affected by suicidal thoughts. Twenty years ago, five years ago, this week. I don’t have some kind of outsider mental-illness-shaming perspective on suicidal thoughts. I know exactly what they’re like.
You do learn some things when you survive depression and anxiety for this long. Today I want to talk about what I’ve come to think of as my mind storms – or my brain’s favorite shitty song.
If you’re anything like me, you know the words to hundreds, maybe thousands of songs you don’t even like. Sometimes you can’t help but absorb something, just from sheer repeated exposure.
I realized recently that this is what my suicidal thoughts felt like. It felt like a record I don’t like, skipping on the turntable of my mind.
You’re not thinking any new thoughts when that storm sweeps up. You’re thinking the same old ones, in a familiar cascade that repeats and repeats. One sad thought becomes two, and they multiply until every sad thought you’ve ever had is marching through your brain.
Realizing that depression can make you despair about things you’re not even sad about is a helpful step. That cognitive dissonance gave me something to grab onto.
So did noticing the patterns. This thought flowing into that one, like the chords of a song on the radio. The song keeps playing even if you stop paying attention, just like you don’t need to will a sad thought for it to follow the last.
My brain is just playing me a shitty song, I finally thought. This is just a repetition of everything I could be or ever have been sad about. My brain knows the words, and it knows the music, and sometimes it just picks this shitty tune.
So you might not even be sad. Your brain’s shitty song defense mechanism might just have gotten activated.
I don’t want to launch into a list of triggers, because obvious reasons, but here is a helpful resource for identifying and managing your triggers.
In the same way that we are not our illness, we are not our thoughts. If you can stop for even a second and ask yourself where this cascade of thoughts came from, you can start to see that you are not it.
You are not the stream of your consciousness. And you don’t have to go fishing.
Meditation can help cultivate an understanding of the difference between you and your thoughts. Try to observe your thoughts without engaging them. Don’t talk back. Don’t try to keep them from going down the stream. Observe your thoughts without reacting or judging. (Here is a good resource to help you stop identifying with your thoughts.)
Why is this important? It means that I am not my suicidal ideation; my suicidal ideation is just a pollutant in my stream. That does not that it’s not horrifying and unwelcome and sad, but it means that it is a thing that is happening to or in me, but not me.
I may have to experience it, but I don’t have to attach to it.
I do need to have a wide variety of plans at my disposal, though. The rest of what I have to say is what I find helpful when my brain puts on its favorite shitty song. I hope you find something, lots of things that can work for you. I’m serious, the more and more different plans you have, the better. And you can always add more.
Things to do other than listening to your brain’s favorite shitty song:
- Listen to actual, non-shitty music. It doesn’t matter if it’s happy or sad so long as it makes you think. Thinking something, pretty much anything other than “I want to die” is the most important step. Listen to something you admire the musicality of, or that has complex, engaging musical structures. Make a playlist and have it handy on your favorite device.
- Get your heart rate up. I personally don’t recommend taking a walk or meditating at the worst moments, because I personally find that being too still leaves me vulnerable. The last time I was feeling this low, I found I had to jog pretty fast across the street, and by the time I got across, I didn’t want to die anymore. Even a short burst of activity can provide both endorphins and a much-needed distraction. If anger or nervous tension is part of your sadness, I think a punching bag would also do handily in this situation. They’re readily available at sporting goods stores. (Here’s some tips on exercising with limited mobility.)
- Memorize some words. I’ve been trying to memorize bible verses, but you do you. Find something that pumps you way the hell up and memorize it word for word. Also recommended: the kind of song lyrics you’d get a tattoo of, getting an actual tattoo of those song lyrics, motivational monologues from your favorite TV show or movie, and any line Cher has ever had in a movie.
- Get yourself a physical or digital copy of Hello, Cruel World by Kate Bornstein and keep it handy. I have both and I treasure them.
- Pet an animal or spend time with a child. Oh, I promise it works.
- Google what Donald Trump did today. Then get pissed off about it, because pissed off is an emotion so much more active and hopeful than the mean reds. Once you get pissed off, you can also donate time or money, or contact your representatives about issues that matter to you. Use your life to piss off the right people, and you won’t regret it.