Open Conversations About Suicide

Is it always good to be an open book? I understand it’s not for everyone.  But there’s an important topic out there, that there’s much debate on as to whether we should discuss it openly, & that’s: suicide.


Generally two differing camps in this debate (simplifying here): 1) if we talk about it openly, more will think about it & this could increase the negative trends, or 2) talking about it, helping folks understand it, the warning signs & what goes on in our heads could save many lives.


Might not be a surprise to most based on my previous posts, but I fall in camp #2.


At these #SameHere Sit-Downs, as a team we’ve often debated how to bring the topic up. Most comfortable seems to be during the panel discussion – & flat out asking, what do suicidal ideations feel like? How can we recognize them? What can we do about them?  In these cases I don’t mind being made the example of, bc I don’t think there is any shame in having had them. Just like a cut can get infected as a complication of piercing our skin (& we’ve all had cuts), so too can complications from stress/trauma/genetics cause complications that lead to suicidal ideations, often when we don’t address the underlying cause (much like NOT washing out that cut).


The common misconception is – if you have suicidal ideations, you WANT to die. No, that’s not the case. Complications of unresolved stress & trauma can lead to thoughts of self-harm. That’s just plain factual. The ideations RARELY come about directly correlated to something in life that specifically that just happened – (eg we don’t get sad at a breakup, & that sadness then leads to thoughts of self-harm bc we miss the person). That’s where the misunderstanding in our society lies.

Most ppl who haven’t experienced ideations believe that they come from a place of weakness based on a life situation someone “can’t handle.” That’s not the case. I can’t reveal names or locations, but we have had a number of examples where students or members of the groups we presented to, asked for & got help once they started feeling ideations, after having been at our talks – BC of how openly we discussed it. Those who experienced the ideations didn’t/don’t want to die – ideations are like error messages. They literally take over our minds as if our rational brain has no choice in the matter.


Hopefully this is helpful, but I’m gonna try to explain what happened in my brain when I felt them: Picture this – For those who have been hungover before (or just sick if you don’t drink), you wake up, mouth dry, & all you can think about is a certain beverage (for me it’s usually OJ). And in bed your mind will not stop firing messages until you get your butt up, get downstairs, pour a full glass, down the whole thing, & feel some level of completeness or satisfaction. Those thirst-quenching thoughts play on repeat until you down that full glass.


Now let’s take another scenario. As humans we are curious creatures. We walk by a door & we wonder what’s behind it. In scarier situations (I’ve heard all these plenty of times – so common), we are near a train track & wonder – what if I stick my leg out as it comes by. We drive in the left lane as others come in the opposite direction & think – what if we each turn our wheels a little to the left. We are on the top of high buildings & our minds play w us – how close can I get to the edge. These are all curious thoughts that millions of ppl have every day (which is why I don’t believe in camp #1 above – creative thoughts are already in our brains from what we see in the world). But…they don’t play on repeat. They don’t get stuck down a thought track. We think about them for 1/16 of a second & then our focus shifts to something else.


What it felt like – at least for me – was that those “creative” thoughts got trapped down the wrong thought pathway. The same type of pathways that the thirst-quenching OJ, productive thoughts went down. The difference is – the messages playing on repeat for us – normally, help us survive when we are feeling healthy. Whereas, under the long-lasting effects of stress & trauma & even physical trauma, our ability to hyper concentrate & play those impulse messages on repeat seem to focus on these counterproductive “creative” thoughts.


And this explanation would make sense, wouldn’t it? If we developed in some form – whether you’re religious or not – through some means of survival of the fittest, then it would make sense that we have an impulse system that drives us TO DO things, that when it gets messed with bc of stress & trauma, that system still “works” but in a way that’s no longer productive. Think of it like a garden hose – it can still work to shoot out water, but if the feeding system in the ground is littered, while it still works, dirty water comes out instead of clean water.


For me, this manifested in: looking at a bottle of pills on my counter & feeling defenseless against the thought of swallowing all of them. It was as if I was under a trance. As stated above I DIDN’T want to die, but the messages were playing on repeat, & I was one of the fortunate ones who knew this didn’t feel right, had ppl around to ask for help from, & got the urgent care I needed to take me out of that situation. 


I know this is a tough topic. I know the examples I gave can be ones that are uncomfortable for many bc MOST of us have had them – even if for just 1/16 of a second at a time. But, I hope in giving my first hand account & at least an possible explanation as to what happens to us (when so many are afraid to talk about it), there are some of you out there (like the examples we’ve heard from our Sit-Down events), who will 1) now know when to ask for help immediately, and 2) not judge others who are in distress, & instead help them, bc the likelihood is, this is not something they want. It’s something they instead need help with, your/our help, overcoming.

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