I want to talk about something that makes a lot of people uncomfortable, but is part of my every day. Suicide.
I was diagnosed bipolar about 20 years ago. It was after a long battle with depression, suicidal thoughts, and psychosis. I’ve written about it here. Mental health disease carries with it a stigma. There are 3 groups of people in my mind when it comes to mental health. 1) Those that have it. 2) Those that try but don’t really understand it 3) Those that think it’s bunk. This is written to group #2. Group #3 can fuck off. Group #1- solidarity to you my brothers and sisters.
I live with mental illness every day. It’s not something I choose to have. I am well aware that I can control my emotions and the way I “feel” is a choice, a decision. This is not that. It effects that way that I feel, and the way that I make decisions but it is not something I can stop from happening. I get up every day and because of my disease I fight my thoughts every day. I talk myself in and out of shit all day long.
Let me compare this to diabetes. Diabetics are diagnosed when their pancreas stops working correctly and the chemicals and hormones don’t respond as they should to certain body function. They check their blood several times a day, they take pills or injections when they need to balance the hormones out. A diabetic knows that there are extreme things that can happen as a result of the disease. They can lose a foot, they can lose eyesight, they go into a coma, and other less serious complications.
My brain doesn’t function properly. I check in with my doctor several times a year, maybe several times a month when things get bad. I take pills when the hormones need to be balanced. I know that there are extreme complications of having bipolar disease. I am unpredictable, my mood shifts back and forth, I think about suicide every day. That’s the reality.
I don’t believe that any sane, sober, rational, free-thinking person wants to die, that they want to kill themselves (aside from those that have a fatal diagnosis or a disease that will greatly impede their quality of life and for which there is no cure- that’s another side of suicide). It goes against how we are made as humans in every way. I, like so many others with a mental health disease, am afraid of dying. Not afraid of the act of dying or being dead, but afraid that at some point the noise in my head will take over and my brains will tell me to end it, and then it will happen. A diabetic that has uncontrolled disease loses a foot, a bipolar with uncontrolled disease slices their wrists.
It’s a complication of the disease. I have a million thoughts racing through my head at any given minute and I must constantly decide which ones to act on and how. I am sorting, sorting, filtering, filtering, analyzing millions of tiny thoughts in my head all day. It’s tiring. It’s exhausting. The medicine helps a lot. If it didn’t I’d be inpatient or dead. Sometimes the thoughts get so loud and so aggressive I start to believe them. I start to lose track of what is worth filtering and what isn’t.
Also, let’s call it what it is. It’s not “taking her own life” or “killing herself”. She didn’t kill herself, her mental illness killed her, bipolar killed her, her disease killed her. The term is suicide. And let’s stop saying that people that commit suicide are selfish! On bad days, I lay in bed with thoughts rambling on and I work every minute to talk these through in my head. It’s all I can muster on some days. I literally cannot do anything else except to keep the irrational thoughts from taking over. Those are days that I tell someone I know and trust that I am scared. I fear what my brain might tell me to do and that I won’t be able to recognize that my brain is lying to me.
On good days, there are still a million thoughts, but I may only have one or two that I have to talk myself through all day. When your aunt gets sick from her diabetes you go to her side, you ask what you can do to help, at the very least you might say a prayer or offer positive intentions but you don’t blame her. You don’t call her selfish. You don’t say “if she would have just asked for help”. People with mental illness don’t know their thoughts are irrational, that’s what makes them…IRRATIONAL! They can’t ask for help with something they don’t know is a problem and on bad days I may not know that my thoughts are putting me at risk. I may not be able to figure that out.
Don’t shy away from asking me how I am doing. If you are really concerned you can ask me if I feel suicidal, you can say the word. You saying it doesn’t plant the idea in my head. It’s already there, the question is whether I feel that I may act on it today.
Finally, let’s stop blaming ourselves. As much as your friend or family member may not have chosen to commit suicide, but it happened, they are not to blame and you are not to blame. The disease is a lying manipulative bitch that is hella strong and convincing. She will say anything and everything to get her way. While there are things that people can do, or say that might help in the moment, you can’t be expected to know when those are needed.
The biggest thing you can do is drop the fucking stigma about mental health disease. Support funding for these diseases. And TALK ABOUT IT. Talk about mental health and keep it in the light, that shit likes to stay in the shadows, lurking and nothing will ever get any better that way. It needs to become part of our conversation when we talk about health and disease. We talk freely and unashamedly about diabetes; we need to be that way with bipolar (and other mental health disease).