You read the title right. That happened to me this week.
Well, not really….but kind of. My therapist basically said that even though my “thinking mind” is suicidal sometimes, clearly my unconscious mind is not. She said that if I were truly suicidal, then I would have already gotten it over with. But because I still haven’t successfully followed through with killing myself, then I’m probably not really suicidal.
I’m just going to let that sink in for my readers.
Ok, now that you’ve wrapped your head around that (trust me, my initial reaction was probably identical to yours), let’s discuss it further.
My therapist uses this analogy, particularly during sand tray therapy, of a man riding an elephant. The man is the “thinking mind,” and can do his very best to get the elephant to do what he wants it to do, but at the end of the day, the elephant (the “unconscious mind”), is going to do what it wants to do because, well, it’s an elephant. She brought this analogy back out when discussing suicide. My thinking mind wants me to go through with it, but the elephant does not, and at the end of the day, the elephant wins.
My first thoughts as she was explaining this were:
- Wow! My therapist is a fucking cunt (if you’re reading this, and you’re my shrink, I’m sorry – you asked me to write about this though)
- She clearly doesn’t understand what it’s like to have complex PTSD or what it’s like to be soooo tired of fighting off the symptoms, soooo tired of the flashbacks and pain and hell that’s in your head. She doesn’t understand how exhausting it is, or how no matter how much I work on it, I still struggle with trauma memories
- My whole life has always been a “series of unfortunate events;” I don’t see that ever getting better
- The only relief I ever get is “temporary”
- I’ll show her! Next time I’m really suicidal (like I was 3 times this past year), I won’t stop myself and I certainly will not fail.
So, I’ve taken some time to really think about and reflect on what my therapist said. I’ve spent time with the 3 moments over the past year that I really thought I was going to kill myself. I’ve even gone back to suicide attempts from when I was younger to try to figure out what happens in my brain. Here’s what I’ve learned in all of that reflecting:
- A lot of my BIG self-injury events and suicide scares occur when I’m in a dissociative state
- There is a part of me that doesn’t want to kill myself – I just don’t know if that part is the “man” or the “elephant.” I think it might be the “elephant” and that is what makes it so scary.
- If I use my skills and catch the dissociation early enough, I can prevent it from happening
- When I get into a dark place and stay there for several days/weeks, it becomes so much harder, not only because I’m exhausted, but also because I quit seeing the point of living
- Part of me is afraid to try to kill myself again because I am afraid I will fail again. That was a humiliating experience: Not only am I a complete failure at life, I am also a failure at death.
My initial reactions to my therapist’s “suicide talk” were pretty juvenile. In fact, I told her that. And I waited a few days to write this because I wanted to make sure I was growing from this, not destroying relationships.
When I am suicidal (like really suicidal), I do feel this back and forth struggle within myself of needing to find relief but also not necessarily wanting to die. It’s like I know that suicide isn’t actually the best solution, but I feel like I have to die because otherwise I’ll find myself right back in this spot again. I’m tired of getting into the dark place and not being able to get out for several days/weeks. I do ok when it’s just a couple days, but after 5 or 6 days of it, I really start to get truly suicidal.
I think what is going to be really important for me in “saying goodbye to suicide” is what I do with myself and my thoughts, how I practice self-care, during those days/weeks when I’m struggling. The longer I spend in those phases, the more appealing suicide becomes. Right now, I don’t feel like therapy is beneficial when I’m in those phases. I feel like therapy benefits me the most when I am doing “ok” or when I’m doing trauma work. During those periods, I learn to identify what’s going on in my body and practice using healthy coping skills. I think if I take advantage of those times to really place an emphasis on self-care, then maybe I’ll be more successful at practicing self-care during the difficult times. I don’t know how to get out of the dark phases. In all of my years of therapy, I’ve yet to find something profound that really helps me. The only thing that even makes a dent in it is yoga. If I can go to multiple yoga classes for a few consecutive days, I start to see the light again. But if I’m unable to do that due to my schedule or my lack of motivation to get out of bed, then I get stuck in the dark.
Another issue I have is that I am so afraid that I will dissociate and try to kill myself when I’m in that dark place. Back in September, I was really suicidal (this is one of the three times this past year). I took time off of work to go to yoga, but then had to go home to get something before heading into work. I was almost to my house when I had a the realization that no one is home – this would be the perfect time to go through with it. I sat in my car in the driveway, staring into the garage, with images of my future suicide attempt flashing through my head. I was planning it out, step by step.
And then I stopped myself.
I took a few deep breaths. I made a different plan – one that would entail the steps I would take to change clothes and get my things together for work, and maybe eat lunch. I was able to turn off the part of my brain that wanted so desperately to die. My fear though is that next time I won’t be able to do that. Next time, what if things are so bad, what if I’ve not been practicing self-care, what if I can’t create a different plan? It’s so incredibly scary when you’re in that place and you aren’t sure if you’re controlling the elephant or if the elephant is controlling you. And that is what my therapist doesn’t understand about suicide. That is why I can’t say goodbye – because what if I can’t make the elephant turn around….
I want to add that I don’t think my shrink wants me to kill myself. I don’t think she was challenging me to be “more suicidal.” I think she wanted me to reflect on where those thoughts come from and what I can do to prevent them from going that far. And, despite my initial reaction, I’m glad I took the time to look at this because it did give me a better idea of what I need to work on.