The Truth About Suicidal Ideation (SI)
& Other Maladaptive Coping Strategies
This story addresses suicidal ideation (SI) and my experience in counseling to diminish these thoughts. A secondary purpose is to provide introductory insight on a psychotherapy method that has worked well for me. It is not advocating suicide or self-harm as a solution to current struggles or mental anguish. If you feel unsafe with your thoughts, please feel free to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, or visit their website here for chat options.
Suicidal thoughts are scary as f*ck. It is completely normal to see yourself spiraling downward into the darkness and panic about getting to that point again. Something crucial to my personal growth was understanding how suicidal thoughts are helpful. (For, I can't truly let go of that which no longer serves me without first understanding how it served me and healing the part that was hurt in the beginning).
SI is a left-over coping mechanism from a time when I was scared, hurt, depressed, anxious, paranoid, and exhausted. It was how I could endure the pain. The only way I could imagine escaping the situation, was to think about ending my life. And to its credit, it worked. It got me through that hell-scape and here I am today.
When someone experiences SI, their brain essentially stores it in a catalogue. It is filed under "ways to survive" for whatever is causing physical harm and/or, emotional and mental anguish. So when they revisit traumatic memories, experience a trigger and/or a new stressful situation, that’s where their mind automatically goes. It worked once, so it would make sense that the brain would try it again. It may not understand that it is now causing more harm than good, or take into consideration that the person is now older, wiser, and better able to resolve the situation in a different way. That "part" of the person is stuck in the time when SI was necessary.
Once I wholly understood and accepted this as truth, I noticed an entire paradigm shift. Suddenly, “present I” felt gratitude and love for the part of me who stepped in to come up with this solution. That part saved me from feeling trapped and as though I would never be able to escape. From there, it has become easier to observe these thoughts when they happen, rather than intensely fear them.
I was able to make this discovery through communicating with my SI, or rather the parts of me that offer them as a solution. By this I mean, I spent counseling session after session sitting down to conversations with these parts. With helpful prompts from my counselor, I asked them questions, listened to responses, and for the first time, let them have a voice.
Healing is not linear, nor is it constant. It doesn't happen all the time, and I am not always improving. There are days that are worse than others. There a times when I feel like I have regressed, or not progressed at all.
SI has now been upgraded to "parts conversation" in my system as my go-to solution for when I notice something isn't right. I am continuously visiting with my parts when necessary. When I feel them bubble up in the form of sadness, tearfulness, fear, hypervigilance, SI, headaches, or whatever symptom happens to resurface that particular day, I set aside time to speak to my parts.
The more time I can spend listening to the part that generates these thoughts (or other symptoms), the less urgent they feel. I offer them love, comfort them, and even show them how wonderful my life has turned out. Toward the end of a session (which I can usually do on my own now instead of in a counseling office), I always remember to thank them for showing up to let me know they needed something. Every time I finish convening with these parts, I feel more whole.
There is no counseling model or healing process in general that is one-size-fits-all. However, if you are interested in the method I am speaking of, it can be applied to all coping mechanisms/behaviors (such as eating disorders, substance use, and self-harm) through a therapy model called Internal Family Systems (IFS). It can be extended to symptoms of mental illness as well. If you would like to learn more about it or find a certified provider near you, click here.
As always, thank you for reading my story on my experience with SI. Hearts and tips are always appreciated, but never necessary. For more stories written by me, click here. 🙏🏼💛