No Longer a Punchline

By Ashley Holstrom

Nearly every day, I imagine the many ways in which I could die. Or I list off, in my head, the reasons why I should be dead.

Every. Day.

I’m afraid to call it by its name—suicidal ideation—because it doesn’t feel that intense. I wish I were dead. I don’t want to kill myself. I assure my therapist I’m not a danger to myself or others. It’s passive, not aggressive, see?

Sometimes it’s that normal, run-of-the-mill depression speaking up. Other times it’s sparked by some inconvenience, be it major or minor.

When plans are too difficult to coordinate. When I miss my exit. When I snort-laugh loudly in a meeting. When I make a joke that doesn’t land well. When I accidentally delete all of my files and empty the trash and regrettably find out I didn’t back up said files.

“I wish I were dead.” 

“If I were dead, I wouldn’t have to deal with this.”

“I’m just gonna go jump off the roof now, bye!”

These thoughts have invaded my consciousness as far back as I can remember. I recall being a kid and lying in the grass, looking at the shape-shifting clouds, wondering why humans even existed. Why I even existed.

I’m working on figuring out the triggers. On noticing the signs. My depression is very predictable and arrives at the same time each year. I know that in July and August I need to take better care of myself.

Other warning signs: Staying indoors as much as possible. Taking couch naps. Listening exclusively to Lana Del Rey and Elliott Smith. Forgetting to read. Procrastinating showers—for days.

Step back. Sit down. Breathe.

The dark thoughts are coming. We can fight them off.

Take a breath. Watch your body and notice your thoughts. Find patterns. Give yourself a time out and work on some serious self-care. Tell someone you’re in a dark place simply so they know and can check on you later. Turn off your phone. Cook a meal (a real meal) for yourself. Go for a walk. Pet your cat.

Don’t burrow deep under the covers and wait for it to leave. You have to fight back. Then it will pass. It always does.

These thoughts happen. Life is hard. Mental illness is harder. Sometimes a bunch of tiny inconveniences pile up all at once and it’s all too much and death seems like the only option.

But it’s not.

Just getting these words out is challenging. There’s a stigma that surrounds suicidal ideation when there shouldn’t be. We’re living in a time where mental illness is increasingly discussed, yet suicidal thoughts remain in the rarely mentioned depths.

And I can’t be the only one who thinks this way, on a near-daily basis. Right?

We can work on this together. We can stop using suicide as a punchline or a solution. We can save a life or two or three.

Leave a Reply

Comments (17)

  1. Allie

    You’re not the only one!!

    Reply  |  
  2. Katze

    So that’s what it’s called.
    No, you are not the only one.
    But as long as it’s passive it’s ok, right? How often does passive ideation really turn into action?

    Reply  |  
  3. Debbie

    I understand completely. I have been having these feelings for about 35 years. It started in H.S. Many years and many doctors I have finally found Trintellix, it has helped reduce the feelings. They are not so constant. My family and children are the only reasons I never carried any thoughts through.. Good luck, keep fighting.

    Reply  |  
  4. Lisa

    My suicidal ideation is also passive. I think about just turning the wheel on a high-speed highway. What stops me is the thoughts that I don’t want to hurt anyone else and pain. I want a painless death. I want to go to sleep and not wake up.
    I have received some professional help with this bit it’s kind of a relief to read of others with similar ideation. The stigma is real.
    I’m okay right Now, but the thoughts are always there, in the back of my mind.

    Reply  |  
  5. Barbara

    I have battle the suicidal thoughts nearly every day, for nearly 50 years. I was actually going to post something to this effect, when this came across my feed. It’s real thoughts. I can, and do, get past them. But just reading this article let’s me know, that there are other people who go through this……..

    Reply  |  
  6. Susie Higham

    I was so ‘happy’ to read this post, because it could easily have been written by me. It’s so, so good to know that I’m not alone in my strange head space! Thank you for sharing.

    Reply  |  
  7. Ronnie

    Same here it’s good to know that I’m not alone keep fighting and as long as it’s passive it’s okay, right?

    Reply  |  
  8. Nicole

    I honestly feel like someone fully understands me completely. This is article could have been written by me. This explains so much what I go through and what I feel. You are not alone in how you feel!

    Reply  |  
  9. Brittany

    Wow. I never knew what it was called; I never knew someone else felt this way too. Thank you. ♥️

    Reply  |  
  10. Azalya

    Hi Ashley, I have been feeling the same way since I was about 12, ( I’m 15 now) and I always thought that I was the only one who felt this way. Thank you for letting me know I’m not alone in my thoughts

    Reply  |  
  11. Anita

    I hear you. One more day… always maybe tomorrow. Then… maybe tomorrow again. Tomorrow may be better. If it’s not…well, one more day. Maybe tomorrow.

    Reply  |  
  12. Lauren

    I have never read something that so accurately describes this. Thank you for writing this. 💜

    Reply  |  
  13. Andrea F

    Hi Ashley. I myself too struggle with the passive suicide ideation. The thoughts are intrusive as loud screams and persistent. Thank you for sharing your story. I just want you to know that you are not alone in this. I continue to remind myself when I can that it’s just the depression talking & the depression is only a part of me.

    Reply  |  
  14. Patience

    TWLOHA has saved my life on more than one occasion and now I know that reading others’ stories that I can truly relate with is in fact a coping skill. This helped me more than I’d admit anywhere else. Thank you.

    Reply  |  
  15. Kelli

    Thank you so much for posting this. This day has been particularly tough… but for reasons that shouldn’t send me into a tailspin but they are. I needed to know that I’m not alone.

    Reply  |  
  16. Denise

    Well said. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply  |  
  17. Kathleen Hussey

    I’m almost 59 years old now and since I was 10 to 11 years old, around 1971, I’ve dealt with intrusive thoughts about self harm and with having the far too automatic answer to any real emotional pain (whether from disappointment, rejection, loneliness, heartache, betrayal or financial devastation) be the totally unnatural instinct to self destruct and annihilate my own self when I’d never feel such destructive feelings towards those who may have hurt me.
    I didn’t know what to do or how to even begin to learn how to handle or cope with the pain that would hit me so viciously. It always feels (in those minutes, hours, days) as if I won’t EVER feel all right again, even though my logical brain knows that all things end eventually, good and bad things I feel as a matter of the nature of life. Still,in those moments it feels like it won’t ever stop , go away, leave my heart and I feel then that I simply can NOT take anymore pain.
    Finally (in my 30’s & 40’s) I realized that when I’d felt pain & abandonment as a child no one had ever much comforted me. No one patted my back, hugged me or offered me a few encouraging words to get me through those tough life events to the next day. We all go through so many ups and downs and resiliency is learned, modeled, copied.. but if most the adults you learn from run away from ever showing you that they feel emotional pain and how they healthily cope with it, if they also don’t seem to want to see your feelings expressed or you don’t feel free to, how will you learn how to moderate your own emotions? If all you see from them is how they numb themselves & escape feeling things by using alcohol, drugs, overeating, shopping, gambling etc. then you may not learn how to cope with the ups and downs of life very well. I never learned to calm myself down, never developed that inner monologue of a caring parent to talk myself down with and we all need to be able to take over that job for ourselves when our parents roles must, of necessity, end one day.
    I realized I had no problem knowing how to be kind to my own children by comforting them when they scraped a knee or had their heart broken as teenagers. I knew I should & I could do that for them even though I don’t know how I learned it unless it was via my 6 sisters or examples that nannies / caretakers likely set in small doses for we 7 girls. We had a few of those as kids as well as one roughly 6 mo. stay in an orphanage when I was 4. All were due to my Mom’s mental hospital stays required because of the severe mania or catatonic episodes she suffered with, being diagnosed as Bipolar in her 20’s.
    Teenagers especially deal with so much newly intense pain because along with the expected surges in hormones that a preteen and teenager suddenly must deal with there comes swinging moods while also the intensity of their feelings increases. They usually don’t understand WHY their emotions are so intense or why moods get harder to snap out of. The advent of a menstrual cycle for women, and testosterone surging in young men makes it a hairy (no pun intended lol) time for all teenagers. Yet for those who haven’t yet learned to self soothe & to comfort themselves, they feel out of control and helpless to stop the pain. They feel victimized by their own minds and hearts and unable to get through those days.
    I believe if we greatly increase the spreading of knowledge on the subject of suicidal ideation and teen emotional overload, teaching all preteens how to meditate, to clear their minds regularly, how to use pre planned tactics to get through these times, such as ; having a few good friends or relatives phone numbers they’ve discussed ahead of time with them and they agree that if the teen, young adult calls at any time and says a key word they’ve established then that person will come to be with the person needing them to check on them, make sure they are eating, drinking water, sleeping, taking meds, giving assistance with any real needs or simply a loving ear to hear them, hugs, helping them remember the list of possible plans they’ve established beforehand that they’d use for these rough days. Self comfort, self caring items on a list can be ; lots of rest, getting snuggled up under the covers, watching or reading something happy, inspiring, motivating or encouraging, listening to happy music, dancing, light exercises,yoga, spend time doing hobbies you really enjoy, go for a hike in nature, journaling, take walks, hot baths… anything you know feeds your joy or comfort meter. If we also teach them the importance of loving this one you that you have got, how to be as kind to themselves as they’d easily be to another, not talking down to or bad about themselves, being as forgiving of their own errors, their own humanity (while learning from those experiences) as easily as they will forgive others for theirs, accepting the truth that a bad day does not equal a bad life. Believing in the truth that we do not need to seek to silence our feelings but instead to accept them and really try to listen to them because they are telling us core truth about ourselves that we need to hear and address….all of this can help them become more resilient and change how they experience pain and give them more feeling of being in control of themselves when dealing with the downs of life.

    Reply  |  
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