In light of World Suicide Prevention Day (and R U OK Day in Australia) this Thursday Sept 10, I value the opportunity to write more openly about thoughts of death and not wanting to be here. Although it may seem melancholic to some, there is a hopeful message here about life which I fortunately discovered and want to share.
Let’s be honest. We are born. We live. We die. This is fact.
As a life-long learner and a long-time student of yoga and meditation, I consider intermittent thoughts of death a sign of consciousness and intelligence. An understanding and acceptance of our eventual death also provides an understanding of what it is to live, and at times a motivation to maximize our unique experience of life on earth. But it was not always that way…
Thoughts of not wanting to live
When I was in my early 20’s, I started having thoughts around death and not wanting to live any more.
I had experienced a couple intense depressive episodes as well as debilitating anxiety that spanned for months. I wanted so desperately to move out of my suffering that dying seemed a viable option. Although I saw multiple therapists, I never felt brave enough to share my suicidal thoughts.
Twenty five years on I am living in another country, I have a loving and supportive husband, three wonderful sons and two loyal dogs. I have a doctorate in public health, I have launched and sold a successful yoga business, I have a great core group of friends, and on paper you might think life is grand.
But no. My internal struggles have persisted and despite my achievements there are times when I have been preoccupied with not wanting to live.
Over the years I have committed and recommitted to wellness. In addition to my studies and my business endeavors I’ve tried multiple types of therapy and nearly a dozen different kinds of antidepressants. I’ve even had a few hospital/residential care stints because of the severity.
A framework for understanding – Our thoughts of death can be a process not a destination
Yet after all this time, and all of this therapy, I felt too ashamed to raise the topic of my thoughts around death and dying until recently.
About five years ago, I felt for the very first time in a safe enough space to share the thoughts that had haunted me for so long.
I was doing a yoga therapy course and had an individual session with the teacher. One day I told him about my occasional, nagging fixation with death and he listened calmly.
In his wisdom he suggested that it seemed I was having existential thoughts about death rather than literal plans to actually take my life.
He explained that often thoughts of this kind are about grappling with our own human existence and coming to terms with various difficult life circumstances. That often thoughts of death highlight a deep desire to ‘end’ a situation or a stage in life, and that sometimes death seems like the answer, or an easier answer.
He allowed me the space to explore the fact that having existential thoughts around death and dying can be a cerebral and philosophical exercise and that it does not need to be feared.
This was when the penny dropped for me.
Suddenly thoughts of death and dying became a framework for greater awareness of existence, beyond just me; I saw that they symbolized a desire to be free of misery (both real and imagined). That my dreaded thoughts were a message and not an answer and suddenly they became thoughts that I could explore more openly, not repress, not fear and not be ashamed of in any way.
As I write this, I am happy to say that I’ve been mentally well for more than a year. When I have any preoccupied thoughts around death, I more easily am able to lift the shame, guilt and punitive aspects we often associate with suicidal ideation. And so now when I think of death and dying from time to time that it is normal and that is ok.
I encourage anyone and everyone, no matter what age, to share persistent or unwanted thoughts of suicide and dying. Speak to a trusted friend, family member or professional and to know that there is always a way to move beyond your frustration and fears – even if it takes 20 years, as it did for me.
If it feels this article has triggered anything for you and you require assistance, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.Other Australian resources:
- Suicide Call Back Service (1300 659 467, www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au)
- Beyond Blue Support Service (1300 22 4636, www.beyondblue.org.au)
- MensLine Australia (1300 78 99 78, www.mensline.org.au)
- Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800, www.kidshelpline.com.au)
- Headspace (1800 650 890)http://www.eheadspace.org.au
- If there is immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, always call triple zero (000).
In the USA, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reachedat 1-800-273-8255
Other countries specific crises support, see http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html