Wanting To Die—And Ways To Stay Alive
by Cheryl Rainfield, the award-winning author of STAINED, SCARS, and HUNTED, 2005
There are many things that can make a person want to die—a desire to escape great emotional pain; intense and overwhelming despair, hopelessness, isolation, depression, anger turned inward; intense and prolonged self-hate; childhood abuse or trauma; and/or isolation and feeling like you don’t belong. In addition, if you’re a survivor of child abuse, or experienced trauma, the desire to die may be an emotional memory—something you felt in the past, not a desire from the present. Often the desire to die (or to find relief from the pain) stems not just from one thing, but from a combination and accumulation of many things over time. But each of us deserves to live. It is our right, just by being born. We have the right to live, to breathe, to take up space on this earth, and to feel happy, loved, and comforted.
When we want to die, we’re usually feeling overwhelming pain or despair—more emotion than we can cope with—and we’re looking for relief. When those feelings are intense, it can be hard to think or to remember that there is any other way, or to know that it can change. But feelings pass, and can be moved through. Happiness can come. And there are ways to lessen pain and extreme emotion, techniques we can learn to help ourselves, and support that we can receive, that can help us to feel relief. Suicide is permanent; it ends all feelings, including joy, happiness, love, comfort, and safety. To experience those again, we must be alive. And there is so much to live for. Things can and will get better.
Remember that suicide is final. There’s no going back, once you’ve done the act. You can never again experience the joy of walking barefoot on warm sand, the delight of a cat or dog happily greeting you, the comfort of a hug, or the love in a friend’s eyes. If there are any parts of you that don’t want to die, listen to those parts, and don’t act now. Wanting to die is a feeling; you can feel a feeling, even intense feelings, and not have to act on them. If you really feel you must die, try to wait, and to reach out to others. You may find yourself moving through the old pain, and wanting to live again.
Things that Can Help To Bring Hope and Relief, and Keep Yourself Living:
- Wait before you do anything that might hurt you. Since you can kill yourself at any time, why not wait a bit longer—a day, or a few days, before you act. And while you wait, try to reach out to others, and to listen to what you need. You may find the relief or comfort that you are seeking—but you have to be alive to feel it;
- Remember that the desire to die may be an emotional memory from childhood or trauma. Most likely it is a feeling from the past, not the present;
- Reach out to the people who care about you—to a friend, a therapist, your lover. Or reach out to a suicide hotline or a support hotline. (There are also online support centers that you can reach out to, such as The Samaritans) Find a way to get some comfort, caring, and compassion. Ask for a hug, or to know that you are loved. Knowing that you are truly cared about, really feeling that and getting that in a safe way, is a powerful way to temporarily break through extreme pain and despair. And truly being heard, being seen in how you are in this moment, can also greatly help. You may be afraid to be a burden to others, or think that you have to keep everything to yourself to keep from being too much, but give others the chance to make their own decision about whether they want to respond or not. Often you will find that people are relieved that you told them, and that you are reaching out and giving them a chance to be there for you, to be let into your life. And, if you don’t get what you need, reach out to someone else;
- Get some safe touch from someone you trust. Safe, loving touch can tell you, in a different way than words, and on a deep level, that you are truly cared about, or that you matter to another person;
- If you’ve got something you need to hear from a friend, therapist, or someone you love, ask for it. No one can read your mind, know exactly what you most need to hear, or know what would best help you. This may be the best way to get what you need—by asking. And you deserve to be able to ask for, and to receive support;
- Ask yourself what will help you, and what you need—and really listen to the answers;
- Remember that as strong as a suicidal feeling or thought is, it is just a feeling or thought. You do not have to act on it—and it is important not to. Do other things to help yourself get through the moment. Distract yourself, express the emotion, reach out for help, hold on just a little bit longer, and then just a little bit longer still, until you feel better. The good feelings will come back;
- Visualize the faces of people you care about looking at you with love. If you have a photo of them, it may help to look at it, or if you have something of theirs to hold, it may help to hold onto it, and to remember that you are loved;
- Express the emotion and thoughts through writing, art, dance, safe expression, etc.;
- Ask the people you care about to tell you things that they like about you, or why you’re important to them (or read over/listen to the lists they may have already given you). Try writing out their responses, and read them over repeatedly, really trying to take them in;
- Ask the people you care about if they would miss you if you weren’t around (and really listen to their responses). Sometimes we need to know that we matter to others, that it makes a difference that we are alive, or that others care about us—and sometimes a true, compassionate response can break through programming or old abuse thinking;
- Write out some reasons to live. If you can’t think of reasons for yourself, think of someone you love, and write out the reasons for them. Then read those reasons over, thinking of yourself. You may also want to read the poster: Reasons Not To Kill Yourself by Mari Collings (You can purchase the beautiful poster from www.survivorship.org );
- Remind yourself that you have the right to be here on this earth, to be alive, and to be happy;
- Read articles, poems, or phrases that help you see that you have the right to live, and that you are okay as you are. Some poems and articles that may help are: Desiderata by Max Ehrmann (ignore the religious content if that is triggering); My Declaration of Self-Esteem by Virginia Satir; Reasons Not To Kill Yourself by Mari Collings; Our Deepest Fear by Marianne Williamson; and “If You’re Thinking About Suicide, Read This First”. If there is a poem or article that particularly touches you, you may want to put a copy of it on your wall or computer, or keep a copy with you in your bag, wallet, or pocket, or near where you work;
- Listen to music that makes you feel good or safe. Music is powerful, and can help change your mood. (Don’t forget kids’ music; there is some delightful, great-energy kids music out there with feel-good messages, as well as soothing or validating songs that can help you to feel less alone.) Some ideas are: Kids’ Music: “It’s OK,” “We’ll Fill The World With Love,” “These Are The Questions,” “Happy Place,” and “What a Wonderful World,” by Rosenshontz; “Proud of Me,” “Believe In Yourself,” “Someday, Little Children,” “Nearly Missed a Rainbow,” “My Furry Little Shadow,” “But I Like You,” “Count Ten,” by Sesame Street; “It’s OK to Cry,” “Growing Up Song,” Eric Nagler. Adult music: “How Could Anyone?” Libby Roderick; “Let It Go,” Luba; “Ooh Child,” Dino or Nina Simone; “Hands,” Jewel (religious content, may be triggering); “Touch a Hand, Make a Friend,” The Staple Singers; “Believe in You,” Amanda Marshall; “By Your Side,” Sade; “On a Day Like Today,” Bryan Adams; “Shout” Tears For Fears (to get out the emotion or get in touch with anger); “Affirmation” and “So Strong,” Justina & Joyce (resistance, saying no, getting in touch with anger); “Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand,” Diana Ross; “Animal Song,” Savage Garden);
- Distract yourself. Involve yourself in an art project or craft, watch a movie, read a book, write in your diary; write an email to a friend; take a walk in nature and really notice the detail; use your senses to distract—notice textures, tastes, smells, sights, sounds, etc.;
- Think of a time where you felt happy, comforted, or loved. Remind yourself that you can feel this way again, in the future. It might be doing something else, or feeling this with someone else, but it will happen;
- Know that you have the right to be here on this earth, to live, to find happiness and comfort and joy; and/or
- Know that if you kill yourself, the people in your life will be deeply affected and will feel great pain. You matter to many people, even if you don’t believe you do.
You deserve to live. You deserve to take up space. And you deserve to be happy. You have the right to live and to be on this planet, as much as any tree or plant or animal or person. Don’t let anyone or anything take that away from you.
Grief, pain, despair, depression—they all will pass. Comfort and safety can come. Playfulness and delight and joy are yours to find. And you will find them. So stay alive. Reach for happiness, friendship, dreams. And keep believing in yourself. Good things can still happen—but only if you are around to experience them.
©Cheryl Rainfield, 2005
Written by Cheryl Rainfield, award-winning author of SCARS, STAINED, and HUNTED
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