Content note: Thoughts and intentions to commit suicide are mentioned in this article.
You’ve heard that 2020 seems to challenge everything we know about coping – whether it’s fear, anger, insecurity, or all of the above. But the stressful environment we are facing now is nothing new. It just affects more people now. Climate change, elections, racism … if anything, a pandemic has forced us to grapple with how and why we have ignored these issues – and their effects on our mental health – for so long.
Because in this deep ocean of emotions there is more than just #TalkingAboutIt or checking in with someone.
As I write this, I am preparing to move to a new city. Yes, I move during a pandemic ̵
It’s funny, however: whenever I talk about how stressed I am (yes, moving is stressful), people don’t mention the pandemic (stressful too). Instead, they say, “I’ve heard that moving is more stressful than divorce or death.” And as someone with deep thoughts of suicide … the f * cking scans.
September is not just the month I move. More importantly, it’s Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and while I don’t know anyone who died from suicide, I know survivors and it’s a very personal topic because … well, I’ve spent most of my life in the prevention phase .
Earlier this year I wrote about how connections are built on the acceptance of vulnerability, but to convey vulnerability you need the words and the courage to describe what is going on within you. As any ever-changing, changing person (aka pretty much anyone) would know, this kind of awareness can be hellishly difficult to develop.
… When Chester Bennington died of suicide. Something inside of me answered, just a crack. Then in 2018 when Anthony Bourdain came by, the ice shattered under my feet.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I was younger and very religious, passive suicidal thoughts were a form of comfort. These “heavy” thoughts would turn into life fantasies beyond death. It didn’t hurt that my identity at the time was “emo Christian teenagers,” which meant that sharing those thoughts was safe. Either I got the reaction “She’s going through an emo phase” or I could hide her behind it just because I’m really excited to meet Jesus Christ.
However, when I became an agnostic adult it was frowned upon to share these thoughts, either as too dark or as too heavy. For the benefit of others, I have taught myself to ignore these feelings. I ignored them for years and directed that anxiety and depression into other areas of my life until Chester Bennington died of suicide in 2017. Something inside of me answered, just a crack. Then in 2018 when Anthony Bourdain came by, the ice shattered under my feet.
Suddenly, after a very long time without it, I had to tread water again.
It is exhausting to step and explain at the same time. So if you’re wondering what it’s like, journalist Elly Belle wrote a guide compassionately advocating a more nuanced way of talking about suicide.
Thought and suicide rates have risen, although stigma has decreased.
This guide has been created with one of the more difficult statistical truths of the year in mind: suicidal thought and suicide rates have risen, although stigma has decreased. We need to talk about it, yes (FYI, #TalkingAboutIt is the hashtag for social media conversations), but neither can we expect thinking about what Instagram therapists are making up into authentic, vulnerable conversations. Destigma alone cannot alleviate pain.
To develop emotional awareness, one has to be honest about the root cause. Sometimes searching for the root is another way to speak about it authentically.
Here’s how we’re #TalkingAboutIt on Greatist this month (and beyond):
Your primary listening partner is the best way to support: Avoid defining help as just positive thinking or action. That’s still the stigma. Instead, ask the person how they want to speak, if they want to speak at all, and stick with them when they cannot kick anymore.
There have been many times this year that I’ve felt too tired to pedal – when the pandemic made all of my flotation equipment (a term Anna Borges coined to describe the instruments used to treat suicide) out of reach . When that happens, there is often only one thing that will save me: floating myself.
When you are floating, your ears are underwater so it can be difficult to hear the other person, but that muffle is necessary for focus. If I have resorted to swimming, it means that I am unable to pedal, swim, or respond to advice – and I need the other person to realize that. To see what I’m going through, hear why I’m going through it and just acknowledge that I just want to stay alive for the moment.
There’s no shame in floating, just surviving.
If you’ve never been into the “survival” mindset, this article by journalist Kelly Yeo on time and ego movement might be helpful. Experts believe that these two mindsets can (potentially) help people overcome difficult issues on their mental health journeys. Although this concept is still in the early stages of research and has no practical implementations, the idea has taught me to develop much much needed self-compassion.
It’s okay to float because when I put my head in the water I know that the people I love have told me they are ready to watch over me until I’m strong enough to come back to step.
As we begin September with certain emotions, many more are to come – many other mental health stories being published to help you start the vulnerable but confidence-building conversation you need. A conversation that could just start like this, “Hey, I don’t really have the brainwaves to explain what I’m going through without feeling like a burden. But that explains it pretty well. ”
For those who often feel alone in this experience, I hope that you will feel like you have been seen on this series.
Christal Yuen is the Senior Editor at Greatist and takes care of everything related to beauty and wellness. Find out how she thinks about therapy Twitter.