Today we’re talking about something uncomfortable, but something unfortunately real for many of us: suicidal thoughts.
I spend a lot of time pretending I don’t deal with suicidal thoughts, because I wish I didn’t. Let’s be honest: they’re scary. And my go-to approach to scary things is avoid, avoid, avoid. If I pretend I’m not suicidal, then I won’t be. Obviously.
Even now, I’m avoiding a little bit with humor. It’s hard to talk about these things directly. It’s easier to come at them from the side, to make jokes about them, to talk about talking about them.
But here’s the direct reality: sometimes I am filled with a hideous energy and the aggressive desire to end my life.
Ick. Just reading that makes me feel horrible. I feel like I’m floating slightly. That’s why I prefer to pretend I just don’t feel those things. But pretending those feelings aren’t real just gives them more power because they start to feel more and more out of control as they grow in the margins of my mind.
So my first suggestion for self-care for suicidal thoughts is to admit that you’re having them. It’s okay, I promise that accepting that those thoughts are real won’t make you do it. But it will help you get an honest picture of where your mental health is at right now, which will give you the ability to seek the help you really need.
Here are 8 more ideas for self-care that can help get you through suicidal thoughts.
1. Call your therapist.
This feels like an obvious one, right? Except it’s not. At least not for me. I almost never call my therapist when I’m having these thoughts or feeling this way. Because I’m always sure (or at least pretty sure) that I’m safe and everything will be fine in a few hours. I just feel really horrible in the moment, and I don’t want to waste her time with my fleeting, capricious emotions.
But even if these thoughts fade in a few hours, even if I am safe, they’re scary and it’s important that my therapist knows I’m having them. So far I’ve successfully used this self-care technique exactly once, so if you have a hard time with this one, know that you aren’t alone.
2. Change something.
When I’m dealing with suicidal thoughts, it’s usually because I am overcome with self-hatred and I feel like I’ll never change into someone I actually like. And yeah, maybe I can’t change all the negative things about me overnight, but I can change something.
My favorite something to change is my hair. I dye my hair all the time, mostly just because it’s fun and I love trying on new colors, but I recently started keeping spare hair dye in the house just in case those dark feelings creep up. Then I can change something, I can prove to my brain that things can change, even if it’s just little things right now.
There are plenty of other things you can change if hair dye isn’t your thing. You can rearrange your room, get a tattoo, or even just change your phone background. Little changes really can make a difference. They won’t make all your problems disappear, but they can make things bearable enough for you to survive them.
3. Bake something.
So far, I’ve been talking mostly about having suicidal thoughts, but not necessarily wanting to act on those thoughts. That is typically my experience, but I know that isn’t the case for everyone. If you aren’t feeling particularly safe but you aren’t ready to go to the ER, try baking something. Baking requires you to follow several steps and then wait while the goodies are baking, and simply going through that process and giving yourself that time can help reduce the severity of your feelings. Just like with making a change, baking cookies won’t make everything better. But it can get you through. And anything that keeps you alive is a good thing.
4. Watch something funny.
I know this probably sounds overly simplistic, but laughing, even just a tiny little hard nose exhale laugh, can make such a difference when I’m in this mindset. The smallest reminder that I am more than this feeling is one of the best ways to keep myself safe and sane when dealing with suicidal thoughts. So put on that comedy special you’ve seen a million times, watch your favorite episode of your favorite sitcom, anything that has always made you laugh out loud, and remember that there are other feelings, even if you can’t feel them right now.
5. Write it out.
Just like how admitting that you’re having suicidal thoughts won’t make you act on them, neither will writing about them. In fact, writing about these things can actually help get the thoughts out of your head long enough for you to feel just a little bit better. Although, sometimes when I write about things, it just intensifies the feelings running around my head, but even then, I get a strong sense of validation from my writing.
Write out all the hideous feelings, and then put the journal away. Don’t re-read it and ruminate, don’t critique your own writing in your own journal, just get the feelings out.
6. Get mad.
Is anyone else simultaneously filled with rage and absolutely terrified of expressing it? Because that’s my life. And it can feel really, really good to let that anger out sometimes. So go ahead and get mad. It’s not fair that you’re plagued with these thoughts, it’s not fair that your brain is trying to kill you, and it’s not fair that there’s no one for you to blame or yell at or demand answers from.
So yell at the universe. Demand answers from the void. If you believe in God, blame Him if you need to. Just…let yourself be mad. You don’t deserve to feel this way, and you’re allowed to be upset about it.
7. Learn to recognize the part of yourself that you want to kill.
Again, I know this may not relate to everyone’s experience, but I very much want to live. There’s just a part of me I want to kill off. There’s this sensitive, unfulfilled, scared little girl inside me who is always too much or not enough. When I am caught in these feelings, I just want her gone.
Recognizing that she’s what I want to kill, not me, is important for keeping myself safe, but it’s also important for getting better and reducing the frequency of these thoughts. I need to be kinder to that little girl. She’s not going anywhere, and she shouldn’t. She’s me, and she deserves love. I deserve love. Recognizing and reminding myself of that can help get me through these dark thoughts.
8. Create a safe space.
Get your coziest blanket, turn on some soft lighting, play soothing, quiet, classical music, and find something you can fidget with, then set up camp in a corner. Let these feelings run through you. Don’t hold onto them, just survive them as they wash over you. It’s going to feel horrible, you definitely might cry or you might go completely numb, but it’s better to let yourself feel than to resist. When we resist our feelings, they gather potential energy, and when they finally break through, they are more powerful than ever.
My safe space is a little corner in our bedroom. I get my weighted blanket and hide underneath it and pretend I don’t exist. I stroke my own cheek and cry and tell myself it’s going to be okay, and I do that until I feel like I can function a little bit again. I do this with all my overwhelming emotions, not just suicidal thoughts. It’s important to have a safe space where you are allowed to feel your emotions, especially if you haven’t had that in the past.
*** I am not a medical professional and my advice is based solely on my personal experience. If you don’t feel safe, please reach out. You can speak to someone at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 1-800-273-8255, or you can do an online chat. You matter. ***