When you're in the gray area of being suicidal

I woke this morning but didn't want to. My back was stiff. My legs were sore. Knots riddled my calves and crept up my thighs, and my head pounded. Too many beers, I thought. Too many drinks. But the real reason I didn't want to wake up was because I was tired of waking up.

My mind was shattered. My body was exhausted, and I was depressed. Every day I pray I'll close my eyes for the last and final time.

Of course, I am not alone. Millions of Americans live with depression. It is a common illness. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 7 percent of the US population has—or will experience—depression in any given year.

But there is more to my depression then sadness, sorrow and changes in my sleep. I live with chronic suicidal ideations. I regularly fantasize about death, and my own demise.


Make no mistake: These thoughts aren't glorified or romanticized. But I think about suicide regularly. Instinctively. The ideations come on like a cough, hiccup or sneeze. I think about suicide constantly. On bad days, on sad days, and even on good days. I consider what would happen if I drove into oncoming traffic or if, on my morning run, I kept going to the end of the island and jumped off the Verrazano bridge.

And while you might assume thinking about suicide means I am suicidal, that is not the case. I am depressed and sad, but these feelings are not fatal. I do not want to die.

Confused? Me too. But that is what it's like to live in the space between. In the "gray area" of suicide. You are at peace with dying. The thought brings you relief. There is an out—an end to all the hurt and pain. You feel comforted by these thoughts. Suicide soothes your broken soul, but that is because your pain is so great you don't know how to cope.

It's a form of escapism. Fixating on death seems easier than fixing yourself.

Kathryn Moore, a psychologist at Providence Saint John's Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, California, tells Welcometoterranova many patients experience similar thoughts, known as passive suicidal thoughts.

"Passive ideation includes thoughts about death and dying that are vague, such as 'I wish I could go to sleep and never wake up' or 'I wonder what it would be like to be dead'... while active suicidal thoughts place a person at moderate to extreme risk of harming themselves because they have both thoughts and a plan."

"Active suicidal ideation is present in someone who has a plan and/or drive to carry out their plan for attempting suicide," Haley Neidich, a licensed mental health professional and practicing psychotherapist, says.

That said, while there is a distinct difference, there can also be overlap, i.e. passive suicidal thoughts can become active. For that reason, you should always take these thoughts seriously.

"If you have passive suicidal ideation, you should talk about it with others and/or your therapist to increase... your social support, problem-solving skills, and to create an active treatment plan," Moore says.

And if someone tells you they are having thoughts of suicide, you should take them seriously.

"Ask what the thoughts are specifically," Dr. Gail Saltz, an associate professor of psychiatry at the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine and host of the upcoming Personology podcast on iHeart Media, explains. "Do they wish they weren't here (passive)? Or do they have an idea of actually killing themselves (active)? If they have an active idea, ask if they have a plan. If they do, do they have the means? If they do, take the means away... like if they have a gun, pills, etc. The point is it's always better to ask and remove access to a plan than to shy away from the topic."

Some might worry that asking a person with depression about suicidal thoughts might push them toward it. But that's not the case.

"You don't give a suicidal person morbid ideas by talking about suicide," Help Guide—a mental health nonprofit and wellness website dedicated to empowering those living with mental illness(es), and their loved ones—states. "Bringing up the subject of suicide and discussing it openly is one of the most helpful things you can do."

That is what I do. I reach out to my psychiatrist and psychologist regularly. I try to be honest with my family and friends, and I say the words "suicide." I admit when I am struggling and when I am not okay.

Does that mean the thoughts have gone away? No. Because of my mental illness, I live in dark places. I often wade through thick fog and grey spaces. But I keep going. I keep fighting, and I don't give in—or give up.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255, visit SuicidePreventionLifeline.org, or text "START" to 741-741 to immediately speak to a trained counselor at Crisis Text Line.
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