Possibly one of the saddest moments in my entire story revolves around a post-it note.
During a particularly dark time in my life, sometime in early 2011, I wrote a series of 3 suicide post-it notes. This is something I haven’t really shared with anyone.
I was completing my Master in Social Work, I was about to start my final placement. I was working as a Teaching Assistant, attending classes and taking care of my kids. On the outside I was functioning, but on the inside I was consumed with depression. Looking back, I know a good part of the darkness was being caused by my increasing unhappiness within a sexually abusive marriage. I began to feel like I had exhausted every option for recovery, every medication, every type of therapy, every treatment program and as a parent of two young kids I felt I had even fewer options. I felt trapped and disconnected from myself and the ones I loved.
I don’t remember why I was upset or what happened that day, I do remember I wanted the pain to stop. I was home alone, the kids were at school or daycare. I saw a pad of yellow post-it notes one of the kids had left in my bedroom. On it I scrawled three separate notes, one for my husband and one for each of my kids. The notes basically said “I love you ___” and had a heart drawn under the words. They looked like innocent little notes, the kind family members leave for each other to wish them a happy day.
But to me those were the most tragic post-it notes in existence. In that moment where nothing was really making sense, I was saying goodbye.
I did hurt myself that day, but I went to the hospital to get it taken care of. I didn’t tell the hospital staff about the post-it notes or about my despondent thoughts. I let them fix me up and I went home. I rarely discussed my suicidal thoughts in the Emergency Room unless I wanted to be admitted to the hospital.
When I got home my family was there and so were the post-it notes, unassuming and cheerful yellow papers. But seeing them reminded me of my dark plans. I hated those post-it notes with great passion. They made me angry every time I saw them, but luckily anger was at least a feeling and not just numb emptiness.
The post-it notes stuck around the house for months before I finally threw them away. I won’t ever forget them though. They are a symbol of just how little anything ACTUALLY makes sense when you are severely depressed. Things that seem logical in the moment are completely ridiculous and nonsensical when you are feeling brighter. Choices that seem like the only option are revealed as unhelpful and fatalistic when you are recovered.
It’s important to hold onto this realization. When you are severely depressed you are not thinking clearly. When you are starved from an eating disorder you are not thinking clearly. When you are triggered and in the middle of flashbacks you are not thinking clearly.
Don’t make decisions that could harm you or someone else when you are not thinking clearly. Chances are you might regret it when you are calmer. If possible focus on grounding and self care, or get help from others if you realize you are not thinking clearly.
Suicide wouldn’t have solved the problems in my life, it would have passed them on to my children, my parents and my close friends. I can say this now, but I know for a fact that in a dark place I just won’t care. The only thing I will think about is getting the pain to stop.
Luckily, in recovery, I know that depression is temporary and impulses to harm myself are passing thoughts. Suicidal thinking and gestures are symptoms of depression and PTSD for some people. Thinking about suicide can be a normal coping reaction to surviving violence. Just thinking about suicide is not necessarily dangerous. Sometimes it can be a way of feeling in control of something, which is actually a method of self preservation. It is necessary to challenge the self destructive behaviours, but I try not to judge myself for the thoughts.
At the end of the day there is no difference between a person who sometimes thinks about suicide and one who does not. There is not a special “crazy” class of folks who contemplate dying. Suicide doesn’t discriminate. Anyone can have the thoughts and it doesn’t make them weird, dangerous or a person to be feared or shunned.
Suicide survivors walk among us.
Sometimes the best thing you can do for a friend who contemplates suicide is to allow her to talk about her thoughts and impulses and listen without panicking and without judgment. Validate her, let her know that you are sorry she is feeling SO awful that she feels life is hopeless. Allow her to explore the thoughts with you, or encourage her to talk to a counselor, support worker, crisis line or doctor. It isn’t your job to save her, it’s your job to be her friend. Thank her for trusting you. Let her know you care. By letting someone talk about suicide, you are reducing shame and creating a connection.
Connection is the opposite of depression.