Existing for others is not enough

A frequent response to those contemplating suicide is to remember friends and loved ones, how much one is needed and how much one would be missed. Some people have a sense this statement is true and that the depressive emotions are inaccurate, so seeking therapy, medication, or riding out the episode will result in returning to whatever emotional mode is typical. Others don’t believe this sentiment, and they potentially live the remainder of their natural life in despair or decide to commit suicide. I imagine there are more responses to “don’t commit suicide because people love you,” but the above mentioned are the common ones I’ve encountered.

Prior to chronic pain, I was content to seek therapy, medication, and ride out suicidal thoughts. Having a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, in my experience, prompts mental health professionals to respond quickly to suicidal thinking. I’m personally okay with being sedated out of my mind because of an antipsychotic for a week or two until I can return to my usual self, but I’ve always been presented with that as a choice and it’s one I’ve made on more than one occasion. I love my family, and I figured one less death by suicide in our ranks was a good thing so I was going to do what worked for me to stay happy.

I have this way of gauging depression and mania, and it’s related to insight as defined by mental health professionals. It took almost ten years of mindfulness practice to learn to do it. If I can stop the wordy mental chatter for a few minutes and notice emotions and physiological processes that I experience when my mood is off-kilter, it might be time to call a psychiatrist. I have no idea if that makes sense, but I find it effective.

Then came a time when I wanted to die and those emotions and physiological processes weren’t there. I could still have fun doing activities I enjoyed, my appetite was okay, no weeping, no euphoria, no rage, nothing out of the ordinary. Except wanting to die. I had spent my late 20s in incessant pain, and I didn’t like the idea of potentially living decades with snapping ankles in my tendons and feeling as though I had taken a nice, long walk on a stones. Fingers that stung, elbows that had felt as though they had been bludgeoned, and a lower back muscles in constant spasm. I knew I was capable of living a productive life while in pain, people do, many of whom live in more discomfort than me.

I just didn’t want to live. Simple as that.

My mind went to the “don’t commit suicide because people love you” statement. I sent my therapist a rambling e-mail at three in the morning (I’m a night owl), listing all of the good things in my life and how I wouldn’t commit suicide because I didn’t want to hurt my husband and my daughter but somehow I just did not want to live like this for decade upon decade. To sum up her response, she suggested I create my own reasons for staying alive.

After reading her reply, I realized I felt as though I was living solely to avoid causing emotional harm. While it wasn’t a bad reason, it wasn’t enough. It was then I found myself tasked to determine what made my life meaningful. The most terrifying aspect of it was not that I didn’t see inherent meaning in life, which would unnerve a lot of people. It was that my existence was contingent on accepting what I have lost to chronic pain, and what I will never have because of it.

C. Elizabeth Modelewski is a graduate student.

View 16 Comments >