When suicidal thoughts first popped into my head they were more like fantasies the way you might fantasize about pretty much anything as a teenager. Getting that boy/girl of your preference to notice you, winning a competition or just dreaming up the proper comeback to an insult from the day before. I don’t remember when it first popped into my head, and as someone who wrote bits of fiction for fun starting from a very young age I didn’t think anything about it, taking pills to never wake up was just another idea like the one about meeting the goddess Athena or time traveling to New York’s Gilded Age. I wrote little stories of people who just up and took their own lives for no particular reason. I saw the scene in my head and I wrote it down.
Suffering suicidal ideation and suffering from it are two different things. When you suffer something, you go through it but you’re not necessarily in agony. (I swear the phrase “suffer fools gladly” has been much abused.) You suffer traffic to get to work on time, you suffer your boss’s small talk before the metting starts, etc. But when you get sick the misery is expressed as “suffering FROM headache and fever.”
Suicidal ideation is probably the least miserable indication of depression I suffer. I’m so used to the thoughts playing like a montage of videos looping on the walls at the back of my mind I forget they’re A Thing. Everyone fantasizes, right? About sex, about winning the lottery, about beating a rival…I do that and have my death mixed in. I can lean into the fantasy like it’s anything else and really flesh out the details, or just leave it running in the back and give it as much attention as I give the hum of my laptop. What I can’t do is turn it off. I must suffer it to get to my conscious thoughts.
Well, you could always hang yourself!
Yeah, we found this rope! –Bad Idea Bears, Avenue Q
What I can’t stress enough to people who don’t suffer ideation is that I really don’t want to kill myself. I’m not fantasizing because that’s what I want to do – which, I realize, is the stark difference between dreaming of taking my life and dreaming of getting some action.
This is where the thing about buying eggs comes in. Say you have a shopping list in your mind and you’ve just been so freaking busy you haven’t had time to write it down. So you recite it to yourself over the course of the day so it doesn’t slip away that you need to go to the store. But every time you get to the line with eggs you think, “oh wait, my roommate just picked up some eggs last night so I don’t have to buy any eggs.” And you carry on with the list. But the next time you think about grocery shopping eggs are still on the list and you have to go through the whole recall that you don’t need to buy eggs all over again. This happens over and over and over until you start to get a little infuriated with yourself, but you’re already driving to the grocery store so you can’t write down the list for the pleasure of crossing off “eggs.” And then you’re shopping and you slow down at the section with eggs and all you can do is roll your eyes at yourself, maybe shake your head at your weird memory, and keep on shopping.
On the one hand it doesn’t feel like a big deal to me, particularly compared to days when I can’t get out of bed, feeling numb, feeling frozen or aimless, being unable to enjoy things everyone else loves or those really dark times when I’m not fantasizing. At those times I’m studying the fantasy, comparing it against a checklist I’ll call “Do I really want to do that? No? Why not?”
On the other hand the ideas are there ALL THE TIME. I am constantly on the verge of going shopping and constantly having to remind myself I don’t need eggs. CONSTANTLY. I think to myself, “okay what do I have to get done next?” and the answer is always something like, “go to the gym, read this book, fix the broken light, email the director, kill myself, fix a snack, check with my friend about when we’ll get lunch.”
See if you can find the item in the list that sticks out like eggs I don’t need to buy.
I’m constantly crossing it off when it pops up in my mental to-do list, but like the most persistent case of mood herpes it just won’t go away. It pops up more often when I’m feeling anxious and when I’m super stressed and frustrated the thoughts get more intense, until they crowd out other thoughts… And then when things go really pear-shaped I have very little energy left to keep crossing suicide off my to-do list.
I start to feel like I should buy the fucking eggs to get them off my list.
But I won’t.