Know Your Enemy

I am obsessed with learning about depression, anxiety, and suicide. I believe that educating myself about the disorders I have helps me battle my dark thoughts. For many years I resisted the thought that I had any mental illness. I thought that mental illness was a “tough it out” illness; thing is, you cannot battle something you do not understand. So I endeavor to know the enemy within myself.

Edwin Shneidman

Edwin Shneidman

I discovered several books that helped me wrap my head around how a suicidally depressed person copes with thoughts of killing themselves.

The very first book I dug into was “The Suicidal Mind” by Dr. Edwin Shneidman. Dr. Shneidman was a professor of Thanatology (the study of death) at Emeritus University in Los Angeles, California, and “The Suicidal Mind” was the culmination of years of work studying suicide notes left behind by those that had committed their final act. 

This quote from “The Suicidal Mind” accurately describes what I craved while planning my death:

“Perturbation is felt pain; lethality relates to the idea of death (nothingness, cessation) as the solution. By itself, mental anguish is not lethal. But lethality, when coupled with elevated perturbation, is a principal ingredient in self-inflicted death. Perturbation supplies the motivation for suicide; lethality is the fatal trigger. Lethality - the idea that ‘I can stop this pain; I can kill myself’ - is the unique essence of suicide anybody who has ever switched off an electric light deliberately to plunge a hideous room into darkness, or with equal deliberation, stopped the action of an annoying engine by turning the key to OFF, has, for that moment been granted the swift satisfaction the suicidal person hungers for. After all, the suicidal person intends to stop the ongoing activities of life.”

The great thing about Dr. Shneidman’s writings was that he didn’t just lift the veil, he also described how to help a suicidal person:

“The sad and dangerous fact is that in a state of constriction, the usual life-sustaining responsibilities toward loved ones are not merely disregarded; much worse. They are sometimes not even within the range of what is in the mind. A person who commits suicide turns off all ties to the past, declares a kind of mental bankruptcy, and his or her memories have no lien. These memories can no longer save him; he is beyond their reach. Any attempt at rescue has to deal, from the first, with the suicidal person’s psychological constriction. The challenge and the task are clear: Open up the possibilities, widen the perceptual blinders.”

I had a definition of suicidal action (perturbation and lethality) and how to help myself (widen the blinders on my mind). That however, wasn’t enough. I needed more so I kept reading more books.

After reading about various experiences with mental illness and suicide attempts I no longer felt alone. I felt in the company of some truly remarkable people who experienced a traumatic event, but learned to overcome it.

These books lifted me up. It was no longer me versus the world. All of a sudden I had a whole bunch of people in my corner who had battled the black dog and came out of the fight stronger. The more I read, the less mysterious depression and suicide became. I learned that it was possible to successfully deal with my suicidal urges, and if other people had done it then I was certainly capable of doing the same.

Education leads to empowerment. The more you educate yourself about your mental illness the better equipped you become at dealing with whatever it throws at you.

There is a critical thing that I learned from all of my readings. I am not my diagnosis.

This is the most empowering concept that I learned. Not being my diagnosis meant that I could do something about it. It was possible for me to change and overcome the cards that genetics dealt me.

All I had to do was apply myself and fight like hell.