Don’t Believe What Your Brain is Telling You
When your mind is telling you that you should end your life, chemical imbalances inside your brain have created a distorted view of your present and future circumstances. This distorted view of life means that you are likely to see yourself, your experiences, and your future in a negative way. Comedian Lily Tomlin echoed this mindset when she said, “Things will get worse before they get worse.”
Just as an underweight person with an eating disorder may look in the mirror and see themselves as obese, those who are in the grips of suicidal despair cannot see themselves or their circumstances clearly.
When I was suicidal, my therapist told me, “Douglas, don’t believe what your brain is telling you. Your brain is under the influence of a ‘drug’ called despair, which is distorting its view of reality. As a result, your feelings of hopelessness do not accurately reflect your true potential for recovery.”
Psychologists call these distorted perceptions “cognitive distortions.” I’ve listed some common ones below to help you see how they can take hold in your thinking. If you identify with any of these beliefs, it is important that you challenge them and replace them with realistic beliefs. To help you see how your distorted perceptions can be changed, I have placed an empowering belief after each distorted perception.
Distorted perception #1:
“I Am Trapped And There Is No Way Out. Ending My Life Is The Only Way To End My Suffering.”
When I was suicidal, I felt as if I was in a tunnel with both exits sealed off. If you feel trapped and see no way of getting out of your pain, you may conclude that suicide is the only way out. In this case, it may seem that taking your life would be not an act of self-destruction, but an act of self-love.
“Whatever I Am Feeling Right Now Won’t Last Forever. I Have Other Options Besides Dying By Suicide.”
Even though you may feel trapped, everything in life is subject to change, including suicidal states. Thus, what you are going through is not going to last forever. Circumstances can shift more quickly than you might imagine. If you can keep yourself alive, unexpected good will come into your life.
Distorted perception #2:
“ I Am A Burden To Others.”
It is true that having a mental illness can affect friends and family. As a result, you may feel like you are a burden to others. For example, your distress may prevent you from earning money, and you may be financially dependent on others.
“I Deserve To Be Cared For.”
When people struggling with suicide have told me that they were a burden to others, they have not realized that people who were supporting them were doing so because they cared. Another way to release your sense of burden may be to imagine you had a physical illness such as diabetes or cancer. Caring for someone with mental illness is no different than caring for someone with a physical illness.
Distorted perception #3:
“The World Would Be Better Off Without Me.”
To better understand this perception, I spoke with a friend who came very close to jumping from a bridge in 2014. I asked her why she thought the world would be better without her, and this is what she shared:
“I feel useless to others.”
“I am taking up space and air that someone else could use.”
“Other people would be better off because they wouldn’t worry about me.”
“Hearing about my pain is bringing them down.“
“When I die, my friends and family would move on.”
“I Have Value.”
You may conclude that the world would be better off without you. But is this true? The fact is that there is nobody quite like you, and therefore no one can take your place. You are special and unique as an individual.
You may think that you are just taking up space. However, you may be having a positive impact on others that you are not even aware of. When I attended the funeral of my friend, Scott, who died by suicide, over a hundred people attended. These were all people whose lives Scott had touched. Clearly, he was making a difference.
You may feel useless right now, but that is because your suicidal pain is distorting your sense of worth. Don’t underestimate your value to the world.
Distorted perception #4:
“I Have No Future. I See Nothing To Look Forward To.”
When people are suicidal, they see no prospects for their future. This is why my therapist once told me that suicidal thinking is “a failure of the imagination.”
“There Is A Better Future For Me; I Just Can’t See It Yet.”
In 1997, I wanted to die because I thought I was washed up as a writer. To my surprise, after I came out of my suicidal episode, my inspiration returned and I wrote a memoir about my experience: “When Going Through Hell… Don’t Stop.” In addition to writing my memoir, I was inspired to create a website on depression recovery; something I had never considered before.
The fact is that when people emerge from their suicidal episodes, all kinds of opportunities open up that they would not have imagined.
As survivor researcher Julius Siegal wrote:
“In a remarkable number of cases, those who have suffered and prevail find that after their ordeal they begin to operate at a higher level than ever before…. The terrible experiences of our lives, despite the pain they bring, may become our redemption.”