If you are feeling hopeless and you can no longer stand the pain, you might find yourself thinking, “I wish I could go to sleep and never wake up,” or “I just want to die.” Or you might be thinking of taking steps to make this happen.
Fortunately, in addition to the part of you that is considering suicide, there is another part of you that wishes to live. Nature and evolution have programmed you with an instinct for self-preservation, which the philosopher Voltaire called “the most powerful instinct of nature.”
One day, during one of my depressive breakdowns, I was walking with my best friend Stuart. I was complaining that my life was not worth living when suddenly, he pushed me out into the street and yelled to the oncoming traffic, “Put him out of his misery!”
I jumped back on the sidewalk and said in anger, “What did you do that for?”
“You see?” Stuart replied, “You really do want to live!”
At that moment, my instinct for self-preservation overrode my suicidal pain. So, in addition to the part that wanted to die, my survival instinct wanted me to live. This ambivalence resulted in a raging courtroom drama inside my brain. The prosecution would tell the judge, “Douglas needs to die. He has suffered most of his life. Can’t you see that he has had enough?” The defense would counter, “No, Your Honor. Douglas needs to live. There is still more for him to do on the planet.”
My struggle in deciding whether to live or to die is called ambivalence. If you are feeling this inner conflict, I want to assure you that ambivalence is one of the defining characteristics of being in a suicidal state. Here are some more examples of how ambivalence manifests in the suicidal mind:
In each of these four cases, the attempter’s survival instinct reasserted itself when the prospect of death became a reality. These stories are not unique. The majority of people survive their suicidal episodes because of their will to live and their tenacity to not give up. You are no different. As long as you are still here, your will to live is protecting you. And each day that you stay alive brings you one step closer to your healing.
It is normal to be ambivalent about choosing life or death when you are suicidal. Yet being in this kind of existential limbo is painful. Having to continuously choose between life and death can be exhausting.
Take some time to reflect on these questions, to clarify how this ambivalence takes shape in your mind.
You can write the answers down in a journal of your own, in this Journal Reflection page, or in a full Daily Survival Journal.