A Difficult Question

I’ve been asked whether I’ve thought about hurting myself a lot in the last six or seven months, always by medical professionals.  The short answer is no, I haven’t thought about it.  And that’s the honest answer for why I’m being asked.  They want to know if I’m a suicide risk, and I am not suicidal.  But the act of asking the question makes the real answer complicated.

It feels strange writing about this.  It feels strange even having an opinion about it.  I never thought I’d reach a point in my life where questions about self harm would surface.  The first time I was asked, I was surprised, maybe even shocked.  I couldn’t imagine why my doctor would be asking me that question.  I’m fairly certain that if no one ever asked the question, the idea of hurting myself would never have occurred to me.  When asked the question, though, how can I avoid thinking about it?  I’m forced to entertain the notion, even though it’s a completely alien notion.  Then, the next time I’m asked, how do I answer?

If I answer, “Yes,” it might be technically truthful, but it would be highly misleading.  If I answer with a simple, “No,” it feels more honest, but less truthful.  The question usually arises in the context of a checklist (Sleep?  Appetite?  Drink?  Drugs?  Motivation?  etc.).  This makes a nuanced answer seem inappropriate.  I want to be both honest and truthful, so I dread the question now because it causes a lot of stress that I really don’t need.

I sometimes, but far less often, get variants of the question.  I’m asked about feelings of hopelessness or if life isn’t worth living or if the world (or friends or family) would be better off without me.  Even though I know they are getting at the same thing, I much prefer the variants.  They are far easier for me to answer.  These questions aren’t circular like asking if I’ve thought about something.  I can think about them all I want and, “No,” can still be the most truthful and honest answer.  I wish I could just substitute one of the variants when asked if I’ve thought about hurting myself, but for reasons that are beyond me, I can’t.

Of course, I don’t want them to stop asking the question, even though it causes stress.  I fully understand why they ask.  And I genuinely hope that anyone who has thought about hurting themselves is honest enough to get the help they need.  I trust that the doctors have a lot more experience in these matters than I do and that they know the best way to assess their patients.  It might make me uncomfortable, but in the scheme of things, that’s a small price to pay for saving someone else’s life.

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