For the first time in my life, I don’t feel safe. There have been times before when I was in danger. I’ve been in two car accidents. I’ve been in blizzards and hurricanes. But this is different. Those dangers were external. They weren’t a part of me. This feeling is internal and feels deeply personal.
When I say I don’t feel safe, I’m talking about intrusive thoughts. Basically, an intrusive thought is an involuntary thought, it pops into your head for no reason, and it’s usually disturbing in some way. Intrusive thoughts are fairly common with mental health disorders. I’ve written about them before, but it’s never been like this.
In the past, the intrusive thoughts have always been about things beyond my control. Images of tripping and falling down a flight of stairs, car accidents, getting fired, etc. This time, the intrusive thoughts center around things I’m in control of. I was at the mall the other day. You know how the mall has the wide-open spaces on the second floor? There’s no floor in the middle of the level? Well, I couldn’t bring myself to go up to the second floor because all that was in my head was an image of jumping over the railing and splatting all over the hard first floor. What I was picturing wasn’t an accident, there are railings designed to prevent accidents. And no one else was involved, no one threw me over the railing. I jumped in the image. It was an intentional act by me. Those kinds of intrusive thoughts are called suicidal ideations, and I’ve been having a lot of them recently. When I’m driving, I can’t help but think that all I have to do is pull the steering wheel a little to the left and I’d be in a head on collision. It would be easy.
When these first started happening, I didn’t tell anyone. I thought I could handle it. I thought I was supposed to be able to handle it. (My partner pointed out the difficult space at the intersection of masculinity and mental health. I’ll have to write about that sometime.) After four or five days, I realized that I couldn’t handle it. The thoughts kept coming and nothing I tried stopped them. Finally, I talked to my therapist about it. (I want to insert a joke here about how she told me to grow a pair, but it would conflict with the tone of this piece.)
My therapist started asking me questions. At first, they were pretty standard, what I expected. How long has this been happening? What are some of the thoughts you’ve had? Have there been any changes in your life recently? Things like that. Then, she asked me something I didn’t expect. She said, “Why haven’t you done it?”
I didn’t know how to answer at first. It was a good question. A little blunt, but good. I had to think about it for a while. At last, I said, “Because I don’t want to.” I didn’t say anything about my kid or responsibilities or everyone I’d be hurting or anything like that. There was no, “I have so much to live for,” feeling. I just don’t want to kill myself. It turns out that for the first time in recorded history, “I don’t wanna,” was the right answer. Any of the other answers could have been red flags. This helped convince my therapist that I wasn’t in immediate danger. Next, she asked me if there was anywhere that I did feel safe. My answer was that I feel safe right here, on my couch, in my house, with a blanket over me. That was another good answer. If you’re going to feel safe anywhere, home is a good place.
Then, we started to develop a plan. It included things like taking the week off of work, telling people I know and care about, and calling my prescriber. Calling my prescriber was the easiest part of the plan. We changed up my meds a bit. Telling loved ones was hard, a lot harder than you’d think. It’s embarrassing and emasculating to admit something like this. Hardest of all was telling work. It was a bad week to miss, and I don’t usually share such personal things with my boss. I told her the truth, though.
I’m also trying to use various grounding and mindfulness techniques to rein my thoughts in. I’m carrying a guitar pick around in my pocket. When I start feeling triggered, I can run my finger over the edge of it. It gives me something to think about outside of the triggers. I’m doing breathing exercises. I’m tuning into my five senses. Things like that.
My therapist and I talked about an intensive outpatient program (IOP), but we haven’t made a decision on that yet. They can be very effective, but it’s a huge time commitment.
So, if it’s embarrassing and emasculating, why am I telling you all this? There are a few reasons. First, I’m committed to advancing the mental health conversation. Second, I’m a writer. This is what I do. Third, it’s therapeutic. I get some catharsis from explaining my feelings to someone, even if that person is only an online stranger. I wish this never happened and I want it to stop. But since it did happen and hasn’t stopped, I might as well see if any good can come out of it.