I remember the first time I experienced suicidal ideation. It was my sophomore year of college, during my first depressive episode. I was sitting in my apartment, alone. I’m fairly certain it was a Friday night. It had been a rough day, though I don’t know the specifics. Every day that year was rough. I was tired but in the grips of insomnia. I’d stay awake all night then sleep all day. I battled alternating feelings of self-loathing, hopelessness, and apathy. That night, despair had me in its grasp. And the thought came, so clear I remember the sound of that inner voice to this day: “I want to die.”
Flash forward to Bean’s birth. When I got to the hospital, the nurse started off by asking me all kinds of questions. Toward the end, she said, “Have you ever felt like you wanted to stay asleep forever and not face life?”
I said yes, then expressed gratitude the hospital asked that question. It took me over a decade to realize that feeling is suicidal ideation. For so long, I didn’t realize what I experienced all those years ago in college was a suicidal thought. Suicidal thoughts are wanting to kill yourself, or so I thought. Me, Kris Atkins, well-versed in mental illnesses. How many other men and women do as well, who aren’t as familiar?
I continued struggling with these feelings. “I just want to sleep forever.” “I just want to give up. I’m broken and exhausted.” “I want to die.” I continued to tell myself these weren’t suicidal. I’d been actively suicidal before, in brief, intense periods. But this was different. Wasn’t it?
Three years ago, I finally searched. There’s passive and active ideation. Active is the one we’re most familiar with: wanting to kill yourself, making plans, etc. What I experience regularly is passive. It’s still dangerous. It still damages your soul, rending your heart, body, and mind. It is a burden, and one too many of us bear. And it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
I can say, with full confidence, that my children have saved my life. If I didn’t have them, I would’ve attempted suicide years ago. But every time suicidal thoughts pull me into the mire, I consider my boys. I could never saddle them with that burden. What would it do to them to have a mother who completed suicide? I hold onto that thought like a rope and drag myself out. Because of them, I am alive.
I don’t say this to worry anyone. I have a good support system. I know when I’m spiraling, and I have enough discipline to ask for help. And I don’t say this as a play for attention or pity. We all have demons. As I encounter others with similar struggles, I feel less alone. I share this hoping to shed the light of empathy and understanding.
Suicidal ideation doesn’t always look the way you think. And people who deal with it don’t either. I have a happy marriage. I have a stable family. I live in the suburbs. I smile a lot and go to church and laugh easily and shower daily and exercise regularly. No one would assume I deal with these thoughts.
But I have a chemical imbalance, an illness. Suicidal ideation is a form of insanity. Sometimes I’m mentally unwell. Sometimes I’m insane. Sometimes I’m weak. But I consider myself a healthy, sane, strong person. I bear this burden day in and day out. Sometimes it’s light enough I forget it’s there. Sometimes it’s the size of a mountain, grinding me into the ground. It never lifts from my shoulders.
But I’m still fighting. I’ll never stop.
Suicidal ideation is nothing to be ashamed of, but it does need to be addressed. If you need help, please reach out. You are loved and you are worthwhile.