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I am not always very attached to being alive

Content warning: this essay contains vivid language about suicide and suicidal thoughts.

I wish there was a nicer way to say this, but I don’t always want to be alive. Right now, I don’t actively want to kill myself — I don’t have a plan, I don’t check the majority of the boxes on lists of warning signs of suicide, I have a life I enjoy and I’m curious about the future — but the fact remains, I don’t always feel strongly about being alive and sometimes, on particularly bad days, I truly want to die.

It’s been a long time since that statement felt anything but mundane. In middle school and high school, there were the morbid poems, the self-harm, the overwhelming emotions that everyone dutifully labeled teen angst. In college, there were nights when I drank too much and the protective barriers keeping my depression at bay faded to nothing and the thought came to me unbidden, as seductive as it was scary. I want to die. Eventually, I finally stumbled my way into treatment. After that, I celebrated each birthday with surprise because each age I hit was one I assumed I wouldn’t reach.

At 27, I’ve settled into a comfortable coexistence with my suicidality. We’ve made peace, or at least a temporary accord negotiated by therapy and medication. It’s still hard sometimes, but not as hard as you might think. What makes it harder is being unable to talk about it freely: the weightiness of the confession, the impossibility of explaining that it both is and isn’t as serious as it sounds. I don’t always want to be alive. Yes, I mean it. No, you shouldn’t be afraid for me. No, I’m not in danger of killing myself right now. Yes, I really mean it.

How do you explain that?

In the United States, nearly 45,000 people die by suicide every year, making it the tenth leading cause of death in the country. On average, there are 123 suicides a day. That’s not counting those who survive attempts — estimated to be about 1.4 million in 2017.

And those are just the statistics we can track.

What we don’t know is how many people live in the nebulous gray space between fleeting thought and attempt — those dealing with passive, not active, suicidal ideation. “Research on people who endure passive suicidal ideation is limited by this innate stigma that it’s a bad, wrong thing, so people are less likely to report it,” said Eric Beeson, licensed counselor and faculty member at Northwestern University’s Counseling@Northwestern whose research includes attitudes about suicide. Without self-reports, and in the absence of the hospital visits or attempts that help us track active ideation, it’s nearly impossible to measure.



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