“We’ve got to get out of this place, if it’s the last thing we ever do.” – The Animals
“I don’t want to survive! I want to live!” Captain B. McCrae
[Note: This post plainly addresses my experience being suicidal. It could be a difficult read for those who have lost loved ones to suicide.]
I am suicidal.
I don’t want to die.
These two statements may seem contradictory but they aren’t.
I have lived with suicidal ideation, mostly passive, for as long as I have been symptomatic with bipolar. Passive suicidal ideation does not carry with it a specific plan and immediate intent to commit suicide, only the presence of suicidal thoughts. I experience these thoughts daily. Bipolar a deadly disease. Suicidality is a symptom. My doctors and I are working to alleviate this symptom.
Depression and suicidality are often associated with each other. While bipolar depression is a big part of my experience living with this disease and it is truly awful, rendering even the simplest of tasks nearly impossible, I have never been actively suicidal while depressed.
Suicidal ideation in mania is a much bigger issue for me.
The best way that I can describe mania is that it is like living with your soul on fire. There is an uncontrollable, uncontainable burning deep within you. That fire feels like it will burn everything and that there is nothing that can be done about it.
Everything moves fast. Too fast. Your emotional foot is stuck on the accelerator and there are no brakes or steering wheel. You’re constantly volatile, a bomb ready to explode at the slightest provocation. Emotions are impossibly intense. You go from ecstasy to agony and back again before you have time to process what you are feeling.
Everything is unpredictable and disorienting. I often have trouble remembering things when I am manic. I will make commitments that I have no recollection of making. Keeping up with my calendar becomes nearly impossible. What is in my head and what is firmly on the calendar are at odds with each other and it never occurs to me that my head might be wrong. I just curse the calendar and wonder how it got so screwed up.
I will say and do things that are not in character. I will not remember them and will accuse people of making them up. After the fact it is apparent that they were right and the combination of impulsivity and working memory issues made my recollection wrong. That doesn’t change the fact that, during that moment, my belief in my own faulty memory is resolute.
I experience both grandiosity and inverse grandiosity, often simultaneously. Grandiosity is the perceived inability to do anything wrong. When you experience grandiosity you feel like whatever you do will be successful if for no other reason than that you are the person that is doing it. It is like what I imagine living in Donald Trump’s head would be like.
Inverse grandiosity is the opposite of that. When you experience inverse grandiosity you feel incapable of doing anything right. It is as if all of your endeavors are doomed to failure because you are incapable of doing even the simplest of things correctly.
To experience both simultaneously is a horribly confusing experience. All things are held constantly in tension with each other. I can’t explain this experience rationally, but mania is not rational. It is the experience of thinking every thought and feeling every emotion all at one time, all while trying to keep yourself together while your soul is on fire.
Paranoia is also a huge issue in my experience with mania. When I am paranoid I accuse people, like my partner, who helps me navigate every aspect of my life with bipolar with nothing but my best interest at heart, or working against me. I have declared her my “enemy” more times than I can count.
I have also believed that other people are working against me. I believed that an employer was going to fire me any day. It tore me up inside. I looked very hard for evidence of this and finding none did not change my position in the slightest.
I ended up working that job for six and a half years, five of those years after that incident. I had a very good relationship with my boss and not only would he never have fired me, he would have been very sad to see me go if I left voluntarily back then. But in the grips of mania and the paranoia that comes with it, I had no access to reality. I only had access to the paranoid reality in which everyone was acting against me and I needed to uncover all of the ways in which they were doing so in order to be able to weather the storm.
Mania is an impossible way to live. I would be willing to do anything to not live that way. That is why suicidal ideation in mania is so terrifying. It only takes one bad moment to do something that cannot be undone, and in mania I have an awful lot of bad moments.
In those bad moments, especially, I am suicidal.
But I do not want to die.