First and foremost, I have to say that I love my new therapist. Last night, she put it to me that when I called her initially, I left a message that essentially sounded like this: “Hi! My name is Rachael. I’m a very happy person who is chronically suicidal. Please help me to not kill myself. Have a great day!”
If that didn’t ring with truth, I don’t know what does.
We’re only on our second session, and we’re already getting down to the nitty gritty of what’s got me in an existential choke-hold. I figured, I can’t be the only person in the world who is dealing with this kind of stuff (in fact, I’m sure of it), and I wanted to share what I’m learning with the rest of the world for a few reasons: (1) typing all this stuff out helps me reinforce my learning (2) typing it out keeps my mind active and off of my automatic negative thoughts about myself and (3) I genuinely want to help other people who are suffering too.
Automatic Negative Thoughts (or ANTs)
There are thoughts that occur as a reflex in your brain when you’re not doing anything. They happen all on their own. You don’t want them to happen, but they happen anyway. They’re automatic! And they’re negative. And they happen to everyone. It’s natural. We’ve got to fight them in order to be healthy and okay. Your ability to fight them determines your level of okay-ness.
What’s happening with me, with my suicidal thoughts, is that I’ve not been fighting my ANTs, and they’ve been taking control. Fortunately, a person is always in control of his or her behavior, and because of that, I have been able to control my behavior and make the choice not to harm myself! And that is a good thing! Something to be celebrated! 🙂
Here the ANTs come marching…
- All or Nothing Thinking – Sometimes called “black and white thinking” If it’s not perfect, I am a failure
- Over-generalizing – Seeing a pattern based on a single event or being overly broad in the conclusions we draw. Nothing good ever happens
- Mental Filter – Only paying attention to certain types of evidence: blocking out the good and noticing failures but not seeing your own successes
- Disqualifying the Positive -Discounting the good things that have happened or that you have done for whatever reason
- Jumping to Conclusions – Mind-reading (imagining we know what others are thinking) or Fortune Telling (predicting the future)
- Magnification (catastrophising) & Minimisation – Blowing things out of proportion or inappropriately shrinking something to make it seem less important
- Emotional Reasoning – Assuming that because we feel a certain way, what we think must be true. I feel embarrassed so I must be an idiot.
- Using “Should” and “Must” statements – Critical words like “should”, “must”, or “ought” can make us feel guilty or like we have already failed. If we apply them to others, the result is often frustration.
- Labeling (or name-calling) – Assigning labels to ourselves or others. I’m a loser; I’m useless, etc.
- Personalization – Blaming yourself for things that are outside of your control. Taking responsibility for thinks that aren’t completely your fault, or conversely blaming others for something that is your fault.
Ways to challenge Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs)
Below is a list of questions that can help you to challenge the negative thoughts:
- What evidence do I have for and against this thought?
- If a friend was in a similar situation and asked me for advice, what advice would they receive from me?
- What’s the worst that could happen? How terrible would that be?
- Is it true that I really “should?”
- Am I overgeneralizing or explaining my thinking with experiences from my past?
- Other than blaming myself, is there another explanation for this thought or situation? Am I really the one to blame?
- Can I find another, more positive way to look at this situation?
- Does thinking this way help my situation or does it make it more difficult?
- Do I really have control of this situation? Am I really in control?
- What meaning will this situation have tomorrow, next week, next month or next year?
- I’ve been in a similar situation before. How did I handle it then?
An Idle Mind Is the Devil’s Playground
This is where my work gets hard.
I have a lot of “free” time. When you are idle, that’s when ANTs creep up on you. So it’s my responsibility now to not sit around and let myself think too much. It means that I’m going to have to challenge my desire to sit on the couch. It means that I’m going to have to make myself do things, regardless of how sad I’m feeling and consistently remind myself that I am in control of my behavior.
It means no more 3 hour naps, trying to while away the hours until Adam gets home. It means cleaning when I don’t feel like it, and practicing guitar and piano, no matter how awful I sound on either of those instruments. It means opening the blinds even though it is grey and cloudy outside, taking Brisco for walks around the block even though it’s colder than a witch’s titty in a brass bra. It means forcing myself to be busy. Because busy doesn’t let the bad thoughts creep in.
Life is Hard
I saw a video today by a motivational speaker that was addressing a high school after one of their students had committed suicide, and it had a very important message for everyone in it – something that I had forgotten after all the years of just trying to cope with seizures and being happy that I had gotten to the point that I was able to just be okay with them… and that is that life is hard. It’s supposed to be.
So, I’m okay with the fact that it is going to be challenging to keep myself busy and mentally engaged, when the easy way out is to let myself sit and ruminate with negative thoughts. Am I looking forward to doing the dishes, making the bed, doing the laundry, vacuuming, or practicing my instruments? Not particularly. But I’d rather not break down crying again and think about ending my life either. It’s a give and take. I can tell you this much. I’m going to try my best. That’s all I can do.