Suicide, utility and recovery

I’ve been dealing with suicidal feelings since my teens. After a particularly awful round last week, I was able to sit down and make a list of the persistent thoughts occurring to me around why I should kill myself. This was not an easy process, and when I’m not very close to these things I can’t readily access them and mostly don’t want to go there.

The list had themes, and I only saw them because I’d written them down. A few of them were about pain – physical and emotional and not being able to take any more. I’m fine with that. On its own, I can deal with pain and I also feel that wanting to die in face of a pain overload is a perfectly reasonable response. The thing to work on, if I can, is the pain. Most of the reasons were about utility – that I am not good or useful enough to be entitled to live. Some of them were stacked on that as issues of how I fail as a human being.

I note that every time I’ve kept going in the past I have done so on the basis of not hurting or letting down anyone else. It works in the short term but feeds the narrative that the worth in my life is my utility for other people. I need to stop doing that.

Philosophically, this outlook is bullshit. It’s not what I believe, it’s not my value system and I wouldn’t apply it to anyone else. It isn’t me – and I’d never really seen that before. It represents a way of thinking about people, worth, and life that I do not believe. It is not something of my making. It is, I realise, a consequence of what’s been done to me. After more than twenty years of living with these thoughts, this is a significant breakthrough. It changes who I think I am, and it changes what I think is happening when I fall into these patterns of thinking.

To be worthless as a person depends on having a way of measuring a person’s worth that isn’t simply that they exist. It raises questions about who is supposed to benefit from my life and what I am supposed to be for. Narratives that make a person all about their utility are intensely de-personning.  We live in a culture that does a lot of this, especially to the poor and disabled and to anyone disadvantaged.

I’ve also realised that these thoughts come up as panic responses, not as depression issues. Depression is just a miserable grind, but it’s not the thing trying to kill me. The dangerous stuff is what gets set off by high levels of panic.

I think it probably isn’t just me. I wonder how many people who end up wanting to die do so because their sense of self has been cripplingly injured.  How many people feel there is no point in living because they’ve been taught to measure their own worth in terms of utility to others? It’s also really hard to ask for help when you feel that you are suffering because you are worthless and useless. It’s hard to believe you deserve help, or that you are entitled not to feel awful, when the thoughts driving the experience are all about what a waste of space you are.

No one gets here on their own.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

18 responses to “Suicide, utility and recovery

  • potiapitchford

    I think most of us measure our worth to some extent by what we are to others and if you feel of no use to others…

    I am reminded of the John Donne poem ” No man is an island” and the lines “Any man’s death diminishes me,
    Because I am involved in mankind.”

    Equally every life should enrich us, not sure we recognise those connections at a deep enough level.sometimes.

  • Elizabeth Silvolli

    Our natural human need to contribute and enrich life has been subverted and perverted to utility, to a spread sheet, to a dehumanized industrialised reduction. This is real and happens daily to folk who are, for whatever reason, deemed not economically viable. The idea that we stay alive for our own sake and not to save our family from disistress or further a cause for “the greater good”is truly radical and subversive.

  • River

    Not sure what to say apart from I’ve been there and am sort of still there now, so sending solidarity to you. Let’s get through this and keep going.

  • Sheila Murrey

    I understand that “place.” I am glad you continue to Be. ❤️🦋🌀

  • Ladysag77

    My friend, I highly recommend reframing thoughts thoughts which are triggers in the same fashion you did, writing them down. I’ve explained to you that I too used to suffer unnecessarily from my own dark thoughts that created a ton of deep suffering. It’s an exercise i learned in DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) So for every thought you write down the more truthful and positive perspective. It’s the basis for shifting your perspective and unlocking your self imposed chains. Once you can shift your thoughts, your reality can shift as well. The human suffering is an illusion that fear eats up and spreads like toxic poison. Keep fighting my dear❤ love to you.

  • angharadlois

    I’ve been here and I feel this ❤
    I know that nothing I do will ever be enough to earn the right to be happy and alive, and I've grown to be at peace with this, because it's not a right that anyone can earn; that right is always inalienably ours, from birth, even if it's hard to feel it some days. Everyone deserves to be happy and alive – and 'everyone' by definition must include me, and definitely includes you. You're right, I think, that we don't get to places like this alone; it sometimes feels like we have to find our way out of them alone, but you have me & many others right here with you.

  • Donnalee of Kingston NY

    I’m sorry it’s hard. In a way, I have been superlucky because I’ve been dead three times in the last twentyish years, so I already have the spoilers of knowing that It All keeps going anyhow, so if I were to kill myself in the belief it would change a whole lot, I know yeah, it would change things on some level, mostly by freaking out the survivors and maybe making them do self-harm, but the existence still goes on, and if I feel freaked out and ungrounded now, it could feel a lot worse without the body as ballast, or if the feeling of ‘oh no–mistake!’ came up. It seems like the self-worth feelings of people have plummeted to sub-sub-zero in the last…oh, ten-fifteen years bigtime. It could be just that we are all having our own version of it, and/or picking up on the energy of others, or whatever, but any idea I had of self-worth was completely lost at that time after feeling like a person with integrity and healthy self-respect for decades. It’s only recently that i am sort of digging the remains out to see what’s here, and doing things that may seem silly, like starting to fuss about face lotions to make me look young again, but at least it’s ‘me’ showing a little interest in the incarnation thing. I hope you can find what makes ‘you’ feel better and like a ‘you’ you are happy with.

  • lornasmithers

    ‘I am not good or useful enough to be entitled to live’ – this is the main one that has come up for me too. In my late teens and early twenties I feared failing my exams at college and uni because without them I wouldn’t be able to fulfil the role I wanted to as philosopher lecturer thus my life would be worthless and I might as well throw it away. I realised that wasn’t the job for me in the end and tried to find worth working with horses then eventually as a writer. When my first novel went tits up was probably the last time I thought about suicide seriously as I could think of no use for myself then my god, Gwyn, showed up and he gave my life meaning and purpose as his awenydd. Without this I’d find it difficult to give myself a reason for being here. I struggle very hard with accepting my life is valuable in itself although I accept that the lives of others are. I know it isn’t logical…

    Thanks for talking about this. I think it’s a time lots of people are feeling low. Things haven’t been great for me either with the stress of COVID-19 affecting my prospects of finding paid work in conservation, mental health issues, and problems at home, and I’ve been troubled by the fact that such thoughts have been entering my mind again, although not to the extent I’d take them seriously. I think talking and sharing can help us feel we’re not alone. I don’t really speak about such things as I feel guilty and selfish when I know I’ve got so much to live for.

    • Nimue Brown

      I think I’m going to pick up that last point about feeling guilty and selfish around pain and come back for it next week – that could stand some deeper attention. To be in distress and to feel ashamed of that distress is another year of wounding, that nio one deserves. I am very glad that you decided to stay, and I hope you are able to find things that it is worth staying for.

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