This article is part of the Here. Now. essay series, which seeks to de-stigmatize mental health treatment, and improve accessibility to treatment and support for teens and parents in metropolitan New York.
I am a more compassionate parent to my son because I live with suicidal thoughts. And it took me until this moment to realize that.
Since trying to end my life over 15 years ago, I have seen a lot of doctors, tried a lot of different therapies, and a lot of diagnoses have been given to me and then rescinded. And I’m sure at least three people who read this article will diagnose me with something new through the Facebook comments and/or ask me if I’ve tried yoga or kale smoothies. Yes and yes. Thank you for caring.
Through all the treatment and diagnoses, the one thing that is certain is that I live with Constant Suicidal Ideation. Will it one day go away? I’m working on it.
Being a parent and living with the thought of wanting to end my life is scary. But just like you can’t lose weight just by thinking about exercise, you also can’t die just by thinking about suicide. This sucks for the exercise part, but is a great reminder and comfort when it comes to living with, and working through, suicidal ideation. There is only one way living with these thoughts can harm my son, and that is if I follow through on them.
And while I would be more than content to not have these thoughts, is there any benefit to them? Yes, and I realize it over and over again as I parent. Because the part of my brain that goes from zero to kill yourself in two seconds is in many ways a struggling child that needs different messages then it is getting. What it takes me to get through this disease is what I want to equip my son with to thrive in life.
I don’t know that many people would buy a book called “The Suicidal Parent’s Guide for Raising a Child,” but they should. In it they would learn that when your child is frustrated, no matter how sweetly you tell them to “calm down,” it won’t be half as meaningful as letting them know there is nothing wrong with feeling frustration, that frustration is how we learn what we want to change in our lives to enjoy them more.
They would learn about resilience. These days resilience is a big parenting buzzword, and that’s because it is invaluable. If you want to live but your brain is constantly telling you otherwise, you learn resilience happens when you tell yourself, or your child, “Here’s something that scares you; I know you can handle it.”
They would learn, most of all, that there is no shame in feeling any emotion, no matter what it is. That instead of saying to your child, “Oh no, why are you sad?” you should say, “I will sit with you while you’re sad, we can moan together.”
I have often viewed this disease as a curse, and I won’t go so far as to say it is a blessing. But I will say we can learn a lot from curses. Curses teach us how to take care of ourselves and also how to be empathetic towards others. And that, more than anything, is what parenting is. And the only way I get to parent is by staying alive.
This post is part of the Here.Now series, which seeks to destigmatize mental health,
and is made possible by UJA-Federation of New York and The Jewish Board.
You can find other educational mental health resources here.