“Delaying the Inevitable”- Pessimism in mental health support

Trigger Warning: This whole post is about themes of suicidal thoughts and responses to them. There isn’t anything graphic or too detailed, but don’t read this post if that theme’s not a good idea for you. 

I have a strange history with the word inevitable. One one hand, it’s a warning sign. It’s the red flag which warns me I’m about to lose days to the thoughts rattling around my head and blocking everything I care about. When I start to believe that returning to the past is inevitable, that failure is guaranteed while everything good that’s happened since was just temporary solace- that’s how I know a bad time is imminent. When things are bad, the word inevitable gets lodged in my mind, poisoning everything I experience. But at one point, the phrase “delaying the inevitable” was the most helpful thing I’d heard for months.

In 2012/2013, a few people realised how serious my situation had suddenly become and tried to help. They promised positivity, hope, and lights at the end of tunnels. But while I appreciated their support, I couldn’t believe them. At the time I was in such a dark place that I saw their efforts and mine as futile – suicide was a “when”, not an “if”. My perceptions and theirs were separated by an unbridgeable chasm. My mind twisted their words, turning their hope into a form of pressure – a belief that I had to be continually improving from that point, so that I didn’t disappoint them. So that they didn’t get frustrated and believe I was choosing to stay that way, then leave. And so that they didn’t get hurt when I inevitably succeeded.

However, in a conversation a few weeks later, one friend gave me a different message. He said that he was fully aware that everyone’s attempts at support may just be delaying the inevitable, but he would be there anyway…

That might sound pessimistic and cynical, maybe even hurtful, but for me it was a relief. The phrase confirmed that my friend had considered the alternate options. He’d imagined a future much closer to the one in my mind, and chose to be there knowing that bad future could play out and could make his efforts meaningless. As a result, his words didn’t get twisted in the same way, and didn’t turn into the same friendship-impeding pressure.  While everyone else’s positivity was unreachable, his measured middle ground was a little nearer, enough that I could almost understand it.

Returning to the present:

That may have sounded like an incredibly negative period of time, which it was, especially for the people who took on the role of support at an age where they shouldn’t have had to. Personally, I don’t remember much about that time besides my friends’ support- if anything, they probably had more to deal with than I did.

However, looking back at at that time, I now understand that everyone else involved had probably considered the bad ending too- they had been showing me optimism, not naivety. Thinking about it more deeply, my own reaction to people having suicidal feelings had been very similar to my more positive friends – I used to react with fear and pleading, trying to get them to reconsider, trying to encourage them to look for hope.

The one useful thing that 2012 taught me was how I might improve my response to others in the same situation, in theory.

  • I learnt that it’s very difficult to create an unambiguous message, that depression can twist and distort almost anything into its own fuel.
  • I learnt that certain words, phrases, or reactions- “inevitable” and a few others in my case- take on lives of their own and meanings of their own in relation to the issues.
  • I also learnt that you need both sides of the coin, positivity and negativity, to make sense to people – that enforced positivity can come across as superficiality rather than comfort.

For me, the lesson appears to be that running with a suicidal person’s negative outlook, to an extent, seems more beneficial than solely encouraging them to focus on positivity. However, I’m not 100% whether this can be generalised to anyone other than myself, because explanations and responses are uniquely personal and context-dependent. I also assume that the line of how much negativity vs positivity to include would depend on both the person recieving support and the type of relationship they had with the person giving support, which makes this even more complex.

Personally, it seems like I needed to be at that point, and feeling that way, in order to understand what words might help. But I do wonder whether effective responses can be taught, and whether someone who has never been in that situation can learn enough to understand it deeply without first-hand experience. It’s something I want to learn more about, both out of intellectual curiosity and so that if I’m ever in the position of supporting someone again, I can be a better help to them.

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