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Content note: This article discusses suicidal ideation and may be upsetting to those who have lost a loved one to suicide or those who struggle similarly. Mental health issues and suicide are highly individuated medical conditions, and obviously this extended metaphor will not apply to everyone. It is presented as both a source of potential understanding and empathy to those who know or care about someone who struggles with suicidal ideation as well as a source of camaraderie for those who are struggling or have struggled with them. You are not alone, no matter how alone you sometimes feel, and there is always hope, even if you can’t feel it or see it right now.
Suicide is a tricky, slippery concept. For some people, a suicidal impulse may form suddenly and prove to be overwhelming unless appropriate interventions are made. For many others, however, suicidal ideations are an ongoing part of day-to-day survival. In addition to navigating society and attempting to physically keep oneself alive, those who struggle with suicidal ideations have to constantly do battle with themselves, with this terrible tickling time bomb that lives in their brains, all the while trying to seem normal to others.
It’s like living with this oozing, gaping wound on your stomach. You can’t really remember if there was a specific moment when it arrived or if it slowly formed and got worse over time, but there it is. You talk to your doctor about it, but they either recommend a specialist who can’t help either or prescribe a medicine which may keep it from oozing but won’t really close the wound. It’s still raw, painful. It’s still a major temptation for you to pick at the ragged edges, try to remove some of the damaged flesh, but it seems impossible to heal it. In time, you learn that you just have to adjust your life around it,
Thankfully, since it isn’t infectious and is only a threat to you, no one holds you in quarantine. But that also means you can’t get medical leave from work for it, can’t qualify for disability while it heals. Instead, you’re expected to keep it covered with clothing when you’re in public, which you do, and just suppress any evidence of your symptoms. However, people, even total strangers, can still jostle it, can still jam a finger or an elbow into it or push you into a sharp edge on a building or a piece of furniture and leave you gasping, breathless, in untold amounts of pain. Some days it happens over and over again, draining all your energy and hope. You might try to bandage it, maybe cover it with rudimentary armor to defend against casual irritation of your ever-present wound, but it either fails or falls off, leaving you as vulnerable and hurt as you were before.
At first, you lean on the people closest to you: a spouse/lover, a close friend, your family. But over time, especially as weeks turn into months and months turn into years, even the kindest person tires of hearing about it. After all, they don’t have a weeping, painful wound at the core of their body; to them, it’s a strange and foreign concept. “Get over it,” “toughen up” and “stop being dramatic” become mantras that they will offer you in response when you reach out to them during a particularly bad outbreak of ooze. “See a doctor,” they snarl, as though there’s some miracle pill that will close up your body, stop the pain, and help you be whole again. Part of you wants to scream that it isn’t that easy, and if it were you would have done it already. Maybe, sometimes, you do. It’s an easy way to alienate people and to irritate your wound.
You might, because of these perceived rejections, attempt bonding with other people also struggling with pustulous, painful injuries that can’t be healed, seeking them out in real life or online, just to speak with others who understand. But then, you may well find that your wound often forces empathy upon you; another person describing their current injury and symptoms can easily set your own wound off on a fresh, weepy bout of painful twinges and inflammation.
In time, you may find yourself avoiding in-depth socialization entirely. After all, it’s getting harder and harder, as the years wear on, to find clothing that covers the wound without irritating it. All too often, even hugs with well-meaning friends can lead to a painful flare-up. You sometimes look down while out in public, only to realize that your shirt is clinging to your wound, soaked in the viscous secretions that pour forth when it is irritated.
At some point, you just want the pain to stop. You want to be like other people who can laugh and hug without concern of personal injury, but you’ve also given up hope of that, as you know that somehow this wound defines you now, owns you, controls your daily life. One morning, you wake up and realize that you’re no longer looking forward to anything, you’re just counting down the days until this wound takes your life, because it’s no longer an “if” but a “when.”
My wound had been oozing and pussing and undermining my life since I was a teenager. I’d struggled with self-harm and suicide attempts before that, but it became a daily battle for me early in high school. Everyone around me had suggestions about how to minimize the oozing, the symptoms, but no one had any idea of how to get it to go away. In fact, therapy often seemed to make it worse, turning the occasional outpouring of fluids into a constant stream of pain. The only thing that kept me going was the constant promise from everyone that things would get better as I aged. They didn’t.
My mid-range life goals were the only thing really forcing me to function on a daily basis. Once high school, then college were under my belt and finished, I was faced with the harsh reality of our society: I was expected to be a conforming cog in a corporate machine somewhere, and this wound was definitely going to keep me from being able to do that.
After college, I tried to bandage myself up and pass myself off as uninjured. It worked, somewhat. I was able to get a stable job, but the subtle nastiness of office intrigue rubbed my wound raw every day, leaving me wincing and breathless, unable to see a future that didn’t involve crippling daily pain. It was in this situation that cannabis first became a part of my life. I would smoke after leaving my soul-sucking second shift job. For the first few weeks, I looked forward to the numbness that it brought, the feeling of the wound being if not gone at least silent, the lack of sharp-edged memories that I could later use to hurt myself while lying awake at night.
In time though, cannabis users develop a tolerance, and I was no exception. Instead of being borderline catatonic after sharing a smoke with a friend, I found myself able to converse, to laugh, to watch network television like a moderately normal human. My wound was still there, throbbing and sore, but I was able to alleviate the pain in the evenings and was sleeping better than I could ever remember sleeping in my life. On the rare occasion that my ideations flared up uncontrollably, a few tokes would have me calm enough to set aside my intentions at self-harm. For years, cannabis acted as a pain-reliever, sleep aid, and metaphorical bandage, helping to minimize my symptoms and serving as an emergency pressure-release valve when the pain was overwhelming.
Numbing the pain, however, is not the same thing as dealing with the source of the pain. For me, the turning point came when I finally dug to the root of my pain, figured out when I had accepted the idea that I would inevitably kill myself. Picking at the scabby edges of the wound wasn’t helping; I was going to have to excise lots of tissue, stick my fingernails in the gaping wound, and pull out whatever deep-set splinter was keeping this wound open.
Cannabis was invaluable to me during that process. Unable to afford therapy and wary after years of mediocre sessions, I dug deep into myself with my own two hands. At first, it just left me raw and bleeding, crying over my own core, curled up into a ball of useless tears and sticky, scarlet fingernails. Cannabis was useful for providing me with a calmer perspective and steadier hands while I was picking at my own tissues, my own issues. It helped me calm down and sleep when I was done for the day too. And then the day came, finally, when I clasped the tiny, sharp shrapnel that had pierced me so long ago, leaving me hurt, prone to injury, emotionally defenseless. It was hardened from years of pressure, but there it was, formed of unhealthy internalizations and self-created heartbreak, finally in my hand and not deep in my gut.
It has been well over a year since I seriously thought of killing myself, despite being in a less-than-optimal place in my personal and professional life. I have gone the same period of time without cutting myself, burning myself, pulling out my hair or raking my nails across my skin with such ferocity that I scar myself. Even without access to cannabis, my symptoms have receded. I can say with certainty that that is the longest I have gone in my entire life without a flare-up of my constant companion, my aching, gaping stomach wound. There’s still a scar there, but it doesn’t bleed anymore.
What it does is remind me of how strong I am, to have felt all of that pain and come out the other side. That scar reminds me of how the others I know who struggle through life with their wound still open, still hurting, are still battling with a ferocity that those who have never experienced it can never fully appreciate. Those who live with suicidal ideations are not weak and selfish; they are incredibly brave to keep going with little sense of hope, and they are incredibly selfless to continue giving their love to those around them, even though it makes them that much more vulnerable to the crippling, omnipresent pain.
Living with suicidal ideations can feel like a half-life. The specter of your own powerlessness, the lack of overt compassion and cultural understanding and the perceived apathy of those around you suck the joy and beauty out of daily existence. Cannabis can offer relief that no other medicine can for those who struggle with suicidal thoughts. Not only can it serve as an emergency stopgap measure in moments of emotional crisis, but it can facilitate the exhausting, painful process of healing the wound itself. Those who hurt in such a deep, ongoing way should not be denied the small modicum of comfort that cannabis represents. They should not be made into criminals or called drug addicts if they turn to cannabis to find relief and healing.
Some people may spend decades excising rotten tissue and digging to the core, the seed of their pain. The very fact that they keep trying, keeping reaching out, keep fighting, is proof of their strength, of their power. They deserve love and support throughout their process, however long it takes, and they should be allowed to undergo that process on their own terms and timeline. May all those who struggle with the pressure of suicidal ideations find comfort in their loved ones, in their tiny moments of personal joy, and in the hope that some day, the wound may finally close.
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