How to Improve Mental Health by Releasing Shame Surrounding Dark Thoughts
Allow Me to Preface This Post
This post is part of a new series I’m working on relating to mental health. Previously I’ve been writing primarily about health from a biological and scientific perspective. True Health and Vitality are produced not only by eating well, but also by embodying mental, emotional and Spiritual balance.
What I’ve written here is somewhat dark and has the potential to trigger some people. My intention for writing this is simply to offer my perspective from a place of authenticity. This is definitely not an article created for everyone and certain people who have never been through serious depression might not be able to relate to this at all.
Dark fantasies–even thoughts surrounding one's own death–are a normal human experience.
I personally struggled with depression for over 10 years of life and am very familiar with these types of thoughts. In my experience, there’s actually nothing wrong with having them as long as a certain line does not get crossed. They are just thoughts, not to be indulged in per say, but to be allowed to pass through the mind with acceptance. By trying to suppress them, or even lying to ourselves about having them, we give them more strength, and worse, we create feelings of shame within ourselves.
My Experience With Dark Fantasies
I used to think about killing myself a lot. Not in a serious sense, like I didn’t ever actually want to to kill myself, but I still thought about it a lot. I think some people who struggle with depression might know what I mean when I say that.
To me these thoughts were addictive in a sense and they manifested themselves in a few unique forms. When feeling extremely depressed I would hear that clicking sound in my mind, like the one heard in movies when the villain cocks the gun as if to say, “I’m really serious now, this thing is loaded!” I would hear that sound and visualize a gun; the kind police officers carry.
I would also have recurring thoughts of putting a rope around my neck while standing on a tall bridge. It was always the same bridge and it wasn’t even a bridge I had ever been to in my life. These two specific thought forms repeated for many years. Always the same images, in the same sequences, with the same sounds. They weren’t the only thoughts I had around death, but they were the most frequent.
The reason I’m sharing these detailed descriptions of my thought forms relating to suicide is that I want to normalize this experience for people. I think it’s a common human experience to think about killing oneself–or at least dying in general–not in a serious sense with real intention to act, but as a kind of dark fantasy.
Why Might We Fantasize About Death?
Death is one of the greatest unknowns. It seems to be one of those things that we will never fully understand until we experience it for ourselves. In a certain way it is how a virgin might fantasize about sex. Before I lost my virginity I was obsessed with the idea of sex. What teenage boy wasn’t? It was an unknown so wild fantasies abounded relating to the topic. I think the same phenomena can occur with death because we are all ‘death virgins’.
For me, when I would fantasize about my own death, what I was really doing was entertaining the idea of escape. My life sucked, or so I would tell myself, and I wanted out. In my opinion death is like a reset button for the soul. Who doesn’t want a reset button for life? I’ve thought a million times, “Man, I really screwed up on that one! Where’s the reset button? Do over please!”
So in my experience it wasn’t that I actually wanted to die, to shoot myself or hang myself, what I really wanted was a do over. I saw myself as broken and dirty. I thought there was something wrong with me. I felt like, because of my painful past, I could never be whole again in the future.
This is one of the of the most convincing lies our minds can tell us. It’s a seductive lie because it allows us to pity ourselves. Self pity serves a purpose in that it allows us to be victims. When we’re victims we don’t have power, so in other words, we don’t have to do anything to make a change. We’re victims and it’s not our fault. Of course we’re not actually victims, there’s really no such thing, because being a victim is just an idea; a state of mind. That’s why it’s called the victim mentality.
It’s only possible to be in the victim mentality when we believe the lie that we can never be happy and whole in the future because of our past. So, instead of uncovered the lie–seeking Truth–we can easily become seduced by this enchanting reset button of life; the dark fantasy of death.
How Can we Know if a Line has Been Crossed?
There is definitely a line, however, when it comes to suicidal thoughts. What I’ve been describing–dark fantasies–are totally different from real suicide thoughts. Dark fantasies are for sure a gateway to the real deal, but there is a big difference.
Planning for directed action is when a line has been crossed. Making a plan, even in the realm of thought, to actually take action–whatever that might look like–is a major warning sign. Some examples of direct action would be giving away a prized possession to a friend or writing a suicide note. This is evidence of planning for one’s own death. Further down the line comes actions which would be necessary to actually killing oneself like buying some kind of poison, a gun, or a rope.
It’s useful to know the difference because by recognizing these signs we might be able to help friends or family members who have crossed that line. Most people however, when they think about killing themselves, are not actually even remotely close to doing so. I’m not saying that to marginalize people’s experience with depression, I’m saying it because I know there is a difference, and I wish someone would have told me that a long time ago.
The Shaming of Depression
I think there is a lot of shame in our modern day culture around even having such thoughts. I can remember thinking things like, “I shouldn’t be thinking about this. I live in The United States, I have a loving family and I have all the food I need. I should be happy. I don’t deserve to be having these thoughts because my life situation could be a lot worse.”
So many people feel shame, just like I did, about having dark or suicidal thoughts. I was really good at pretending to be happy, or at least ‘okay’, back then. I’m envisioning a culture in the future where it wouldn’t be weird to tell a friend about having these kind of dark thoughts. Wouldn’t it be nice to share our inner experiences without the fear of judgement? People always say, “How are you?”, and the answer is usually ‘good’, ‘fine’ or ‘okay’.
This question, which is supposed to be a genuine inquiry into how another person is feeling, has become a programmed response. Someone once greeted me with the question, “What’s up?”, and I actually responded, “Good”, because I was so programmed to expect to be asked ‘How are you?’.
Wouldn’t it be so freeing to be asked ‘how are you’ and be able to respond, “I feel awful. I’m having a bad day.” Some people would respond that way to a close friend, but not everyone. Especially in the younger generations, based on my own observations, it seems to be getting to a point where any kind of sadness is actually socially unacceptable! Isn’t that why people try so hard to show everyone how happy they are on social media? (We all do it from time to time).
By becoming more authentic in the way we relate to other people we can create a society where people actually feel connected to one another. Feeling shame around thinking about death, or even fantasizing about it, is a big part of this. So next time that dark fantasy comes up, realize that it’s not that weird, and more importantly, there’s nothing wrong with having it in the first place.