There have been multiple times I’ve been driving down the road, seemingly peaceful and bobbing my head to the radio, when a thought creeps into my head: what if I just veered my car into oncoming traffic? What would happen? Who would I injure or kill? Would I die, or be the sole survivor?
Occasionally while making dinner, I will glance at the knife block on the counter and have the thought, “what if I took that knife and just jabbed it into my neck?” Then flashes of images of me lying on the floor, blood pouring from my neck as I gurgle and gasp for air, wondering if my roommates would find me in time fill my mind. Usually this gives me the shivers, and I have to audibly tell myself to find something else to focus on.
These are just a few of the horrific thoughts that fill my mind on a regular basis. They are a byproduct of depression. When one feels hopeless and pointless, their mind starts finding things that reinforce those feelings, leading to dark thoughts and impulses. “Why would it matter if I die?” their mind says. “You might as well just finish it now. There’s no point in waiting.”
The thing about dark thoughts is that everyone, even people who aren’t depressed, have them. It’s a natural thing to do. The human brain is designed to make predictions and ask questions. Sometimes those questions are better left not asked aloud, and the predictions better left to the imagination. However, when one suffers from depression, these dark thoughts push themselves to to forefront of our consciousness, demanding rumination. This leads to obsession, and eventually action, upon those thoughts.
The thoughts also don’t always revolve around death or suicide. They can be as simple as “what if I just kick that cat?” or “I really just want to bash my head on that wall.” They can also encourage uncharacteristic behavior or even outright illegal acts. It is these thoughts that are dangerous to not only those having them, but those around the person having them. What is worse is that many do not have the will to fight those thoughts and proceed to get into deep trouble, which only adds to the pain.
So how can you deal with these thoughts without obsessing about them? The first step is recognizing when you’re having them. Sometimes it requires me to stop what I’m doing and say aloud, “I am having this thought/impulse. I need to move past it.” With most dark thoughts, this is enough. At the very worst, finding something more positive to distract yourself with usually lets these thoughts fade into the ether.
If the thought persists, the next step is to ask why you may be having this thought. Are you particularly anxious at the moment? Feeling restless or distracted? Has a recent event made you angry, scared, or sad? Finding the thread that connects your having the feeling and an outside stimulus can help you drop the thought by cutting the thread. Address the underlying issue instead of ignoring the thought.
If all else fails, find someone to talk to. Let them know about the dark thought you’re having and make sure they know that you’re well aware of what would happen if you acted upon it. An understanding ear can help you by letting you follow the thought process leading up to that thought, shedding light on another issue that might need addressing. A comforting hug and a reassuring word can ease your anxiety about having such terrible thoughts.
Getting the thoughts out of your head by talking about them helps, but if there isn’t someone around to listen, journal about it. Get the thoughts on paper, make them tangible. Read them over once you’re done writing them with a critical eye. Sometimes seeing things in writing will help put the pieces together as to why you had the thoughts in the first place. If they are too disturbing to keep, destroy the page. This can give you a feeling of successful purging of the horrifying thoughts and the confidence that you can beat them if they ever creep into your mind in the future.
Darkness is part of our human nature, but those of us who suffer from mental illnesses like depression are more prone to dwell on and act upon the terrible things that pop into our minds from time to time. Finding and honing the proper coping skills can help keep those thoughts at bay, preventing one from making a mistake they will most certainly regret. Avoiding short term, harmful coping mechanisms like drugs, alcohol, sex, and other addictive behaviors will only increase success in combating the darkness inside.