Teetering on the edge of feelings I can’t stand for five weeks has taught me something else. One of them I’ve mentioned, but not in a way that seems adequately clear for my own purposes. The other one I haven’t.

They relate to suicidality and self-harming.

I’ve had a lot of suicidal thoughts and a lot of urges to self-harm, so I’ve had many opportunities to get to know them better. I have come to realize that suicidality—for me, and maybe for other people—is not about any of the things people say it is about. It is not about a desire to punish myself, it is not about guilt or low-self-worth or even despair about the future. Suicidality is non-specific. It’s like a cough: it could be from polluted air or typhoid or just a cold. Similarly, suicidal thoughts might result from feeling any one of those things I mentioned earlier or from something else entirely.

Suicidality is about one thing alone: I can’t fucking take it. Whatever the feeling inside—whether it is despair or guilt or low-self-worth or shame or sadness or disgust or whatever—it is too much. Suicidality is not an indicator of what I feel but only of how intensely I am feeling it. Suicidal thoughts indicate the intensity of that feeling is just way, way too much.

I am quite sure about that.

The other thought about self-harming, and I am less certain of it, but I’ll give it a go anyway. The desire to self-harm is about communicating pain. We get to a state when words seem to fail use, when we are too overwhelmed to figure out how to use them, and maybe when it seems no one will hear us. But we are social creatures. We still want to speak. We want to articulate our internal state. Our internal state is one of pain and often confusion. The pain might be about rage. It could be about something else. I felt the urge most often as a result of rage, but I might have felt it about other things as well. This is less clear in my mind—it happened less and I can’t remember it as clearly.

But the cut or a scratch or a gash or whatever you feel like doing might just be a way of saying, “I hurt. Please listen. I don’t know how to explain the pain I am in, but just please someone listen anyway.”