The mice scattered as the beam of light illuminated their foraging. Fear twisted my stomach as I watched them scurry back to their hiding places in the woods. It was almost midnight, and I was lost in a National Forest.
Let’s roll back several hours. I had been asked to speak at a counselor’s retreat in a small town called Randall, WA. After working a long day, I looked forward to taking a three-hour scenic drive with my daughter who had decided to accompany me. Watching the colorful fall trees whiz by my window began to relax me. A fun weekend retreat would be just what I needed until I took the wrong turn.
In that one moment of a bad decision, my fun was about to turn into a nightmare. Upon driving into Mt. Rainier National Park, we lost connection to GPS. As we drove along enjoying the views, quiet alarm bells began to go off in my mind. Something wasn’t right.
Pulling off the road, we consulted the paper instructions which made no sense whatsoever. What we could determine was that we were on the wrong mountain, but not having GPS we weren’t sure where we were, so we decided to push forward in the hopes of getting back into cell service range.
The sun was hanging low in the sky and there was no sign of anything. My biggest fear besides spiders is getting lost. My insides twisted with anxiety. Turning a corner, we spotted a single rusty gas pump and a little store.
After filling up the gas tank, my daughter and I went in with our shabby little map and showed it to the woman behind the register. With a sympathetic look in her eyes, she shook her head. “You’re two hours away from the turn-off that will lead to Randall. Then it’s another two hours until you reach the town. You’d best grab some food from that restaurant over there because there’s nothing past this point.”
Fighting panic, we thanked the lady and grabbed some dinner to go. By now, darkness had blanketed the forest. Trying to remain calm, we slowly picked at our dinner. I stared bleakly at the barely visible road ahead of me. It seemed to wind upward and disappear into the unknown. Ahead, lights shone in my eyes but appeared to be stopped. I couldn’t tell. One pair belonged to a semi-truck and the other a car.
My brain was trying to determine if they were stopped in the road or if they were coming toward me, but before I could finalize my thoughts a sudden movement out of the right corner of my eye made me react. Slamming my foot on the brakes, my daughter was launched forward in her seat, her hamburger and fries flying to the ground. Looking up, I stared with astonishment. A big fat pig was inches from my bumper!
Angry shouts sounded outside. A man stood by the passenger side window dressed in black screaming obscenities at us. Behind us were more pigs. We were surrounded! I prayed a silent prayer for protection while the man continued to yell and wave his hands in threatening gestures. Once he corralled his animals off the highway, he waved us on. Shaking with fear over what could have been, my daughter and I continued on into the black night.
Several hours later, we saw the blessed sign for Randall. I didn’t care about arriving at the camp. All I wanted to do was to hole up in a motel and wait until morning to complete our trip, but Randall had nothing but a gas station. With GPS still gone, we consulted our “map.” There was a fork in the road (you can see where this is going).
We were once again lost in another forest. The darkness was thick and oppressive. Fear gnawed at me. Visions of headlines flashed through my mind, Mother and Daughter Found Dead in the National Forest. A light flickered in my rearview mirror. I watched with excitement as three cars drove behind me. They must be other counselors who are arriving late! I thought. We all drove on.
My moment of relief was short-lived when I realized that something wasn’t right with the map and that maybe they weren’t counselors. Making a quick decision, I pulled to the side of the road, jumped out, and waved my arms. It’s so dark out here. I could get run over! It was a chance I had to take. Seeing me jump up and down, the caravan of cars pulled over. Taking a chance that they weren’t a group of serial killers, I ran over and explained where I was trying to go.
Again, I received a sympathetic look and a shake of the head. Feeling defeated, I walked back to my car. Slowly turning our car around to go back the way we had come, I looked once again in my rear-view mirror. This time I watched as the red taillight disappeared. I couldn’t breathe.
The darkness was so hypnotizing that I lost all sense of direction. Hope was gone and all that was left were the mice, twisted trees, and blackness. I felt trapped with no way out. Darkness was behind and before me. I was caught in a vortex of nothingness.
This is a description of how people struggling with suicide ideation feel. They often feel lonely, desperate, trapped, frightened, lost, abandoned, and grief-stricken. Darkness is all around them in their thoughts and emotions. It’s like being lost in the National Forest only it’s being lost in their mind.
Some warning signs that a loved one might be experiencing suicidal ideation are saying goodbye, giving away things, lack of participation in things that used to interest them, isolating, sadness, experimenting with self-harm, and changes in music. Most often though, there are no warning signs.
Who’s at risk? According to the CDC, people who have experienced violence such as being in a war, those who have suffered from child abuse, bullying, sexual violence, drugs, and those who had a loved one succumb to suicide ideation and commit suicide. Suicide is often believed to be an unselfish act.
Those who are left behind to grieve would disagree with this statement, but those who struggle with these thoughts think that they are being unselfish. Lost in the darkness of despair, people believe that they are helping their loved ones out by sacrificing themselves.
Watching someone battle suicide ideation is terrifying. If you notice that something is off, ask your loved one if they are having suicidal thoughts. You’re not going to run the risk of putting thoughts into their head that aren’t there. That’s a myth. If they already are having these thoughts, then it will come as a relief that someone is acknowledging it and allowing them to talk through what’s troubling them.
Next, distract them. They will get caught up in the logic of it. Usually, the need to follow through on suicide ideation is for only a moment. Draw up a contract for safety. This might help them to think first before reacting. Then find out if they have a plan and have the means to kill themselves. If they have both call 911 and remove the means.
If your loved one successfully follows through with their suicide ideation, there are three things that you need to remember:
- You can’t stop them if they’ve made up their mind to do so. (You can distract them)
- There may be no warning signs
- You are not to blame
My daughter and I eventually made it to the camp. What was to be a three-hour trip turned into a six-hour trip through the darkest night. When we arrived, we found a man still waiting for stragglers. Coming out to hand us our packets, he began to explain how to get to our cabin. Far across a dark field glowed the welcoming cabin lights, but all I could focus on was the darkness in between.
Noticing our discomfort, the kind man offered to show us the way. With great relief, we followed him closely as he led us out of the darkness and into the warm glow of the lights. If you or a loved one is struggling with suicide ideation, you are not alone. Contact me or another counselor at Seattle Christian Counseling and let us help lead you out of the darkness and back into life.
Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255