Handling Suicidal Feelings in ME/CFS

There are two distinct sources of emotional disturbance in ME/CFS. One is the “somato-psychic” aspect of ME/CFS–the fact that the disease process affects the neurological system, altering brain chemistry and, consequently, emotions. The other is the psychological experience of having to adjust to living with a chronic illness.

It is not uncommon for people with ME/CFS, especially with the more severe cases, to have suicidal thoughts or feelings. This is entirely understandable and nothing to be ashamed of. In a sense, it represents the inner child’s desperate wish to escape from a seemingly impossible situation.
When suicidal thoughts or feelings arise, the most helpful thing you can do is express them. Preferably, there is another person with whom you can share this, but if not, at least write about these feelings in a journal. The simple act of putting these feelings into words, while not completely eliminating the feelings, will bring about some relief.

Through such expression, some of the emotional charge will be released and it will be easier to put the feelings into perspective as the transitory symptom that they are. This is a time when interpersonal support is especially important. Ask for physical contact and the moral support you need from those who care about you. If suicidal feelings or ideas persist, then you should talk them over with a professional therapist who is informed about ME/CFS. Beyond that you may need to consult your physician to consider medication to help you through this crisis.

Two former PWC’s offer some valuable insights. According to Laurel, “I thought about suicide. I was getting a divorce, and everything was going wrong–my health, my business, my finances–and I didn’t think I’d ever get well. I thought, `What good is life if I can’t provide for myself? Even if someone takes care of me, why lie around in a body like this, sick, lonely, and unable to think of a way out?’ I didn’t try it, but suicide was very attractive to me. The most positive step I took was to open up to my friend about it. We talked on the phone several times a week, and we invited Godin to participate in a healing process. This was the beginning of my recovery.”

And Linda tells us, “If you survive something like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and don’t commit suicide, you have a greater inner strength than you ever had. It was like a trial by fire. That’s what I experienced.”

If you can remind yourself that the suicidal thoughts or feelings are transitory and symptomatic of the illness, this will help you get through those times when you are in the bottom of the pits and can’t see any way out. Also, talking about your feelings with a confidant or loved one can help immeasurably.

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Written by William Collinge MPH PhD

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