Suicidality: Impulsivity vs. Planning

depressed-looking woman

People had a lot to say in response to my recent post Suicidality and Other People’s Perspective, so I thought it would be good to have another down and dirty chat about the reality of dealing with suicidal thinking (and sometimes attempts). In this post, we’ll talk about the tendency to be impulsive and engaging in drawn-out, detailed planning. I won’t talk about specific methods, but I will refer to attempts, so skip this post if you’d rather not go there.

I first experienced suicidal ideation and attempted suicide back in 2007, when I had my first major depressive episode. I’m a planner in general, so it’s not really surprising that I was a planner when it came to suicidality. Back then, though, the thoughts and feelings were new and unfamiliar to me, so I didn’t really know what to do with them. The closest I came to an impulsive attempt was at a point during that year when I was barely managing to hold it together, and a major part of my support system suddenly stepped out of the picture (which ended up only being temporary). The suicidal thinking had endured for several months at that point, but that particular decision to act was prompted fairly abruptly.

I got sick again in 2011, but I didn’t start having suicidal ideation until a few months into that episode. At that point, it no longer felt new and scary. Since then, any time I’ve felt suicidal, it’s been a steady buildup without many significant spurts of impulsive urges. When things get to the point where I’m considering taking action, that’s when the planning kicks in. A pattern I’ve noticed is that I set decision milestones, although I’m not sure if that’s the best way of putting it. I make a decision that I can keep going until date A or thing B happens. If, when date A or thing B comes along and I feel like I can keep going but just barely, I will set date C or event D to reevaluate. If life still feels really unlivable, I might take steps to obtain means and set date C or event D as the next point to make a decision as to whether I can keep going to another target point or if things need to end.

Back in 2012, I was working at a job where I had weekends and every other Friday off. I decided that a Thursday night before a long weekend would be the best time to act, as that would give me the longest amount of time before anyone would notice my absence. For a couple of months, each Thursday morning before my Friday off, I would make a decision about whether or not I thought I could hang on for another two weeks. Eventually, it got to a point where I felt like I couldn’t.

Because I’m such a planner, I’m predictable to myself. I know I can endure extended periods of steady passive suicidal ideation (i.e. feeling like I’d be better off dead, but not making plans). I know that I can handle a couple of weeks of daily active suicidal ideation (i.e. thinking about methods) before I start setting decision milestones. I know that if I set a decision milestone, I’m not going to act before I reach that next target. Other people may unwittingly have an influence by delaying when a target event happens.

While I don’t tend to be impulsive, others do get intense impulsive suicidal urges that can be really hard to resist, and there’s a whole wide range of thoughts and emotions in between being mostly impulsive and mostly a planner.

So that’s me and my weird rigidity. Where do you tend to fit in on the range of impulsive to planned?

Straight talk on suicide - graphics of phoenix and semicolon

The Straight Talk on Suicide page has crisis and safety planning resources, along with info on suicide-related topics from the perspective of someone who’s been there.

61 thoughts on “Suicidality: Impulsivity vs. Planning”

  1. Funny to read this: I actually sort of ended up thinking that this planning versus impulsive binary is absolutely fundamental for suicide enactment. I’ve had suicidal ideation a lot, but never acted on it because I am both a planner and a perfectionist. I wanted to know that I’ve made the right choice, so I reflected on it a lot. I wanted something pain free, which requires research etc. Apparently I wanted to do a great job at suicide 😛 The fact that I ended up thinking that impulsivity is key to actual suicide attempts was also strongly influenced by a psychotherapist I had been seeing for years back in the day. She had direct experience with people who attempted suicide, and funnily enough, she thought I would never attempt it because I am not impulsive – i.e., all of the suicide attempts she knew about were on a impulse. Not sure if this is correct (that planners attempt suicide less), but it’s an interesting topic to think about.

    1. Interesting thought about planners attempting less. I don’t think planning stops people from attempting, but I can see it translating to fewer attempts.

      I research, but for me, it’s not about perfectionism per see and more that I don’t want to have to deal with the repercussions of a failed attempt, which would most likely involve hospital. Even at my most suicidal, I would rather do nothing than do something that’s likely to fail.

      1. I feel similar about not wanting to fail if I decided to try. Though I am not sure anybody actively wants to fail, but giving a lot of thought to not failing might also be a planner’s thing (not acting impulsively means you actually have the time to think about how not to fail). So then it looks as though it might even out (maybe planners try less but succeed more), but it’s just hypothesis for now, not sure if there’s research on the topic.
        I do find it immensely sad that someone (including me) would consider ending things…as perhaps you do too, and many others alike. I think it’s valuable to talk about it, for this very reason. It’s kind of a wake up call in a way, for us as a society too.

  2. I am normally an impulsive person, when it comes to the attempts… but seeing I haven’t been successful, for past 2 years I have been planning. I have an age in mind I do not want to reach and am trying to find a way that will definitely kill me, maybe save mum from my car loan? and not hurt anybody else in the course. I am dreaming of driving the car off of a cliff to the sea or anything similar; there are not many high places in Belgium so I have to go south for this so I have to keep planning. Maybe crash into an old building that noone is living anymore? Idk yet where to find that.. but if mania/hypomania kicks in or if I am abusing “stuff” I still have the tendency to just step in front of a truck or jump of a bridge or anything sudden.

    1. At one point I had a plan to kill myself by crashing my car into something. I had thought it was a great plan, but then when I tried to do it, I couldn’t turn off the part of my brain that was screaming that driving towards something at high speed was BAD!!!!!!!!!

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