About a month ago, I was talking to a friend who’s having a really tough time with depression. When we got on to the subject of suicidal thoughts and how to manage them, I told her about the ‘I don’t want to miss’ game. But it was only later that I realised she’d seemed really struck by it… and this got me to thinking that maybe it would be useful for other people too.
Now, I’m sure lots of people who’ve struggled with mental illness and/or chronic pain will find that they already have their own version of the ‘I don’t want to miss’ game, but for those who don’t, here is a 5-minute lesson on how to play.
The thing about suicide is that while it can sometimes seem like the only way the pain (physical or mental, or both) will end – and you really, really want to miss out on all of that – you have to keep asking yourself ‘Do I really want to miss out on everything else?’ Because that’s what will happen if you die. It can be hard to remember that there’s anything worth pushing on for if things are bad enough, but that’s exactly when to stop what you’re doing for 5 minutes and play the ‘I don’t want to miss’ game.
Start small. Start with something that you’ll miss if you die that will – or at least could – happen before the day is out. I don’t want to miss tonight’s episode of White Collar. I don’t want to miss watching that anime DVD I’ve been saving for a rainy day. I don’t want to miss never eating a Swiss roll/cornetto again. Food is a really good place to start. If there isn’t any tomorrow, then why worry about eating something that’s bad for you and has almost no nutritional value? So go ahead: think big and disgustingly-bad-for-you. What food/drink would it be a pity not to have just once more? Now, make a plan about getting yourself this one thing from your little ‘I don’t want to miss’ list.
But don’t act just yet. You’ve got some more thinking to do first.
Now, turn your thoughts ahead to the rest of the week. What would you miss if you died today? I don’t want to miss seeing my best-friend and cousin again. I don’t want to miss the theatre trip on Saturday. I don’t want to miss my weekly book-group meeting. I don’t want to miss X book or Y film that’s out later this week. I don’t want to die never having stopped in that little shop/park I pass every day and never have time for.
Get planning again. If you don’t already have your ‘I don’t want to miss’ scheduled for this week, then decide which day this week you’ll organise it, even if you have to schedule ahead for the thing itself.
Think ahead a little more. I don’t want to be an absence at my friend’s wedding. I don’t want to miss A’s birthday, B’s anniversary. I don’t want to miss watching that box-set I’ve been saving. I don’t want to miss re-reading all of Diana Wynne Jones’ books. If you’re going to die anyway, what’s to stop you from quitting your job and just doing all these things? Couldn’t you put relief from pain off just long enough to enjoy these things first?
Now, before you start dialling your boss, there’s one more bit of thinking you need to do.
Look ahead still further. After those weeks or months you’re going to give yourself, what are you still definitely going to miss? I don’t want to miss seeing what my goddaughter is like when she’s a teenager. I don’t want to miss taking her out for a good meal when she’s a starving uni student. I don’t want to miss all the scattered days seeing my favourite people in the world: the days when my friends need something and I can give it. I want to be there for that. I don’t want to miss it. Neither do you.
Now, look: you’ve just thought yourself part of a lifetime into the future when 5 minutes ago when anything past ‘an hour from now’ seemed impossible. Even if getting through the next hour still seems unbearable, can you really bear to miss all these things you’ve just listed for yourself? Can you really bear to throw away all those ‘I don’t want to miss’es? Not to mention all the ‘I don’t want to miss’es that your friends and family might have that involve you.
Right, you’re nearly there now. This is where you have a good cry about how sucky life is right at this moment and how you just can’t bear it for another minute, let alone a lifetime. Get good and snotty. Make some ugly noises. Go all blotchy in the face. That’s it.
Now wipe your nose and go get yourself something from the very first set of ‘I don’t want to miss’es you thought up. If you’ve been doing too much comfort-eating, make it something that isn’t food/drink. If you’ve not been doing enough eating, try and make sure that it is. But give yourself just a little bit of something you don’t want to miss to remind yourself that some small good stuff is within reach. And that
there’s more just a little bit further on.
If it’s a really terrible day, put another ‘I don’t want to miss’ at the end of it as a reward before you go to bed. But remember that you don’t get more than two ‘I don’t want to miss’es in a day. Save some for tomorrow. And the day after. And the day after that. Sometimes even the smallest things on your list are enough to claw yourself through a day for. Drag yourself along from one ‘I don’t want to miss’ to another until you’re ready to lift up your head and look ahead to the bigger things that mean you have to stick around for longer.
It doesn’t matter how you get there. You just have to keep reminding yourself that sure, if you die you won’t suffer any more (depending on what you believe about an afterlife), but you’ll also miss absolutely everything else. Are you really sure there isn’t just one little ‘I don’t want to miss’ that can get you through the day to the bigger thing tomorrow and the best things of all in the future: seeing how the lives of the people you love play out and what your part in them will be.
And if you don’t have anyone to think ahead to, then make tomorrow’s ‘I don’t want to miss’ a plan to find someone to care about. There’s no shortage of lonely people in the world. Go and be an ‘I don’t want to miss’ for one of them until they become one for you.
So, there you are: the ‘I don’t want to miss’ game. It really is as simple as it sounds. And it really is best treated as a game rather than a ‘strategy for avoiding suicidal ideation’. Don’t try to avoid thinking about suicide when things are too tough: it’s like when someone tells you not to think about pink elephants. I say go ahead: think about it. Just make sure that you think about it thoroughly… because that means playing some sort of ‘I don’t want to miss’ game. By the time you’re through, it’ll stop seeming like a solution rather than just a way of cutting free of pain because you’re tired and desperate and need it to stop at any price. Because do you really mean the ‘any price’ bit? Isn’t there just one ‘I don’t want to miss’ you want to wait for first? And, oh look, it’s Friday and that show is on TV tonight and, oh, it’s just 12 hours till your best friend comes over and…
Even a tiny glimmer of something good – of ‘I don’t want to miss’ – might make things just tolerable enough to move ahead… That’s all you need for now. Just one little ‘I don’t want to miss’ and then another… and then the everything of a lifetime you haven’t missed because you managed to hold on.
BTW, it never hurts to be clear on all the good stuff – big and small – that’s up ahead, so don’t be afraid to play the ‘I don’t want to miss’ game even if you’re just a bit down. It works for little miseries as well as big ones, whether they’re psychological or physical.
It’s one of my most important techniques for dealing with chronic pain and has been a huge long-term help in keeping my use of painkillers to a surprisingly low level. On that note, and for the record, I’ve got all my ‘I don’t want to miss’ answers carefully catalogued and am fully planning to be immortal because there’s no way I’m getting through all the books ‘I don’t want to miss’ in just one lifetime. So, I’m good. Even on a bad day.