Today is “World Suicide Prevention Day”. It’s a little ironic to me that it is one day before the tragic suicides of 9/11 when a group of men decided to commit suicide and take the lives of many innocent people as well. In this case of suicide, cultural and religious beliefs were at the core of the decision for these men to end their own lives.
I have personally struggled to understand suicide until I found myself forced to face the overwhelming feelings of wanting to end the pain (during some tough depressive episodes). I was surprised to learn that suicide isn’t isolated to just those who suffer from mental health disorders, which I had always believed was the only cause, however, suicide affects many people for many different reasons. Some of those reasons include guilt, drugs, loss and despair. Many don’t have support during these tough times, and I can’t help but feel sadness that the world has yet to develop an understanding of why someone would want to end their own life. While I feel blessed and lucky to have had a strong support system in my toughest and darkest moments, I hope to always raise awareness for those who aren’t as lucky.
What World Suicide Prevention Day Means to me
Suicide has been a huge part of my life for the better part of 20 years. I have both experienced the loss of people I loved and/or cared for to suicide, or have tried and failed to end my own life. Learning my breaking point was my best defense against suicidal thoughts, but like any defense, it isn’t bullet proof.
Today is an important day for me because I have struggled with suicidal thoughts and plans of how I would end it for many years following my traumatizing adolescent years. Trying to remind myself before and during these moments that I am not a burden to those I love, was and still is the hardest thing for me to do. Many times, I fought for my survival before I would reach a point of suicidal thoughts because of losing TJ.
When I was 15, TJ, the first man I ever fell in love with, took his own life by hanging himself from a swing set at a public park. The aftermath of his loss was something my brain tried to protect me from for many years. Eventually, the protection and survival mode my brain entered into in order to protect me, was no longer effective against the growing wound. This was the beginning of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from the trauma and guilt of surviving TJ’s Suicide.
I spent nearly 17 years blaming myself, feeling enormous grief, and struggling with the agony of knowing he was gone and I would not see him walking the Earth ever again. I imagine most 15 year old girls don’t picture losing their first love to suicide, and more over, most 15 year old girls are trying to navigate hormones. I never thought I would get through the pain of his loss, but truthfully I didn’t start to feel that pain until I was 17 and I got into a car accident that became the new topic my brain tried to protect me from.
Until very recently, when I spoke to TJ’s brother about what really led to his decision to commit suicide, I blamed myself for being the last one to speak to him before he made the choice that changed my life forever. All I can say is, I felt regret, relief, and a sense of bitterness toward myself for holding onto these feelings for as long as I did.
If you lost someone to suicide, no matter how old you are, don’t hide from the pain. Reach out for support, reach out for clarification, investigate what happened, and don’t be afraid to join support groups and tell people that you are hurting. I didn’t do this and instead I allowed myself the right to not feel anything for a long time. I suspect that a lot of my own suicidal thoughts stem from my lack of coping when I needed to cope most.
Learning to Understand Suicide
I didn’t know then (at 15) what I know now about suicide. What I learned through my own suicidal thoughts is that it doesn’t discriminate against how beautiful, popular, easy to get along with, caring, and honest a person might be. Suicide is an exit route to a seemingly inescapable depressive state. In this depressive state, the mind is at war with itself and has convinced you that if you live, the people whom you love, have to be burdened by your pain and hopelessness, and possibly they will begin to feel it as well. Furthermore, the people who try to love me will always have to work exceptionally hard to remind me that I am worthy and that I will be okay, while I fight an extensive war within myself.
The simple truth is people who commit suicide do so to offer freedom to the people they love. They believe by ending it all, the people they love will be saved from having to be weighed down forever by the pain of a depression that doesn’t belong to them. I felt that my depression was contagious, so I hid from my friends, family and even my children to avoid spreading the disease that plagued me.
Pain this deep doesn’t see another option when it is staring at the abyss of deep and endless depression. The depression becomes all consuming, sucking away your energy, positive thoughts, the love you feel for others as well as yourself, while removing all the reasons you have told yourself that make you feel worthy of living.
Depression doesn’t fight fair, in fact it fights you with your deepest fears, your worst memories, your hardest losses, and all the self conscious, self doubting, self judging parts of yourself. It reminds you constantly that you are worthless, ugly, unloved, unhappy, unappreciated, not accepted, disloyal, disappointing, and a huge burden to the people you love. It strips you down mercilessly until all you have left is the thought that you can’t go on any longer. This is usually the point when you are staring at a fork in the road with two tunnels. They are both dark, they are both relentless, they both yield no shining lights at the end. This is the tortuous decision you must make; To Live or To Die.
No one gets to choose for you and most of the time you are too confused in that moment to explain what you are facing. This is the beginning of the end.
THE WORST THINGS TO SAY AND WORST ADVICE TO GIVE WHEN SPEAKING TO SOMEONE WHO IS SUICIDAL
How you speak to someone who is struggling is not how you would speak to yourself. Not everyone speaks kindly to themselves and kindness, understanding and patience are the important things to remember when offering support.
I saw a meme that said:
“Treat everyone like they have a sign around their neck that says, ‘tell me why I am important.’ By doing this you will always be able to sell.”
Well if you take this advice and apply it to all your interactions in life, you will not ever contribute to someones pain. I know, easier said then done.
Actions and the Positive or Negative Consequences
Every action done or not done, creates a positive or negative consequence. The positive consequence may lead to saving someone’s life where the negative consequence may lead to an untimely death. You will never know what someone is thinking or feeling, whether they are struggling to cope, and if they are staggering through the day with low energy and a loss of interest in all the things they used to love or value.
During my suicidal times, most people say to me, “what about your children? What about your family? You have so much to live for and so many people who love you,” “You are so kind, beautiful, talented, and you are better than this.”
I have even heard people say, “snap out of it!,” “stop being dramatic,” “Your life seems so perfect,” “You are going to hurt so many people if you don’t try harder,” “Don’t leave me because I love you and it will kill me to see you gone,” and “what are you thinking? Did you even consider my feelings?”.
The reality is that when you are at the edge of a cliff, you have already made the choice that the ones you love are better off without you and the burdens you believe yourself to be (no matter how untrue it is). In your mind, you are staring into a great void. You have been fighting for days, weeks and years. The fight is mentally exhausting, trying to convince yourself that you are worthy, but you have failed at doing that. Physically exhausting, you have tried to force yourself to get up and shower, but you just can’t move your body because of the exhaustion, so you have failed again. Then it is emotionally draining, trying to face your worst moments, deepest fears, challenging phobias, and weaknesses, which you have failed to do and the punishment is to start over and suffer it again.
You fail so much and so often that the only way to escape is to end the pain, to stop the thoughts and be at peace. There is no, “get it together” switch inside the mind when you reach this conclusion. Being attacked by the mind is a war far greater than most people realize and the depths of attack is beyond mental comprehension.
Today, for World Suicide Prevention Day, check on someone who you feel or know is struggling. Take it from me, if someone would have checked on me during my hopelessness, I may have had a reason “why not” to resort to attempting suicide. Someone sharing that they care in my darkest hour may have given me a small glimmer of hope to get help before I found myself writing my final goodbyes.
A phone call, not a text, or a visit can save a life and show your support. Be someone’s hero so you never have to attend their funeral and feel the blame of not having done something to show them you care.
Too Late is Too Late!
Learn more about Suicide Prevention & How you can help:
Here are some songs to help you support someone in need of your help
One of the best songs I have heard about being on the support side of depression is by The Fray entitled, “How to Save a Life.” The lyrics say it best by showing how “if” he would have done something, the positive consequences would have saved a life. Here are the lyrics:
“And I would have stayed up with you all night, Had I known How to save a life” …. “Lay down a list of what is wrong, things you told him all along and pray to God he hears you, Pray to God he hears you” ….. “He will do one of two things, he will admit to everything or he’ll say he’s just not the same and you’ll begin to wonder why you came.”
Another great song that helps understand your place as a supporter and their place as a warrior is “I’ll Find You,” by Lacrae & Tori Kelly. Tori Kelly is the friend trying to help, Lacrae’s part is about the person who is struggling. Tori says,
“Fight a little longer my friend, it’s all worth it in the end, but when you have nobody to turn to, just hold on and I’ll find you.”
“I’m hanging on by a thread, and all I’m clinging to is prayers, and every breath is like a battle, I feel like I ain’t come prepared. And death’s knockin’ on the front door, pains creeping through the back, fears crawlin’ through the windows, waiting for em to attack. They say don’t get bitter, get better, I’m working on switching them letters, but tell God Imma need a whole lot of hope keeping it together. I’m smiling in everyone’s face, I’m crying whenever they leave the room, they don’t know the battle I face, they don’t understand what I’m going through …..”
The Depression Project
The Depression Project created the “Traffic Lights of Depression” to help those struggling and their loved ones to get through tough times. They share incredible information, blogs and more about detecting whether or not someone you love is at risk for depression and what level they are using the Traffic Lights.
Here is a graphic they posted:
Another great place to learn about Suicide Prevention is Project Semicolon. Project Semicolon was started by Amy Bleuel, who shares her story about her own struggles. The Mission of Project Semicolon is:
“Project Semicolon is an organization dedicated to the prevention of suicide. Our work is based on the foundation and belief that suicide is preventable and everyone has a role to play in preventing suicide. Through raising public awareness, educating communities, and equipping every person with the right tools, we know we can save lives.”
What Project Semicolon has to say about Suicide:
“Suicide is a complex issue involving numerous factors and should not be attributed to any one single cause. Not all people who die by suicide have been diagnosed with a mental illness and not all people with a mental illness attempt to end their lives by suicide.” – Continue reading
- Learn more about Suicide at Project Semicolon
- Educate yourself on “What is Suicide?” at Project Semicolon
- How to Take Action with Project Semicolon
Andrew Solomon’s TED Talk, “Depression, the Secret We Share”
Andrew Solomon delivers a deeply profound truth during his TED Talk entitled, “Depression, the Secret We Share.” In this speech he says:
We know depression through metaphors. Emily Dickinson was able to convey it in language. Goya in an image. Half the purpose of art is to describe such iconic states. As for me, I had always thought myself tough, one of the people who could survive if I had been sent to a concentration camp.
He continues to say:
One of the things about depression is that you know it’s ridiculous. You know it’s ridiculous while your experiencing it. You know that most people manage to listen to their messages and eat lunch and organize themselves to take a shower and go out the front door and that it’s not a big deal, and yet you are none-the-less in its grip and you are unable to figure out any way around it.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.
Call 1-800-273-8255 for
Immediate Support for those in distress or crisis.